Saturday, December 29, 2012

Snowdon: The Story of a Welsh Mountain

Everyone of course knows it’s in Wales or do they? As the first book about the mountain in ninety years, I think the author wanted to emphasise its roots in the local landscape, history, folklore and community as opposed to viewing it in isolation. Having taken a swipe at the ‘colonialists’, the record has now been set straight.

There’s nothing glossy about the book which boasts not a single illustration, not even a map. Going against the adage of pictures painting thousands of words Jim Perrin says you can convey so much more in writing; mixes of description, history, hopes, fears and so on. The writer can direct the reader more specifically, creating a mental picture, forcing thought and contemplation as opposed to a quick flick through.

That sounded plausible but I also liked what the publisher (Dylan Williams of Gomer) said at the book launch. Not only was Jim’s manuscript seven years late it was more than double the target wordcount. In parallel with the words, photos by Ray Wood had been commissioned and delivered but, with 65,000 words that were too good to be cut, there simply wasn’t the room for them.

It’s a very learned book, with many of those words being quotations from older texts or footnotes, and a ‘select bibliography’ stretching to seven pages, but it’s also very personal. Even the man who drove his Vauxhall Frontera to the summit (twice) gets a mention. This is followed by an admission of the author’s ‘hoodlum’ motorbike rides to reach the best climbing cliffs in time for an after work climb .... ‘It ill becomes old men like me, whose pasts will scarcely bear the weight of scrutiny, to grow sanctimonious’.  

Friday, December 28, 2012

Birdwatching and walking from the River Dee to Puffin Island

Excellent article by Kelvin Jones of BTO Cymru in the latest edition of Natur Cymru. This can also be read online (for free!) on the Natur Cymru website. The title in the magazine 'Birdwatching on Wales’ Coastal Path' is a bit misleading, covering just a small chunk of the path, as Kelvin explains in the final paragraph ....

‘I started writing this short piece as a description of an ornithological journey along the Wales Coast Path. But in this brief article we have only succeeded in travelling from the River Dee to Puffin Island. The remainder of our journey – around the coast of Anglesey and the Llŷn Peninsula and down to Porthmadog and St. David's, and then over to the magnificent Severn Estuary - will have to wait for the time being. Nevertheless, I hope that I have succeeded in giving you a taste of the orthnithological feast you can enjoy in North Wales.’

Dduallt Damson Sherry

Damsons were a wash out this year, none whatsoever. By contrast the previous year we had the usual glut with drunken wasps and a fruit loving fox eating them off the lowest branches. Purple scats everywhere.

That was the summer I started my wine making: bilberry, blackberry, strawberry, hawthornberry .... I gave them all a go and with mixed results.  I expected bilberry to be my favourite, the Rolls Royce of wild berries, but sixteen months on and it’s still got a fizz to it. Damson was the best of the bunch.

When I explained to Sue that I was going to give some wine to our neighbours for Christmas she asked what did it taste like? Her verdict was cough medicine but I felt sherry was kinder. So that’s what went on the labels ‘Dduallt Damson Sherry 2011’.

Our neighbouring farmer consumed his bottle that first night and has declared it a fine potion needing but two paracetamols. That’s good enough encouragement for me to try again next summer. Let’s hope for a better growing season.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fighting for Birds

There are some websites I try to look at every day. One that is always worth reading is Mark Avery’s blog ‘Standing up for Nature’. A former Director of Conservation with the RSPB, his articles are written with passion and humour, so I was curious to see if he could sustain his usual quality over 300 pages or more.

The tone is set by the title. This isn’t ‘Managing for Birds’ or ‘Caring for Birds’ or ‘Working-in-Partnership-with-Stakeholders-for-Birds’, although Avery does plenty of all three. It’s ‘Fighting for Birds’. It’s ‘in yer face’ nature conservation. It’s assertive, uncompromising and outspoken. Few prisoners are taken.

It starts slowly with chapters describing Avery’s youth, and his entry into the RSPB. I warmed to this, if only because his memories of ‘Peterson, Mountford and Hollom’, ‘The Selfish Gene’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ are mine also. There are chapters on early experiences in the Flow Country and working with roseate terns. You could be forgiven for thinking this is one of those rather worthy ‘my life with birds’ books.

But it gathers pace with a chapter on the vital importance of sound data for bird conservation, before moving on to nature reserves, climate science, farmland birds and the value of reintroductions. Avery provokes the reader at every turn. Was it right to shoot ruddy ducks? How would a reintroduced white-tailed eagle fare in Norfolk? What was Prince Harry really up to, that evening when two hen harriers were shot at Sandringham? Do egg collectors suffer from sexual inadequacy? There’s a lot to ponder.

But despite the combative tone, it’s Avery’s candour that makes him so persuasive. Nobody in nature conservation really thought hen harriers could affect grouse populations. But Avery readily acknowledges that the science is undeniable; they do. As a Labour Party member, he praises Michael Meacher, but also has warm words for John Gummer. The RSPB’s experiment with farming has been a qualified success, but far from plain sailing. At every turn he emphasises being honest with ourselves. In an age when, from climate change to badgers, opinion drives evidence rather than vice versa, this attitude is so refreshing it could make you cry.

