Erosion control on our beautiful mountains

Hi everyone I’m Huw, an uplands ranger in the central Brecon Beacons working in the beautiful surroundings of southern Britain’s highest mountains, Pen y Fan (886m) and Corn Du (873m).  A huge part of my job is erosion control, so I thought I would update you on what we have been up to.

Erosion is the greatest threat to the enjoyment of our mountains.  Upland areas are a fragile environment owing to the harsh climatic conditions.  The vegetative covering takes many years to establish but is easily eroded.  Our main consideration is to prevent further erosion and restore damaged areas in order that the mountains may continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

Due to the increase of walkers on one of our busiest paths, the Pont ar Daf (with an average annual footfall of over 360,000) sections of the path need widening.  This work has recently been carried out with the assistance of a working holiday group.  It has been achieved using a number of methods including stone pitching, an ancient technique pre dating the Romans, and involves burying large boulders upright in the ground with each layer of stone overlapping the last, much like cobbling on a larger scale.  This is a very time consuming feat, each one metre square section of stone pitching can cost up to £150 and take one day to construct.  We then resurface the path with soil or scalpings (Old Red Sandstone which has been crushed into gravel) then landscape the surrounding areas.

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Volunteers hard at work amongst the many walkers

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Protecting the newly seeded ground

We have erected a number of fences/hurdles leading from Corn Du towards the saddle between the two peaks.  In order to prevent further erosion we have attempted to re-vegetate this area numerous times, but to no avail.  Due to the location, elements and footfall defeating us, it has stayed bare.  These hurdles should protect the area, while the seed and fertilizer put down with assistance from our working holiday group takes hold.  This process is likely to take a couple of years so these hurdles will stay in situ until then.

Recently the two Bronze Age burial cairns located on the summits of Pen y Fan and Corn Du have become severely eroded and were beginning to become undermined due to ever changing weather conditions and the feet of thousands of visitors.  These cairns were excavated in the early 1990’s by a team of archaeologists with the support of the National Trust, where Bronze Age artefacts were uncovered including a bronze spear head.  With the help of our two upland full time volunteers, Hazel and Nathan, who
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Nathan & Huw repairing the cairn

work closely with us carrying out various conservation tasks in and around the Brecon Beacons, we have repaired the cairn on Corn Du using stone pitching to reinforce and stabilize the structure.  Once, the summits of Pen y Fan and Corn Du were heavily vegetated and there are accounts of times gone by where people could shelter from the ever changing weather conditions behind two metre high peat hags.  Now there is very little vegetation remaining and the summits are predominantly bare, having eroded down to the Old Red Sandstone bedrock.  Even the fascinating ‘ripple’ marks, the remnants of the seabed that take us back millions of years when the summits of the Beacons were beneath the sea and thousands of miles away from their current location, have begun to erode away.

These upland mountain paths are not purely intended to assist the walker with a solid foothold and clear line to follow, but are actually designed to protect the mountain from your feet.  These hard-wearing, constructed paths take thousands of people to the summits of our highest peaks every year, while preventing further erosion.

If you happen to be out and about walking the Beacons and come across us, please do stop and say hello!

Huw – Uplands Ranger

 

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Maintaining Our Boundaries – Clytha Railings Project

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What railings?

At the end of last year we decided to replace an old section of parkland railings that formed part of a field boundary on Ffynonnau Farm. The original hedge had grown up around them making them impossible to maintain.

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The Woodlands team have been hard at work

 

The Woodlands team cut back as much of the trees and bushes as they could but were hampered by the original railings being entwined in the trees. Traffic lights were also needed as some of the bigger trees had to be felled on to the busy adjacent road.

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Some of the many supporting stanchions

 

I needed to replace 150 meters of railings which meant getting 120 stanchions (metal frames) made to support the railings. With the help of my volunteers we managed to paint most of the frames in the workshop before starting the job. Because cattle will be kept in the field we concreted every 10th frame in place to give extra support to the railings.

I used a solid metal bar connected with short sections of tube for the railings which was then welded together on site using a portable welder generator.

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Making use of an old style

 

There is a right of way that crosses the field and the fence so I had to put a style in as a legal requirement. I recycled an old one and re-enforced the railing with steel tube to take the weight of people climbing over it. As part of the Clytha river walk we are encouraging people to walk along the inside of this stretch of railings and cross the road through the 4’ gate. This is a lot safer than walking along the edge of the busy road.

We had a working holiday at the beginning of March carrying out a variety of work during their week of volunteering. With their help, and the aid of a few days dry weather, I managed to get the railings under coated and top coated. As you can see below they seemed to enjoy the task! The work was mostly funded from the tenant farmers farm improvement grant and goes a long way to maintaining the historical views around the Clytha Estate.

