Wednesday, 17 June 2015

While shepherds watched their flocks

Too many sheep, with consequent overgrazing, has damaged the rich mix of plantlife at Hafod y Llan, the farm that rises from the Nant Gwynant valley floor to the summit of Snowdon. Believe it or not, sheep are picky eaters, with a bit of a sweet tooth for particular plants, leaving others to thrive and dominate the mountain sward.

Bilberry and heather regenerating on the foothills of Snowdon
Since the National Trust acquired the farm 15 years ago the number of sheep has been halved but the plantlife has not recovered everywhere or as well as hoped. The problem is that sheep, like nature, abhor a vacuum and sheep from neighbouring farms have been trespassing. Worse still, they like to graze on the more sensitive areas on the higher slopes of the mountains.

To sort this out a shepherd was employed in 2014 to push the sheep into the correct areas and to evict the trespassers. But when he knocked off, the sheep ‘came out to play’. So this year a second shepherd has been appointed and between the two of them they can provide 7 day cover during daylight hours in the summer. Hopefully the mountain tops will soon be a purple haze of blooming heather and fruiting bilberry with sheep growing fat on the pasture below.

If you’d like to know more about this project, embracing traditional shepherding to tackle a current issue, this film might be of interest (Welsh version first and English version below):

Saturday, 13 June 2015

National Trust Woodlands

Some years ago I was surprised to learn that the National Trust owned so much farmland and coastland; my childhood perception had been the stereotypical stately home. More recently I was surprised by the fact that, after the Forestry Commission (including NRW of course), the National Trust is the second biggest owner of trees and woods. I learnt this as an observer to the Wales Woodland Meeting which was held at Plas y Brenin on 29th April 2015. NT rangers and woodland representatives had converged on North Wales to exchange knowledge and ideas from across the country.

The day began with a thought provoking session on strategy and woodland management. Ray Hawes, head of forestry for the NT, led a discussion about the newly published strategy for the whole of the NT. This calls for land and landscapes that are healthy, rich in wildlife, enjoyable, culturally rich, beautiful or unspoilt and productive. To what extent will this change the NT policy for forestry? Policy needs to marry change with the need for continuity and the timescales of trees.

The 5 key questions when considering how to manage a woodland are:
  • What is this woodland? – its significance
  • What will happen if we do nothing? – the process which is under way
  • What could it be? – a vision
  • What is the least we need to do? – action e.g. to eradicate disease
  • What can we do now to reduce future work? – investment e.g. in removal of ponticum while it is small.  
Woodland planning or management is not a one-size-fits-all; diversity of woodland is to be encouraged. Foresters should be eccentric, do things strangely, build in resilience to disease and changes in the environment.

The need for recording decisions was emphasised and is an essential requirement of the Woodland Certification Audit. An overgrown ancient woodland in Northern Ireland has an avenue of horse chestnuts; was the avenue leading to a historic landmark? After much digging around the answer was no, there had been 50 spare saplings looking for a home!

Using film to inform and communicate the cause

After coffee we were treated to BAFTA award winning performances by Rhodri Wigley and Dave Lamacraft (Plantlife) who co-starred in a 9 minute film about Dolmelynllyn and its lower plants. Rhodri explained the steps taken to manage a woodland for the benefit of lichens and bryophytes.
Dave Lamacraft and Rhodri Wigley

This was part of a series of films produced last year and another series is under way for 2015 which includes: Cwm Idwal, Cwm Ivy, Castlemartin Peninsula, Migneint Birds, Llynnau Cregennen, Ceredigion Coastal Grasslands, Shepherding at Hafod y Llan, Grassland Fungi and the use of DNA to identify their presence before they fruit. A film aimed at past and potential donors towards trees and woodlands is ‘Dolmelynllyn through the seasons’; this will be filmed at four different times of the year highlighting the work that goes into managing a woodland.

Glastir and woodland grants

Not much has happened in the first part of 2015 but there is expected to be an announcement at the Royal Welsh Show. The Glastir Woodland Management and Glastir Woodland Creation schemes should have ended in May 2013 but were extended to 2014. New schemes will follow from the Rural Development Plan.

Post Phytophthora
The Glastir Woodland Restoration Scheme has been announced and is aimed at woodlands felled due to Phytophthora ramorum. For every 1 hectare of woodland felled there will be a grant towards replanting 2 hectares with payments of £1,900 per hectare of timber woodland and £2,700 per hectare of native woodland. Expressions of interest need to be submitted online by 5th June 2015 There will be separate contracts for separate areas (i.e. not one contract covering all of NT Wales) and contracts must be completed within a year.