It would be hard to make any criticism, but the reintroduction chapter makes no mention of the osprey project 20 miles from Avery’s home which, incidentally, led to the species breeding again in Wales. The section on politics is also a bit thin. It’s so much more complicated than a simple left / right question. What of differing shades, from one-nation Tory to neoliberal Thatcherite? What of the Liberal Democrats, UKIP, the Greens, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, and Northern Ireland parties?  Maybe that is another book.

After a delightful ‘light relief’ chapter of anecdotes (my favourite: the opening ‘Unleash Hell!’ scene from the film Gladiator was filmed next to the RSPB reserve at Farnham Heath) the book comes to its conclusion on the future. Whether you agree with Avery’s views on a ‘super NGO’ or not, it’s inspiring stuff. His message, that you don’t have to be a victim, that if we choose to be passive then we collude in the environment’s degradation, is compelling.

If you are a young person, maybe starting out on a career in nature conservation, ‘Fighting for Birds’ should be in your induction pack. No one, perhaps except Peter Marren, writes better. But anyone who cares about the future of wildlife in Britain should read this book. And if you enjoy it – and I bet you will – there’s more at

Andrew Lucas
(This review first appeared in the winter 2012 edition of Natur Cymru)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Orange jelly and apps in Coedydd Maentwrog

Is this Tremella Mesenterica - Witches' Butter? 
Lashed by Boxing Day rain this high-vis orange jelly could not be ignored. The rest of the family were tucked up in front of the log burner while Molly took me for a walk through the woods. No point taking a camera on a day like this but who needs to when it comes with you inside your Christmas smart phone.

I'm just getting the hang of this wonderful gadget. Taking the photo was easy enough. Re-sizing and uploading it to this blog with a few words was also pretty easy with my precise location recorded by the built in GPS. On the other hand, making and receiving phone calls without cutting people off - I've yet to master that, Rome wasn't built in a day.

I'm optimistic it's going to be a powerful tool for nature. BTO's BirdTrack app is brilliant. Type in the first couple of letters of what you've seen and select the full name from the drop down list. The default location is where you are standing. Add in the number of birds seen and your record is automatically sent into BTO. By making it so easy, will there be an increase in the number of recorders and records?

What about the quality of the records? 3 of my 5 records have a comment saying 'Not yet checked against BirdTrack thresholds'. Presumably this is some form of validation? Is there an individual checking  my entries or is it just a test of reasonableness against previous sightings for this area and time of year? My record of a lesser spotted woodpecker has been declared valid. This is one I didn't see but having heard its call I clicked through a long list of bird calls (an app of course) until I finally found a close match.

PlantTracker is another app that I've downloaded (for free) and looks an easy way to identify, record and map the presence of invasive species. Leaf Watch is an app with the specific purpose of tracking the spread of the miner moth and its impact on conker trees. Do you have any other apps you'd recommend I take a look at? I'm sure there will be a raft of new ones to herald in the spring.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Worktown – The Drawings of Falcon Hildred

I’m biased: I like Falcon, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him in his home, of witnessing his uncluttered way of life and hearing him describe his hopes and disappointments. I also live next to Blaenau Ffestiniog, so any comments about his book (written by Peter Wakelin) are not wholly objective.

The book contains 200 of Falcon’s drawings, now in the hands of public bodies for posterity, and the bulk of them record the industrial heritage of Blaenau Ffestiniog, Falcon’s home for over forty years. 

In the course of the book I learnt a lot about his life: how he got the impressive name of Falcon; how he came to move from Grimsby to Coventry, to London and eventually to Blaenau Ffestiniog; his bold decision to give up job security to follow his calling. I loved the drawing he sent to his mother depicting the layout of his bedsit in Putney during the times when he designed, amongst other things, first class bars and cabins for cruise liners.

Within the book there are many favourite drawings for me including the series depicting Tŷ Uncorn, the one chimney house with four tiny cottages sharing a central chimney. Was this a pioneering attempt at central heating? I like knowing what it looks like inside as I walk past it near the police station.

The final chapter is written by Falcon and titled ‘My Working Process’. On the last page he talks about the drawings made in other industrial towns in which the buildings have long since been demolished or renovated. ....’After half a century of recording, I believe that Blaenau Ffestiniog and its landscape are the best and most complete surviving industrial landscape in Britain’ .... ‘I feel we should save one example of a nineteenth-century industrial town as a complete cultural and historic entity. So my final message is: if you like my pictures, then please take care of the subject that inspired them.’  

And so we should. As for the book, which has been published by The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, not only do I recommend it, I suggest you get three copies. One for cutting out and framing images on left hand pages, another for the right hand pages and the third for a good read.

Habitat Regulations Assessment

IEEM course in Cardiff, 28th January 2013

The course is designed for project proposers and advisers in England and Wales, giving a thorough understanding of the overall purpose, process and methodology of the HRA of projects. As well as covering relevant policy and legislation, practical workshops and presentations will be used to explore the key stages of the HRA process, with professional tips and hints on compliance and best practice. Practitioners will come away with a clear understanding of how to most effectively submit projects and influence decision makers in the HRA process.

For more information, or to book a place on the course, visit the IEEM website here.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Birds of Meirionnydd now available!