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Happy volunteers providing vital support to the team

Cheers
Simon – Area Ranger

Working hard to keep footpaths open

As a relatively new ranger with the National Trust, I thought I would explain some of

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Trench dug and ready to lay pitching

my responsibilities and show what I have been doing. My position as part of the access team is predominantly responsible for the repair and maintenance of the Pont ar Daf and Storey Arms paths leading to Corn Du, Pen y Fan and Cribyn; here I use a number of methods to prevent erosion of the paths and surrounding hillsides, which without constant management can quickly deteriorate. 

The central Brecon Beacons have an average annual rainfall of approx. 2400mm compared with the nearby town of Brecon which on average receives just 1173mm. This level of water can rapidly deteriorate pathways as do other factors such as footfall. With over 200,000 mountain lovers visiting the highest peak in southern Britain (Pen y Fan) each year, erosion is a serious problem. To protect and combat issues like these we use stone pitching, which is an ancient method pre-dating the Romans. It involves laying large boulders in rows embedded into the paths (see below image), which is similar to cobbling but on a much larger scale and a very resilient way of surfacing a pathway.

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Boulders embedded into trench and packed with small stones and soil

We then cover the pitching with Old Red Sandstone scalpings which settles into the ground; this offers protection and a better walking surface. Along with stone pitching and scalpings, we create a number of culverts, cross and side ditches to keep the water off the paths. These are also stone laid for strength, longevity and ease of clearing out which must be done regularly.

Landscaping and reseeding grasses help us stabilise bare earth and blend in our work. I also work closely with our volunteers and those on working holidays who provide much needed assistance to maintaining the footpaths.

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A volunteer working hard on the Pont ar Daf footpath

In addition I also assist with family events such as Wild Wednesdays during the school holidays where we incorporate the National Trust’s hugely popular 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ including activities such as building a den, climbing a tree and damming a stream, all of which are set within the woodland of St Mary’s Vale and the Sugar Loaf.

I hope you can join us for one of our events on the Sugar Loaf, starting off with our Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday 26 March. Or if you come across me and the rest of the team working on the footpaths in the central Brecon Beacons, please stop and say hello.

Thanks, Huw Barrell
Ranger – Brecon Beacons

Meadow Life

Lanlay is a beautiful site that is comprised of 23acres of hay meadows and rhos pasture (rhos is Welsh for wet, so essentially a wet wild flower meadow). It has a mosaic of different habitats throughout the site so is great for biodiversity and supports a huge variety of wildlife.

97% of our wild flower meadows have steadily declined on a continuous basis since the 1930’s, which consequently has had detrimental impacts on the plant species and the wild life that depend on them. It is therefore vitally important that we preserve sites like Lanlay for the benefit of wild life and for future generations to enjoy.

Lanlay Meadows

Lanlay Meadows

Work on the meadow varies seasonally; a large part of the summer work includes the removal of an invasive species called Himalayan balsam. It is a particularly vigorous species of plant that if isn’t kept in check will take over, drowning out native wild flowers and reducing the diversity of the meadow. With the help of some working holidays, we have been pulling and crushing it in an attempt to control the spread of this species. It is important to crush the stems or it will re-root itself and keep growing. Even local dog walkers have started to get involved – you can often see small piles dotted along the sides of the paths that they have pulled whilst out on their walk.

Pull and crush.

Pull and crush.

I have also spent time monitoring the butterflies on the meadow. Each week I walk a set transect and record all of the species along the way. This information will be fed back to a national butterfly records scheme that is monitoring the fluctuations in butterfly populations throughout the UK. Here are some pictures of a few of the butterflies I encountered.

Some of this summers spots; Green Veined White, Common Blue, Gatekeeper, Speckled Wood.

Some of this summers spots; Green Veined White, Common Blue, Gatekeeper, Speckled Wood.

Winter is busier in terms of habitat management and I will soon be starting to cut back scrub and bramble that has encroached onto the meadow and doing lots of hedge laying.

Hedge laying in progress, earlier this year.

Hedge laying in progress, earlier this year. Want to get involved this season? See below.

If anyone is interested in getting involved, then please get in touch via the Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire National Trust website or Facebook page.

Jess – Conservation Ranger

Our path ahead

A review of his activities over the busy sunny season from Rob and his plans for next year as the leaves fall and rain returns.

This summer has to go down as one of the best for many a year as regards the good weather. A minor blip in early August when the temperature went down to 4 degrees for a few days in the morning, That was a shock to the system, especially for some of our volunteers from Spain and Southern France who were on a working holiday with us up Pen y fan.