Grants covering up to 80% of training costs will likely continue through a service centre.  Farming Connect has historically provided, and is a likely candidate to continue to provide this service in the future.  It is not yet known whether there will be limits such as a ceiling on the number of students from any one organisation. It was felt that quite a few people would be interested in refresher courses.

European Single Payment rules for Wales have been interpreted restrictively compared to the rest of the UK. Land which has 100 trees or more per hectare is not eligible; for some farmers this is up to 40% of their land. It’s the sort of ruling that could encourage the removal of trees in order to qualify for financial support!

Valuing and Managing Veteran Trees

Ankerwycke Yew by Alan Bennett
copyright Brunel University London Arts Collection 
Alan Kearsley-Evans and David Larter have taken over as the champions for veteran trees and both have been on a 3 day course that equips them to deliver a 1 day course on veteran trees. Alan will cover the south and David the north, but if there are a large number of students then both will be involved.

Ideally, no work should be done closer to a veteran tree than 5m outside the extent of the canopy, or a distance from the centre of the tree of 15 times the diameter of the trunk at breast height, whichever is the greater. This establishes a ‘separation distance’ or exclusion zone round the tree and gives it the best chance of long-term survival.

As visitor numbers increase and the pressure on car parks grows, there is potential for conflict. Scraping away the topsoil beneath a veteran tree to expand a car park is NOT a good idea!

The Ancient Tree Forum of Wales has recently been established and had its first meeting at Dinefwr.

Woodland highlights of the previous year

Erddig – James Stein

About 250 veteran trees have now been recorded at Erddig and of these 40% are in the fields of tenanted farms which makes it difficult to enforce exclusion zones around their bases. Work has been carried out on about a dozen veteran trees; propping up of limbs, fencing to exclude stock, and mulching of the base.

One oak, which is thought to be about 500 years old, has had the encroaching chestnut and beech trees pruned back. Another veteran which has a hollow trunk has had logs and branches piled up near the base to exclude sheltering sheep; eventually the logs will rot down and enrich the soil.

The double avenue of pleached limes has been pruned. It takes approximately 10 weeks of work each year. Each tree has about 500 shoots, which makes 65,000 pruning cuts, all with secateurs.

Ysbyty Estate – Andrew Roberts

At the start of 2014 work had begun to thin out the conifers, but then came the storm and thinning was not an issue. The wood was sold ‘standing’ at £9 a tonne (wood pulp price) but the buyer discovered that it was suitable for timber and upped the price to £12 a tonne. The 1,000 tonnes generated some welcome unbudgeted income.

Other thinning work was undertaken under the Better Woodlands for Wales scheme then milled on a portable mill hired in at £330 per day. This produced the cladding for the Hafod y Llan hydro shed.

Some large conifers were felled that were encroaching on veteran trees. Timber mills no longer want thick trunks and the maximum size they take is 60 to 65cm.

There is a scattering of hawthorns on the ffridd but no regeneration. Young hawthorns of local provenance are being planted with protective guards at the rate of 10 per year. Andrew commented that thick patches of gorse were good for regeneration.

Pembrokeshire – Chris Oliver

Five years of fuel 'felled' in one night
The February 2014 storm devastated the biomass crop intended for the Stackpole boiler which consumes 800 cubic metres a year. The devastation of the storm across Wales provoked a generous donation from an NT supporter in Tasmania – a million Australian dollars for woodland works in Wales. Part of this money has been used to fund infrastructure works in Pembrokeshire, putting in forestry tracks which will simplify the task of extracting timber. All trees should have been extracted by Xmas 2015.

Chris is looking to replant with different types of trees, with conifers taking 15 to 20 years until harvest. He has started coppice rotation and is aiming for structural diversity in the woodland.

Lodge Park wood, to the rear of Stackpole House, was planted with laurels by the Cawdors to provide cover for game birds. The wood had become greatly overgrown but has now been thinned and opened up revealing a secret, long lost rose garden. Chris has written this up and had it published in the journal of the Ancient Trees Forum.