The Birds of Meirionnydd has just been published by the Cambrian Ornithological Society. Its author, Rhion Pritchard, has made a really good job of writing up the current status of each species recorded in the county. The book is an A5 softback, similar format to the Cambrian Bird Report, with 210 pages plus 8 pages of habitat photos.
The previous county avifauna by Peter Hope Jones was published in 1974 so an update is really needed, especially as much more information is now available on the commoner species because of surveys carried out since then. Many species have a much changed status, the Red Kite for example.  In 1974 Hope Jones wrote ‘... a pair or two have bred on several occasions in Merioneth’  whereas now ‘Fieldwork for the 2008-12 breeding Atlas recorded this species 117 tetrads* out of 463, making this the second most widely recorded raptor in the county after the Buzzard’. The Hobby has appeared as a breeding species, but Kestrels and Merlins have declined. Let’s hope this book will stimulate more field trips to track down the more elusive species, such as Nightjar and Long-eared Owl.

* a tetrad is a 2x2km square, a recording unit used for distribution studies such as bird atlases.
Copies are available from me at Fronwen, Valley Road, Llanfairfechan LL33 0ET for £7.50 plus £2 post and packing. Cheques payable to ‘Cambrian OS’ please.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Slate is Great - Blaenau’s Slate Sculptures

Blaenau slate took 450 million years to form and quarrymen took 150 years to rearrange the mountains. In just twelve months the town has been transformed and reconnected with its heritage with slate sculptures constructed by Howard Bowcott.

First Minister Carwyn Jones will visit today, with the sun shining and work complete. But if you’d like to know how it was done, the film below shows how the sculptures were made. 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Moelyci Festive Fair .... elves everywhere

There was a warm atmosphere at yesterday’s Moelyci festive fair and an extra marquee was erected to accommodate the many stalls. Kurmang from the Model Bakery in Blaenau Ffestiniog was there with his Kurdish pasties. I didn’t feel strong enough for one of those so had a spinach and feta pastie for breakfast and a cheese and onion one for lunch. When asked what time he’d got up to do his baking he replied midnight! It was good to see he had sold out by 3pm.

I was on the Natur Cymru stall and met lots of existing subscribers who did an excellent job of directing new recruits in my direction. By the end of the day there were ten new subscribers. With subscriptions you can never say you’ve sold out but ten made me very happy. The stallholders either side of me were getting a bit cheesed off with the spiel .... ‘a subscription to Natur Cymru is not just a gift for Christmas’.

As you may know Moelyci is in a difficult financial position and appealing for support. Visit their website to find out more about the wonderful work they do. Below is a message from John Harold and two attentive elves!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Pirouetting on the path - the joyous approach to the Wales Coast Path

North Cardigan Bay is the second in a series of ten booklets each describing ten circular walks on the 870 miles of the Wales Coast Path. It’s highly practical, pocket-sized and has a sturdy cover with a handy fold to bookmark your page.

A great selection of walks makes it into the top ten. Portmeirion combines fantasy and escapism with a walk across the Cob, perfect for steam trains and what must be the ultimate view of Snowdon. A mile south at Ynys is the start of the next walk, down the estuary and back through the churchyard, with the grave of Richard Hughes of High Wind in Jamaica fame. (If you want a bit more background on this area there is an article titled Aberdwyryd.)

In between those two walks is of course Maentwrog-on-Sea which for the time being is an honorary coast path resort; being the lowest point at which you can officially cross the Dwyryd until the new Pont Briwet is built.

The tenth walk is down my memory lane from Borth halfway to Aberystwyth. In 1960 I think ours was one of only two caravans in the village and the sun shone all through the summer. In subsequent student days the walk along the coast was a popular Saturday evening prelude to sampling Borth’s pubs before catching the last bus back to Aberystwyth.

At £4.99 it’s excellent value .... that’s less than 50p a walk!

The other booklet currently available covers Llŷn

Natur Cymru winter edition

Artwork based on a papier mâché model
of Llŷn by Annie Horsley 
Coast Path – the idea of all-Wales coastal access becomes reality. Jane Davidson

Life after conifers – practicalities and rewards of removing a plantation. Celia Thomas

Ceredigion Coast Path – the making of a path, its wildlife and scenery. Nigel Kelly

Castlemartin Corse – restoring a great wetland and duneland system. Richard Ellis

Art Competition – the 2013 Inspired by Nature competition.

Wet, wet, wet: natural water treatment at Denmark Farm. Angie Polkey

Gwylio adar ar lwybr arfordir Cymru. Kelvin Jones

Snow on a Raven’s Wing – Writing competition winner. Liz Fleming Williams

Just do the walk – and write about it: the challenges of writing footpath guides. David Perrott

50 Years Ago – some Welsh Marsh-orchids. James Robertson

Woods and Forests – afforested deep peats in Wales, the 100,000 ha challenge.

Nature at large – taking a closer look at the National Botanic Garden of Wales.

Green Bookshelf – Andrew Lucas, David Saunders, Huw Jenkins, Gwenllian Rowlinson, James Robertson

Discoveries in Science – type fossils online.

Marine Matters – a legacy and a muddle.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Art for SSSART's sake

Some of the works of art
There will be an art auction to raise funds for the South Snowdonia Search and Rescue Team(SSSART) at Caffi Croesor on Saturday 8th December. Over 60 works of art have been donated by professionals and amateurs and bidding will be by sealed bid. Viewing from 1pm with auction underway by 6:30pm. More details on this charity auction can be found by clicking here. Good luck. Good cause.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Co-mingling not good for the soul

My council issues blue boxes for recycling with instructions to keep things separate. Glass bottles and jars are sorted into different colours and need to be kept apart from cans, plastic bottles and paper products. Finding suitable objects (other than carrier bags) to sub-divide the boxes is a constant challenge. I do this task every weekend, about the same time I used to go to evensong and it feels a bit confessional. Did we really consume that many green bottles?