120 volunteers have been assisting me and Jessica through the year and we have stone pitched over 135 metres of path leading up to Pen y fan from Cwm Gwdi, we have seeded and reinstated 400 sqm of eroded ground, and we have so far, stone pitched 150m of side ditches leading up the Pont ar daf.

We're gradually making our way to the top with the help of volunteers.

Looking back on where we’ve come from. We’re gradually making our way to the top with the help of volunteers.

This November we are hoping to take up a further 32 tons of scalping’s and spread them over and build up the top section of the Pont ar daf path” weather permitting”

We will also be receiving a donation towards the repairs of the routes from WAAT4 challenge, which we will buy more scalping’s.

Our lengths group has increased by a further four members, so most of the paths now have two lentghsmen looking after them and we have also had a few days where some have come out to help us with stone pitching.

Our Meet & Greets volunteers have also increased by four with one doubling up as lengths men.
The new info shack at Pont-ar-Daf is opening its doors more regularly due to the new intake of volunteers. The new maps with routes on them have been a success and asking for donations has helped cover the cost of producing them, so there can be more for next year.

Getting wild in St. Marys Vale and ticking off 50 things activities.  More to come next year.

Getting wild in St. Marys Vale and ticking off 50 things activities. More to come next year.

We carried out a few 50 things to do events with children, again proven a success and this we will increase next year mainly down the Sugar loaf, Abergavenny. Our guided walks, 18 in all, sadly had very low attendance not always helped by bad weather, but our 5 walks with Monmouthshire community learning centre based in Abergavenny were well attended.

Sadly the Pont-ar-Daf car park is yet to take off, hopefully next year? The Skirrid car park extension is planned for happen next year and that will take about 50 cars, freeing up the  road for this increasingly popular site.

Rob – Lead Ranger, Brecon Beacons

Somewhere up on the hills

Now that the summer season is upon us the access team are in full swing and spend most days up in the central Beacons including the three highest peaks – Corn Du, Cribyn and Pen y Fan. Work includes undertaking the essential maintenance of the drainage ditches and culverts, stone pitching the paths and re-grassing areas to limit erosion on the mountains.

Borrowed the Nature Conservation Rangers to help bag stone.  Not really butterfly survey weather.

Borrowed the Nature Conservation Rangers to help bag stone. Not really butterfly survey weather.

The last few weeks have been spent sourcing red sandstone from a local quarry at Cwm Gwdi that was once used in the 1700’s. This stone is due to be air lifted in the middle of July (weather dependant of course!) to be dropped at selected areas on the Beacons and will then be laid as a path using a pitching technique that pre-dates the Romans. This means it will hopefully last a long time.

Working holiday group having to put up with our fine Welsh weather as they help with our path maintenance and construction

Working holiday group having to put up with our fine Welsh weather as they help with our path maintenance and construction

The Trust is responsible for maintaining a large area of the Beacons and groups of volunteers that have come from all over the UK have done a great job at helping to carry out this work over the last few months.

Jess – Seasonal Access Ranger

Stuck in a rut?

It’s hardly surprising considering the amount of rain we’ve had this winter that the car park at Clytha was going to suffer. Cars were getting stuck and the ground was getting rutted and churned up. Apart from looking awful this would cause a lot of problems when I come to mow it in the spring.
I took the contentious decision to put these gates in to enable me to close off the main car parking area over the winter months. There is still reduced parking available for walkers etc.

A wet day for post setting, just add cement to the holes.

A wet day for post setting, just add cement to the holes.

This was the perfect opportunity to give the whole thing a tidy up. The woodland team supplied 16 x 6 metre Larch poles to replace the existing rotting ones. They also called in and cut the old ones up into manageable lengths, some went for fire wood and the rest into the woods for habitat piles.

Before - rotten dividers, muck and ruts

Before – rotten dividers, muck and ruts

Fortunately our first working holiday of the year were due so they did a great job removing all the old logs. They dug new trenches to site the poles in and used the turfs to repair the damage caused by the stuck vehicles.

Busy everywhere, digging, scraping, lifting, moving, hammering, painting.

Busy everywhere, digging, scraping, lifting, moving, hammering, painting.

They cleared off the turf where it had encroached on to the paving and painted the new sections of railings.

Thank-you very much to our working holiday.

Thank-you very much to our working holiday.

A huge thank you to everyone who helped and put in all the hard work. The plan is to re – open the car park in the next week or so. Let’s hope that the summer is a lot dryer than the winter we’ve just had!

Simon Rose
Area Ranger – Buildings & Estate Maintenance