Tree Diseases – Steve Whitehead

Citrus Longhorn Beetle
Current diseases are considered to be the tip of the iceberg compared to diseases that are on their way from Asia. Everyone is encouraged to be vigilant and to report all diseases in an email to Steve Whitehead. Some of the properties have been using volunteers to look out for diseases as well as recording veteran trees. Copies of the Observatree monitoring tree health leaflet were handed out. The opening paragraph is a chilling thought: ‘Until the 1990s the UK dealt with one or two new tree pest and disease outbreaks a decade. During the past 10 years we have dealt with 18.’

There is a very informative Observatree guide to diseases with films of what to look out for. Here is a link to the pests and diseases page.

The threat is ‘a clear and present danger’ which underlines the need to build resilience into our woods, to have diversity and to use local provenance. If properties are importing species they should quarantine them before planting out and a period of 3 months was considered to be the bare minimum but longer would be better. There was talk about establishing a tree nursery or tree nurseries such as the one producing trees for Dyffryn Mymbyr.

Trees in the uplands – Jan Sherry, Natural Resources Wales

The best Juniper in Wales is on NT property and the Juniper on Snowdon is in particular danger of Phytophthora – the source of the danger is the 3 Peaks Challenge with dirty boots travelling down from the Lake District.

Our uplands are relatively bald representing less than 3% of broad-leaved trees in Wales (National Forest Inventory 2012) and there are no examples of native woodland at the limits of altitude.

Trees are an important component of the ffridd mosaic and can also be part of flood alleviation measures by helping to hold the water in the uplands. Trees also provide shelter for livestock.

Not many trees on the Carneddau
The Brecon Beacons and the Carneddau are treeless landscapes and historically the Brecon Beacons National Park thought it was necessary to retain an open, treeless landscape as this was the landscape appreciated at designation time. Blorenge on the other hand is comparatively rich in trees.

Trees on the ffridd regenerate when farming activity decreases e.g. at the end of war, and the hawthorns at Dyffryn Mymbyr are an example of this; they mainly date to the same decade. As sheep density reduces, regeneration increases – even Pumlumon, described by George Mombiot in ‘Feral’ as a green desert, is seeing a regeneration of heather and trees.

Jan displayed maps showing current areas of where we have upland trees / woodland in northern Snowdonia and then a map showing desired areas for more woodland. Some questions need to be asked:

Do we want more trees in the uplands? Not everyone does.
If yes, what sort? Scattered? Woods? Copses?
If yes, where? Can we accommodate by moving some of the heathland uphill?
Should we go for slow regeneration or replant? If we replant, from what resource?

There was discussion about the Welsh Government target for 100,000 hectares of newly planted woodland by 2020. How achievable a target is it?

After Jan’s talk we went to Dyffryn Mymbyr which was great – see separate write-up at

The following day some went for a guided walk around the woodlands at Llyndy Isaf and at Castell Penrhyn.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Natur Cymru Summer 2015 - Issue 55

Publication date: 15th June 2015
Cover price £4.50, or quarterly by subscription £18 pa (individual) or £32 (group/organisation)

Prospects for wild pollinators in Wales ● Mike Howe. We cannot rely just on honey bees to pollinate our crops and wild plants.

Ymgyrch Gwel Sêr • Gethin Davies. Gweithio tuag at statws ‘Awyr Dywyll Ryngwladol’ yn Eryri.

Blue Ground Beetle at Coed Maesmelin - a mystery unravelled • John Walters, Christopher Matts & Clare Dinham. The discovery in Neath Port Talbot of a beetle new to Wales.

Fifty Years Ago – the North Pond on Skomer • David Saunders. Habitat creation and the new wildlife it brought to the island.

Malltraeth Marsh: digging for victory • Ian Hawkins. The RSPB has created a nationally important Anglesey wetland.

Dinosaur discovery – new kid on the Jurassic block • Cindy Howells. The discovery in south Wales of a dinosaur new to science.

Sea grass meadows in Wales – vulnerable features and fish nurseries • Richard Unsworth. New research is confirming the wildlife and economic value of this rare subtidal habitat.

Seeing in the dark – the value of camera traps • Mal Ingham. New technology and hard work are revealing more about Wales’ nocturnal mammals.

Glow-worms and street lighting • Anne Butler. How a new study has led to improved conservation of glow-worms on the Great Orme.

Green Bookshelf ● Catherine Duigan, David Parker, David Saunders

Plantlife ● Colin Cheesman. Wales’ forgotten flora – arable weeds!