Other councils are more laid back and say chuck all the non-glass into the same box. Presumably this means the residents are likely to recycle more waste and the council’s collection and onward handling is that much simpler. But surely it creates a big headache downstream?

UPM Shotton and the MRRF
Not at UPM Shotton where they have a massive recycling centre which handles the waste from 30% of UK households. Huge lorries are constantly arriving from across the UK and as far afield as Scotland to deliver all sorts of materials including the jumbled up boxes of ‘co-mingled’ stuff to use the recycling jargon.

I watched a truck disgorge its load of 25 tonnes by means of a ‘walking floor trailer’. This gets loaded onto a conveyor belt for a human check to pull out things, such as a duvet, that might snag the machinery. Thereafter it’s all done by machine with a bit of human quality assurance at the end. Powerful magnets and eddy current separators extract the metals. Sensors detect the characteristics of, for example, carrier bags and jets of air blast them on to another conveyor. And so it goes on until bales of sorted materials are stacked up ready to load onto trucks for factories to use again.

But not the newsprint. Each year Shotton converts 650,000 tonnes of old newspapers into half a million tonnes of recycled newsprint. The most modern of the three paper mills, the largest in the world, produces paper nine metres wide at 60 mph!

I was pleased with what I saw and all the efforts to power the plant with renewables – even the unwanted newspaper ink gets burnt to generate power. Driving back over the Denbigh Moors my head was buzzing with what I’d seen, the deafening noises of machinery, the putrid smell of rotting biomass.  Ahead of me the northern Snowdonia range covered in snow and an array of wind turbines poking over the horizon like giants practising their semaphore.

It was all very impressive but things would be so much better if we consumed less products and packaging and reduced our need for recycling.  

Abergwesyn Commons - Not such a common place

Abergwesyn Commons, owned by the National Trust, are about as close to a wilderness as you get in Wales. For the last two years Project Officer Jess Tyler has been working on management of the area, and wonders if we are taking the uplands for granted. [This article appeared in Natur Cymru Autumn 2011]

Looking down the Gwesyn. Photo Liz Fleming-Williams
There is no place I have been quite like this part of north Breconshire, the rooftop of Wales. Lichen-covered Birmingham Corporation watershed markers indicate the 11 mile boundary between the Elan Valley to the north and Abergwesyn Commonsto the south. The medieval remains of long huts, summer farm dwellings, remind us how this region would have once had so many more communities relying on a land less isolated than today. The tracks of the drovers and evidence of peat cutting reflect the activities of times gone by. Prehistoric sites scattered across the area show signs of activity from the Bronze Age and before. The quartz standing stone on the hill top of Drum Nantygorlan would have been at least 2 metres tall when upright. Now it rests on its side, pointing walkers to the isolation beyond.

Abergwesyn Commons consists of seven contiguous upland commons, and are a prime example of land affected by many external influences. For the last two years colleague Joe Daggett and I have been looking at management of the area through the Abergwesyn Commons Project. We have also worked extensively on the large areas of blanket bog that exist on the commons, carrying out restoration works.

On the westernmost Common there are large gullies that drain from an area of 5-6 acres of bare peat – at worst these are 2.5 metres deep and are down to the mineral soil. Areas of bare peat are not necessarily a bad thing. Small areas of only a few square metres seem to have shifting colonies of cotton grass; bare areas get covered up and covered areas become bare. The golden plover has adapted to using these areas and it looks very much like a natural process of this relatively liquid, unstable peatland. However, the creation of larger areas of bare peat appears to be a culmination of factors caused by people rather than being part of a natural process.

Rampant Molinia
Thousands of acres of the west side of Abergwesyn Commons are dominated by purple moor grass, Molinia caerulea, creating a huge fire hazard from the litter it leaves every year when it dies back. When fire takes a hold here, square kilometres of vegetation are burnt. Ash from the burn further encourages the Molinia, which progressively overwhelms other bog species and aids the drying of the peat. Often these fires are superficial and only the tops of the plants are lost, but if the fire gets into the peat it can burn for weeks, even months. The damage this does to the habitat is significant.

Helibags of Molinia. Photo Jess Tyler
It is likely that fire damage contributed to the creation of this larger area of bare peat but, however it started, it is clear that the area is increasing in size. We decided to target one area owned by the Trust, and a series of terraces/small dams was created to slow the water flowing away from the area, catching the peat before it got washed away. Materials local to the site were used, such as peat from hags, and chunks of bare peat that had fallen from undercut banks and from lone, small hags that had been isolated through erosion. The vegetation from on top of these hags has been used to help bind the dams and stabilise them. So far these terraces seemed to have worked well.