Nature at large ● David Iorwerth Roberts. Afon Elwy – caring for a river.

Habitat management • Ivy Denham. It’s all in the mind – changing perceptions of how the landscape should look.

Woods and forest • Kylie Jones Mattock. Learning to love the surprisingly significant slug.

Llinellau bywyd – Yr awydd/ Life lines – Burning desire ● Huw Williams. Tanau gwyllt yn Ne Cymru / Wild fires in south Wales.

Marine matters ● Ivor Rees. The legacy of biologist Edward Forbes.


Thursday, 4 June 2015

Wales Biodiversity Week / Wythnos Bioamrywiaeth

Wythnos Bioamrywiaeth Cymru 6 – 14 Mehefin

Wales Biodiversity Week 6 – 14 June

Ymunwch â miloedd o bobl mewn mwy na 70 o ddigwyddiadau bywyd gwyllt sy’n arddangos bioamrywiaeth gyfoethog a thirweddau trawiadol Cymru. Darganfyddwch fywyd gwyllt eich bro chi, a dysgwch gan arbenigwyr bywyd gwyllt lleol sut y gallwch chi ‘wneud eich rhan’ er budd natur.

Wythnos Bioamrywiaeth Cymru yn 2002, ac mae’n codi ymwybyddiaeth ynghylch natur. Caiff ei threfnu gan lu o sefydliadau amgylcheddol yng Nghymru sy’n aelodau o Bartneriaeth Bioamrywiaeth Cymru.

Eleni, mae Wythnos Bioamrywiaeth Cymru wedi ymuno â Grŵp Rhywogaethau Estron Goresgynnol Cymru i dynnu sylw at fygythiad Rhywogaethau Estron Goresgynnol. Caiff yr ymgyrch ‘
Atal yr Ymlediad’ ei thargedu at bysgotwyr, defnyddwyr cychod a’r rhai sy’n defnyddio’r môr, a bydd rhoi’r ymgyrch ar waith yn helpu i gyfyngu ar ymlediad rhywogaethau niweidiol yn amgylcheddau tir a dŵr Cymru.

Dilynwch ni – rydym ar
@WBP_wildlife #WBW2015


Join thousands of people at over 70 wildlife-themed events showcasing the rich biodiversity and stunning landscapes of Wales.

Discover the wildlife on your patch and learn how you can ‘do your bit’ for nature from local wildlife experts.

Established in 2002, Wales Biodiversity Week is an awareness raising week for nature organised by a host of environmental organisations in Wales who are members of the Wales Biodiversity Partnership.

This year, Wales Biodiversity Week has teamed up with the Wales Invasive and Non-Native Species Group to highlight the threat of Invasive and Non-Native Species. TheStop the Spread’ campaign is targeted at angling, boating and marine users and its implementation will help restrict the spread of damaging species into Welsh terrestrial and aquatic environments.

Follow us — we’re on
@WBP_wildlife #WBW2015


Sunday, 10 May 2015

An Anglesey Visit

We booked a sea safari, a rib-ride round Puffin Island. It was a bit like pre-booking the Snowdon Mountain Railway and when the day arrives, so do the clouds. Clouds didn’t obliterate our view but, despite ‘waterproofs’ and thermals, the rain and the speed made us wet and very cold. Upon reflection we should have taken the slow boat from Beaumaris, with the cover over the back, and maybe a gin and tonic or a hot mug of soup; but then we’d have missed the thrills and spills of the ride itself.

We saw plenty of seals, a few puffins and on the return, several porpoises swimming north up the Menai Strait. The sea was perfectly calm making it easy to see the fins parting the water. Views of the nesting birds were good but nowhere near as spectacular as when I visited the island with the RSPB the previous May. This is what it looked like last year: 

Anglesey Sea Zoo was great, a wonderful insight into local marine life; good to see such emphasis on local species and their conservation although I felt a bit guilty about the lobsters pre-booked for that evening. I’m sure our lobsters, which were very tasty, were sustainably harvested.

Newborough Beach and Llanddwyn Island were stunning in the sunshine. £4 to park seemed a bargain for the experience on a sunny afternoon. Coastal wild flowers were at their best and the paths, buildings and monuments looked well cared for. Two people riding horses on the beach added to the idyllic picture. Lots of people out with dogs, several off the lead – this despite signs saying no dogs at this time of year. Who enforces this regulation?