Mowing the Molinia
Bagging Molinia. Photo Jess Tyler
Under the fire management part of the project, 40 hectares of Molinia were cut last year to reduce flammable material. Whilst these cut areas would not stop a fire, we hoped – and it was subsequently shown – that in reducing the fuel load for a fire, it would not burn so intensely. National Trust staff and some hard core volunteers filled 1,000 heli bags with 250 tons of Molinia, which were transported and spread across the bare peat to protect it from the elements and create a more stable environment for vegetation to grow. It is likely that some Molinia will grow on the mulch but, as seen through small experiments carried out elsewhere, cotton grass and bilberry should also grow. So far the work seems to be proving highly successful. 

Changes to grazing
As much as the Trust would like to carry on cutting Moliniaon the commons, it is not financially sustainable. This is where grazing comes in: in the long term the right grazing will be the answer to controlling Molinia. Although the National Trust owns the Commons and may have 'owner privileges', it does not have any grazing rights, therefore cannot manage the grazing of the land directly. This job, rightly so, falls to the farmers who own or rent the grazing rights and who are often best placed and equipped to farm these hills.

The idea of Common Land comes from the time of William the Conqueror, and the Commons Registration Act was introduced in 1965. Sheep walks of the commons were officially registered as Common Land Blocks. It is known from records over the last 1,000 years that Abergwesyn Commons have been predominantly a sheep grazing area. The Cistercian Monks, based in Strata Florida, were renowned for their wool production and for centuries during the medieval period they owned Abergwesyn Commons and more. At one point in history the king granted a royal decree stating the monks did not have to pay tax on the wool they sold. Deeds dating back two or three hundred years show ownership of up to 3,000 sheep on a single farm. 

Other evidence shows there have been varying numbers of cattle, ponies and sheep on the Commons over the last thousand years, with cattle outnumbering sheep at one point but today numbers have dramatically declined. Pony numbers have decreased, from several herds of up to 50 ponies each, to barely a handful of herds of fewer than ten ponies. Currently there is no value in hill ponies; they are no longer sold for meat, which was their main worth, so it is understandable that farmers do not keep so many.

In the last century cattle numbers have dwindled to almost nothing. There is a lot of work involved to get cattle to stick to a heft, as, if they do not, there is over 100,000 acres of open access land for them to explore. Hefts are lost and, as was shown after the foot and mouth epidemic ten years ago, once lost, hefts are difficult to get back. There are also the complications and worries of TB and other diseases spreading across herds that have no fences between them, not to mention the in-by land they will need in the winter. The financial viability of small, slow maturing cattle herds on the hill is also an important factor. As well as the loss of headage payments, changes in farming practices, farms lost to forestry, and farmers giving up farming for one reason or another, have all contributed to the decline. The list of obstacles goes on.

This decline in mixed grazing, with plummeting numbers of sheep, has helped Molinia to become a dominant plant species. Yet there still seems a policy to reduce sheep numbers without enabling or supporting the increase of ponies and cattle. The number of birds recorded, such as golden plover, red grouse and curlew, has decreased over the same period that grazing patterns have changed and the numbers of livestock on the hill have fallen. Surely there is a link here?

Welsh Blacks at work. Photo Jess Tyler
A way forward
This is where the whole picture needs to be looked at. As part of the blanket bog restoration, 12 Welsh Blacks have been introduced on the most westerly common, working in conjunction with a grazier. A dozen cattle are not going to solve all the problems, but are giving us a good idea of the reality of having cows on the hill and how we can overcome any obstacles.

The importance of blanket bog is recognised globally for the role it plays as a carbon store. The reality is, the resources we need to turn around, long term, the decline of this habitat, are not readily available. With any resources that do exist, we must make joint decisions with the farmers to ensure we get best value and that the work done is likely to continue. For Abergwesyn Commons to become a viable farming and conservation area, we must support the graziers to graze for the habitat we want. We may be surprised to find that what is wanted, in terms of habitat, and what the farmers would like to see, may be one and the same thing.

We hold these uplands so dear to our heart yet there is so little actual support for them. This begs the question: Do we really fully comprehend the value of supporting these upland areas to breathe and adapt for the future, whatever that may bring? Or will we continue to take the uplands for granted?

In the life of this landscape we are just a blink of an eye. However, this does not lessen our responsibility towards it. Perhaps we need to listen to and support the families that have been its keepers, who have taken care of these hills for centuries, so that they will want to continue taking care of these sleeping giants for the centuries to come.

Jess Tyler is the National Trust's Abergwesyn Project Officer.

Taclo comin Abergwesyn – cam wrth gam
Sialensau cyfarwydd sy’n wynebu’r 7 darn o dir comin anferth o fewn Prosiect Tir Comin Abergwesyn. Gormod o laswellt y gweunydd, ardaloedd helaeth o fawn agored yn erydu, niferoedd stoc yn disgyn ac adar gwyllt yn prinhau…..

Nod y prosiect yw canfod atebion ymarferol i’r problemau hyn. Yn ystod y 2 flynedd ddiwethaf caewyd ffosydd a chrewyd terasau yn y darnau o fawn noeth er mwyn arafu llif y dŵr ac atal diflaniad y mawn. Torrwyd ardaloedd o laswellt y gweunydd, sy’n creu cymaint o berygl tân oherwydd y matres o ddeunydd gwyw sy’n casglu ar y ddaear oddi tanodd, a thaenwyd y torion dros y mawn agored. Bydd hyn yn gwarchod y mawn rhag tywydd garw ac yn rhoi cyfle i blu’r gweunydd a llus egino.

Mae sefydlu trefn bori addas yn her fawr. Defaid fu yma’n bennaf dros y 1,000 mlynedd ddiwethaf ac roedd mynachod Ystrad Fflur yn enwog am gynhyrchu gwlan. Bu rhywfaint o wartheg a merlod yn porihefyd. Ond prinhau mae’r merlod oherwydd nad oes galw am y cig ac mae gwartheg wedi diflannu’n llwyr o’r ucheldir oherwydd problemau cadw stoc ar ucheldir eang a phryderon eraill, fel lledaeniad TB. Fel y mae niferoedd stoc wedi disgyn, lleihau hefyd mae poblogaethau adar fel y cwtiad aur a’r gylfinir. Cyflwynwyd 12 o wartheg duon Cymreig yn ddiweddar – cam bychan ond gwerthfawr o ran gwella’n dealltwriaeth o anawsterau ac ymarferoldeb ffermio ar yr ucheldiroedd hyn, sydd mor bwysig i ni gyd.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Cormorants roosting on offshore windfarm structures

Cormorants frequently roost on man-made structures at the coast and in estuaries including channel markers and wrecks. In the past there have been fewer structures slightly further offshore in coastal waters suitable for use as roosts.  The North Hoyle windfarm, off the north Wales coast in Liverpool Bay, was in the first round of such offshore facilities to be installed in UK waters.

As well as the turbine towers this windfarm had mono-piles with anemometer towers mounted on them at both the western and eastern ends of the array of turbines. The anemometer towers became a roost site for cormorants.

Cormorants roosting on North Hoyle
windfarm anemometer tower (Ivor Rees)
The accompanying photo of the western anemometer tower was taken on 26th January 2006 while benthos samples were being taken for studies on available food for common scoter in adjacent parts of Liverpool Bay. At the time there were 25 cormorants using both the platform at the top of the mono-pile and up the lattice tower. This included the series of protruding arms carrying anemometers.

North Hoyle is in the relatively shallow (<20m), southern part of Liverpool Bay towards which birds from the large colony on the Great Orme would be expected to disperse to feed. With the increasing number of energy installations in fairly shallow coastal waters it would be interesting to know if this is becoming a widespread phenomenon and whether operators take steps to discourage the birds. If un-manned towers associated with tidal turbines also become widespread, the presence of structures at sea might, by reducing the need to return to shore to roost, influence feeding range / energetic relationships in some areas. 

This post was written by Ivor Rees

Monday, November 26, 2012

Llŷn Cycle Guide

The first quarter of the book sets the scene for the 25 routes that follow with titbits of local history, everyday life and practical advice. Llŷn written through the eyes of a cyclist, for the benefit of cyclists, with helpful hints on improving relationships with motorists, pedestrians and horse riders. Lack of colour in the images is compensated for by excellent hand drawn maps, cartoons and illustrations. A good ride and a good read.

The author's partner has just contributed an amazing papier-mâché work of art which will be used on the front cover of Natur Cymru, winter 2012.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The cat sat on the mat, but the fox scat on ..... the sundial!

Bloomin’ cheek of it. Earlier this year he or she killed our ducks and chickens.

Wales at Water’s Edge


The book opens at the south eastern corner of the Wales Coast Path and finishes 870 miles later in the mouth of the Dee. But of course you can start wherever you like in any of the ten segments.

Photograph seems such a mechanical word for the fantastic images captured or created by Jeremy Moore; a diverse range of subjects sometimes from an unusual angle. Lots of natural beauty as you’d expect and ugly things portrayed with panache.

The words by Jon Gower are personal, such as his timely good deed of alerting British Rail to a breached sea wall, thereby averting a disaster, and in reward for which he received The Collins Guide to British Birds.  Some words are not obvious  ....‘this wondrous coast is a place to walk, prog or beachcomb....’? According to the, to prog is to prowl about for food or plunder. Or did he mean to say jog?

Alliteration abounds with the coast described as ‘crinkled, crimped, crenellated and corrugated’ – I suspect he wanted to go on to say ‘caravanned’ but instead continued with ‘.... holidaymakered and lighthoused, dolphin-blessed, wind-sculpted and always wave-surrounded.’  

There’s humour, interesting titbits and pictures to inspire – it’s a catalyst to get you out walking or as close as you can get to being an acceptable armchair alternative to the real thing.  I’ll be putting it on my Christmas list.

Crib Lem to Carnedd Dafydd, a scabrous walk

From a roomy layby on the A5 just north of Llyn Ogwen we walked up a farm track, got wet feet in a bog, then dropped steeply down until we faced the Glyder-like scenery. Miniscule figurines of early morning walkers on the horizon gave a sense of scale to this raven patrolled fortress. Our route into the clouds was Crib Lem, every bit as exciting as the north face of Tryfan but without the crowds.

Following the hoof marks of wild ponies
Who or what was Lem or Glem? The discussion was inconclusive though someone spoke of a northern expression for being cold and maybe this was a Viking word we had subsumed. If you hung around contemplating too long it quickly became glem with a puddle of bog in your boots.

[I've now had it explained to me: Lem is the mutated version of Llym which means sharp or severe].

Our guide Rob Collister led us skilfully up the scrambly ridge until we reached the top of Carnedd Dafydd. We could hear the chough calling out and then it broke through the cloud and continued on its way.