Our hotel had a sun drenched balcony complete with a greeny yellow moth on the decking. The following afternoon the drenching was by rain and the resourceful moth had retreated beneath an overhang in the wall. 

Before the rain came we took a coastal woodland walk around a section of Red Wharf Bay; woodland flowers are so much more advanced compared to upland Snowdonia.

No visit would be complete without popping in to see the terns at Cemlyn. We crunched along the shingle, the wind and the rain on our backs, until we were opposite the breeding island.  The ardour of the males was in no way dampened by the weather. Let’s hope they have a good season.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Ffridd for the Future – sabre planting at Dyffryn Mymbyr

Outside the farmhouse where Esme and Peter lived
Dyffryn Mymbyr is the hill farm immortalised in ‘I Bought a Mountain’, the Thomas Firbank book published 75 years ago and reprinted countless times. It’s a page-turner telling the story of Firbank buying the farm in 1931, along with thousands of sheep, and making a go of it, despite being a novice born in Canada.

A central character in the book and pillar of strength is Esmé, who he met and married a couple of years later. They went their separate ways during the war and afterwards Firbank gave the farm to Esmé where she lived with her new partner Peter Kirby. She went on to found the Snowdonia Society, and much later the Esmé Kirby Snowdonia Trust, campaigning relentlessly to prevent inappropriate developments spoiling the natural beauty of Snowdonia. After their deaths the farm was acquired by the National Trust in 2005 and since 2010 its two farmhouses have been let to people on a self-catering basis.

Sabre planting in a gully of a stream
Recent guests at the one farmhouse were a party of volunteers ‘sabre planting’ trees into the ffridd; that’s the steep hillside beneath the mountain wall above and the improved land beyond the road below. Sabre planting? The hills are alive with the sound of music and the bleating of hungry sheep who’ll nibble on anything they can reach, making it difficult to establish new trees. But if you plant a sapling at a 90° degree angle to the hillside, it makes it much harder to reach. Within a year or so the sapling develops a sabre shape as it bends upwards to the sun.

Simon Rogers, the National Trust's Community Ranger for North Snowdonia, showed us examples, scoring the volunteers’ efforts on a scale of 1 to 10. ‘That’s a 7 or 8, the gorse downhill from the sapling adds extra protection, but that one over there is a 3 or 4 – far too accessible if a sheep stands on that slab of rock’. Most of the planting to date has been in the gullies eroded by streams. These have steep sides, are partly sheltered from the ferocious winds and the grazing here is not the best i.e. the farming productivity is not being compromised.

Saplings are grown in pots, the consequent root ball giving them a greater chance of success, to a minimum height of 140cm. Sheep might be able to nibble at the lower branches but not the leading branches at the top. Nibbling or pruning the lower branches encourages growth into the leading branches which accelerates the growth into the safe zone.

The 5 year project, which is at the end of its first winter, will see the planting of 3,000 native trees; a mix of Rowan, Birch, Alder, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Oak, Hazel, Willow and Crab Apple. These trees will help establish a bridge or woodland corridor between the wooded valleys of Nant Gwynant and around Capel Curig. 

Funding for this project has been provided in part by a generous donation from the Royal Oak Foundation (the American partner of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) to commemorate Fiona Reynolds’ time as Director General. Fiona was a close friend of Esmé and Peter and enjoyed many visits to Dyffryn Mymbyr. Funding has also been provided by the Esmé Kirby Snowdonia Trust.

Participants at the Wales Woodland Meeting visit Dyffryn Mymbyr

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Small Copper on the Forget-Me-Nots

Small copper
At long last the garden got a soaking yesterday and today it was brilliant sunshine but cool; perfect for a bit of hard graft digging out a 10 year old compost pile. It’s several feet deep with extensive nettles and their yellow roots, so satisfying to pull out. Also deep in the mix are bracken rhizomes, bursting with energy. Both nettle roots and bracken rhizomes are drying out on top of the wall.

Mixed in with the weeds and soil was the odd bit of rotted carpet that I had put down to inhibit the weeds. For some reason I thought it would be biodegradeable, but it’s not, certainly not in my lifetime. I’ve got a black bin liner full of the various strands.

Sadly I have destroyed a couple of vole homes, globes of dry vegetation beneath the soil. A small toad looked indignant as I relocated it a couple of yards away. But star of the show was the butterfly flitting on the profusion of forget-me-nots. If I’ve read my guide correctly I think it’s a Small copper.