Sitting in the summit shelters we were reminded that carnedd means cairn as in burial and that Dafydd was the younger brother of (neighbouring Carnedd) Llywelyn, the last prince of an independent Wales. His daughter was Gwenllian and her name has now been given to what was previously called Carnedd Lladron or Carnedd Uchaf. 

From the top we strode out along the ridge towards Pen yr Ole Wen, with sunshine illuminating Llŷn, and paused to look at the vegetation beneath our feet. Was this montane heath? It’s very rare and, apart from Pumlumon, Snowdonia is the most southerly occurrence with our best bits in the Carneddau. It has suffered from too much nitrogen, excess sheep grazing and consequent dung and urine. With reductions in sheep numbers there has been a slight recovery but declines of some plant species. CCW wanted to establish whether it was sheep or walkers that are the problem and placed a camera on the ridge which clearly showed that walkers generally stick to the main path and that the sheep are the problem. There are very few sheep but for some reason they always tend towards the ridge, maybe that’s where they escape the midges? We had a brief discussion on rumours that there might be fencing to exclude the sheep and how ugly that would be in this wild part of the mountains. I will try and find out whether there is any substance to this rumour.

Scabrous terrain - not a fence in sight
As we veered downwards Rob warned us to take care across this ‘scabreuse’ terrain – with a word like that I knew I was out walking with an international mountain leader. Definitely French and its English equivalent, scabrous, meaning ‘rough and covered with scabs’. Sort of appropriate for the bloody deaths of Llywelyn and Dafydd.

Events such as this are among the many reasons for wanting to join the Snowdonia Societyand, with Christmas coming up, the 20% discount at Cotswold Outdoor is much appreciated. Many thanks Rob.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Natur Cymru - online with the Wildlife Trusts

Read Inside
Online magazines or digital editions are knocking on the door but for the moment Natur Cymru is firmly fixed in print. Choosing when to intercept new technologies, and new commercial models, will be very important. We are definitely not an ‘early adopter’ magazine. Having said that, here is a link to a basic page turning version of our Summer 2012 edition which had a focus on the Wildlife Trusts to coincide with their centenary. Please pass it on to anyone you think may enjoy reading it.

The purpose of putting this edition online is to give potential subscribers a chance to sample before they buy. Just click on the caption beneath the front cover to 'Read Inside'.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Lord Lucan of Welsh mammals found squashed on road by Newtown

As one of the many people who have spent countless hours scouring the Welsh countryside for evidence of pine martens I’m not sure what I feel about the news that a young male has been found squashed on the road at Aberhafesp, just outside Newtown, Powys. On the one hand it’s reassuring to know they are still about and not just as memories or imagination. On the other hand it’s a shame that such a rare creature should be mown down by a driver.

This is the first specimen to be found in Wales since 1971 and the only other concrete proof in recent years has been a pine marten scat from the Vale of Rheidol in 2007.

There’s a report about the recent finding on Country Focus (Radio Wales, 11thNovember) which will be on the iPlayer until 18th November. If you want to get involved in the great pine marten hunt you should contact The VincentWildlife Trust. If you want to see what a pine marten looks like, or learn more about the scat survey methodology, here’s a (rather long-winded, sorry) film clip:


Saturday, November 10, 2012

South Stack’s Heath Restoration

Dave and Denise with the Ryetec behind
I went to RSPB South Stack two years ago to see the practice of ‘close shepherding’ to maintain the heathland. Basically the shepherd takes the sheep out from their overnight enclosure and guides them through the day to graze the parts of the unfenced heath that need it most. The use of a GPS stuck on the horn of the lead sheep records the route of the flock. This is close shepherding in action:

This week I went back to the southern end of the reserve where the heath is waist-high-too-tall for grazing by sheep and burning is not considered an option because the vast amounts of material would make it too difficult to control. So a posh mower has been hired which gobbles up the heath and collects the cuttings for use as either compost or for cattle bedding. Here is what the machine looks like in action:

NB the gorse is not strictly part of the designated heath but was being cut to create a suitable area for storing the cuttings prior to removal from site.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Ray Woods, lichens and the meaning of life

This year’s William Condry lecture was given by Ray Woods and it was a privilege to be in the audience. I must confess there were one or two sections that I did not quite understand so I’m mighty relieved to see the lecture has now been published on the Condry Lecture website.

Next year’s Condry Lecture will be given by Mark Cocker on Saturday 5th October, which is just before he starts to present the Tŷ Newydd nature writing course from 7th to 12th October. I’ve not yet seen the course details but there is a rumour that Ray Woods may be co-tutoring. Early booking is advised. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Welsh Dragons

What did you do this weekend?  Well, I went to a symposium on reptiles and amphibians held in Llandrindod Wells. Of the 102 delegates I was probably the only one who did not already know that grass snakes (and sand lizards) lay eggs whereas adders (and other lizards) have live births.  I also didn’t appreciate that slow worms live for up to 15 years and that females only give birth every other year. No doubt these titbits will stand me in good stead for University Challenge or Trivial Pursuits.

Happy subscribers
The symposium was pulled together by Mark Barber who is going to create much greater awareness about Welsh dragons i.e. our amphibians and reptiles. The various species don’t have the same glitzy glamour as birds or dolphins nor the stringent legal protection we afford to bats or badgers but by this time next year we should all know a lot more. Watch out for their advert in the spring edition of Natur Cymru.

Across the UK there are 60 ARGs (Amphibian and Reptile Groups) of which 6 are in Wales. Details of the various groups can be found here.
It was great to meet so much enthusiasm and even more pleasing to me that 10 delegates signed up to become subscribers to Natur Cymru! Welcome to the club.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Wales Coast Path – Llŷn Peninsula

870 miles of Wales Coast Path stretching into the horizon is something to be proud of yet can be a bit daunting, but this pocket sized book serves up an exciting 10% of it in ten circular walks of between two to four hours. I can manage that - no problem.

The book is handy in every way: robust covers on front and back with folds to tuck into the page you’re going to refer back to; sections of ordnance survey maps that avoid the need for carrying a full sheet (unless you want to); enough background information to whet the appetite and clear directions provided you can remember your right from your left.

I can’t fault the choice of walks that make it into the ‘top ten’. Aberdaron, with screaming choughs and views to Bardsey, had to be there. Porth Dinllaen with the pub on the beach where I once spent a wonderful New Year’s Eve. Whispering Sands, Nant Gwrtheryn and Borth y Gest – they are all spectacular.

It’s one in a series of ten books planned to cover the entirety of the coast path. I’m sure the rest will be just as good. It looks useful, not a glossy gimmick, and at £4.99 it’s a bargain.

Clearing the dunes at Fairbourne

I have idyllic memories of sunshine and running barefoot in the dunes; but best not to do so near the Point at Fairbourne where there are protruding strands of wire and fencing. This Saturday, 3rd November, a team of volunteers will be tackling the problem to restore the dunes to the spectacular beauty spot many local residents and visitors enjoy for dog walking and bird watching.

Volunteers will enjoy a free ride on the Fairbourne Railway to the end of the line where the work is most needed, all are welcome so do get in touch if you would like to help in this clear-up campaign and experience this very special narrow-gauge railway for yourself! This is what it looks like on the railway:

Jane Byrne, vice-chair of the Fairbourne Railway Preservation Society explains, “The Fairbourne Railway has run through magnificent scenery along the sea front in Fairbourne since its origins as a horse-drawn tram service in 1895.  In 2010, the Railway gained charitable status and in large part is now staffed by volunteers from the FRPS.  In the 1980s, barbed wire fencing was put in to protect certain areas of the dunes and to hold sand back from the rails.  Marram grass now serves the purpose of retaining the sand and the fences have gradually broken or rotted and present a hazard to people and wildlife.  It is our aim to remove the dangerous wire and then work to guide visitors to walk in areas which will not cause damage to the dunes in future.  We would very much appreciate all support offered in this venture.”

The Snowdonia Society organises practical conservation workdays across Snowdonia throughout the year, working with a variety of organisations and community groups to enhance and protect areas of conservation value. “ By participating in our workdays, volunteers can enjoy the beauty of Snowdonia, meet new people, learn new skills and keep fit at the same time! Our volunteering program is varied and everyone is welcome to get involved.” Said Jenny Whitmore, Conservation Snowdonia Project Officer.

If you would like further information on this or other conservation volunteering opportunities, please contact or call 01286 685498. If you would like further information on the Fairbourne Railway please contact or call 01341 250 362.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hedgehogs and docks

Helping a friend reclaim an overgrown garden in Blaenau Ffestiniog, uprooting nettles, reeds and various self seeding shrubs. Stick in the fork, press down, push forward, wiggle it about and out they pop.

I pressed the fork towards some reeds with leaves piled around and prodded a sleeping hedgehog. The spiky ball seemed OK .... no blood, no damage hopefully. As I put it back into the pile of leaves I could see there was another one. I haven’t seen a live hedgehog for years. This was a real treat.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day I dug out the largest dock roots you can imagine  - the full length of my garden fork. Shame there isn’t a competition for the largest dock.  

I logged on to COFNOD, the north Wales record centre, and recorded my hedgehog sightings under the hedgehog survey section. There did not seem to be anywhere to record my amazing dock roots.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Bumblebees have undeniable appeal. They look like tiny flying teddy bears, and their ability to take off is aeronautically implausible. This popularity has stimulated the formation of an energetic Bumblebee Conservation Trust. It has also encouraged a number of excellent publications.

Twenty years ago the first edition of Bumblebees was published. One of a series of ecology and identification handbooks for naturalists, it has been substantially revised for this latest, third edition. It is much more than an identification guide, dealing extensively with the natural history of bumblebees.  This is based around the original research of one of the authors, and the final chapter contains useful information to help anyone interested in doing their own research to get started.

Several questions buzzed around my brain as I read this splendid handbook. I remembered that Alan Morley had written about unseasonal winter activity from buff-tailed bumblebee queens in Natur Cymru edition 10. It turns out that this species is regularly found starting a winter nesting cycle. A couple of bumblebee species that I see fairly regularly are not included as recent records on the map for my County, but the text makes clear that some areas are not well recorded, and the onus is on me to pass my records on!

As well as maps at the end of the book showing the distribution of species, there are many line drawings and superb plates contributed by Tony Hopkins. They add detail and delight to a wonderfully informative text about a fascinating group of insects.

James Robertson
Editor of Natur Cymru
This review was first published in the summer edition of Natur Cymru, June 2012