Author: Carys Evans

Why August is a magical month for Skomer Island

August is a special time of year on Skomer, the island team have a chance to take a breath before seal pupping season takes hold. When everywhere else of the mainland is busy with school holiday mania, Skomer becomes a quiet getaway, a chance to see some beautiful scenery while taking a lovely wildlife walk.

The puffins have gone but there are still some seabirds to see. Kittiwake chicks fledge at the beginning of August and Fulmars will still have chicks on the seabird cliffs until the end of the month. They may look like gulls but Fulmars are more closely related to an Albatross or our very own Manx shearwaters. If you’re lucky you can see an adult Fulmar feeding a chick on one of the seabird cliff ledges. Watching the unmistakable flight of the Fulmars as they play in the wind is spectacular, as shown in this lovely photo taken by wildlife photographer Drew Buckley.

Fulmar by Drew Buckley

 

During August grey seals will be gathering around the island and the first pups are usually born by the beginning of the month. It is fascinating to watch their behaviour as seal mums stay close to their pups for the first three weeks of their lives. Meanwhile the large male bull seals are never too far from the females, defending their territories and the chance to mate.

An immature grey seal basking on the rocks at low tide

 

As well as this there are always other island residents to look out for. Chough and Peregrines can be found anywhere around the island. It is always special to see these highly protected schedule one birds. Ravens start to gather in larger numbers, their familiar call echoing overhead as they fly by. The Skomer rabbits are something a bit unusual too. As well as the usual brown rabbits you may see a variety of black or black and white ones. Essential for conservation grazing on the island they are also a firm favourite with the visitors and residents.

A pair of chough: these birds remain together even after the breeding season is over

A black and white rabbit close to the farm

Painted Lady Phenomenon

It’s not often that butterflies make the news, but this year one species has turned up to the UK in their millions.

Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) are a migratory species that are seen every summer in the UK in numbers that vary annually. However approximately every decade they turn up in vast numbers. 2019 is certainly one of those years and the first since 2009 when approximately 11 million crossed the channel. Early counts suggest that this year the numbers may be even higher.

Painted Ladies are one of the most widely distributed species of butterfly; they are present on all continents except South America and Antarctica. They are the only species of butterfly seen in Iceland. They also perform the most spectacular migration of any butterfly, including the famous Monarch butterfly migration in North America. Their migration routes vary depending on where in the world they are of course but the ones that we see have originated from tropical Africa. They migrate North in overlapping generations, travelling over 12,000km annually. Individual animals can fly more than 4,000km including crossing the Sahara, as they follow suitable conditions for breeding. Populations that breed in some hotter areas of the Mediterranean in summer return south (again in overlapping generations) across the Sahara where the cycle starts again.

The butterflies that we see in the UK exploiting the wildflowers and sources of nectar in wildlife-friendly gardens tend to lay their eggs on thistles. Unfortunately Painted Ladies can’t survive our winters as eggs, caterpillars or adults so it is currently a one-way trip, though this may change in the future if our climate continues to warm.

For now, get out and enjoy them as it may be another 10 years before they can be encountered so frequently!

Have you seen an influx where you are?

We would love to see your photos of Painted Ladies – share them with us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram!

Welsh Wildlife Centre Closure

Update as of 29th August 2019

Following assessments on 29th August 2019, we have been assured that the visitor centre is safe and structurally sound.

The Welsh Wildlife Centre will therefore open as normal tomorrow 30th August 2019.

Thank you for your support and understanding during this time.

 

Published 28th August 2019

Thank you all for your concern regarding our Welsh Wildlife Centre.

We would like to confirm that there is no cause for alarm. Yesterday part of a decorative glass panel at the Welsh Wildlife Centre suddenly broke. No-one was hurt but we immediately evacuated the building as a precautionary measure. We have been in contact with glass engineer experts whose initial advice is that this is a highly unusual incident that is unlikely to affect any other glass at the Centre. We are arranging a visit from an expert to confirm this as soon as we can so that we can reopen the Visitor Centre.

It is most unfortunate that this has happened during the summer holidays. As well as not wanting to disappoint our visitors, all profits from our visitor centres support the conservation work of our charity and we just hope that our work for wildlife is not impacted too greatly.

Thank you for your ongoing support.

News from Vine House Farm

The Wildlife Trusts have been in partnership with conservation award-winning Vine House Farm Bird foods since 2007 because their business is committed to protecting and enabling the environment they work in to thrive.

Passionate conservationists, Vine House Farm are leading the way in wildlife-friendly farming – growing, packaging and dispatching the vast majority of bird seed they sell from their Lincolnshire farm, ensuring their family-run business always operates with the environment in mind.

Over the last 10 years Vine House Farm have given 5% of their sales to The Wildlife Trusts, with this adding up to more than a million pounds.

Here’s the latest update from the farm blog

What’s Happening on the Farm

Due to the wet summer, our crops are very lush and are in no hurry to ripen. The harvesting of winter barley and rape is taking place in between the showers. Rape crops are poor however, and the winter barley is only producing average yields. This kind of summer is better suited to farms on sandy and gravelly land – the past few summers have been too dry to yield large crops on this type of land.

Oil seed rape crops are not very good due to the cabbage stem flea beetle, which seems to have affected every crop. In the past, we dressed the rape seeds with neonicotinoids which protected the crop from the beetles during the lifetime of the crop. As it disorientates honey bees, the chemical was taken off the market. Whether it disorientated any other insects we don’t know.

No one knows how many flea beetles there will be, but I do know that the acreage of rape will be down this coming year. We shall be sowing our rape early so if the crop fails we will have time to sow another crop.

In wet years, we quite often have a job to control weeds on the organic land but due to the dry weather in May, the weeds are under control. Prices for our organic wheat and barley crops are double that of our conventional crops, and carry an additional premium, because we are growing them for seed. Another 40 acres will have turned organic this autumn and 50 acres this time next year. To grow the crop for seed, it has to be free of wild oats, docks and charlock. Our fields have to be walked twice removing all the plants that cause trouble and then are inspected by NIAB, the National Institute of Agricultural Botany. The combine, the trailers and dryer also have to be cleaned out carefully before we harvest the organic crops.

We have been irrigating the potatoes when they have needed rain but they won’t be irrigated any more this summer as we have now brought all the irrigators out of the fields.

Sugar beet crops will be enjoying the damp weather and there will be some big crops about but there needs to be as we are only getting paid £20/tonne. 15 years ago, before the crop was related to the world sugar price, it was £36/tonne, but now British Sugar say they cannot afford to pay us any more than £20/tonne. We don’t have to grow it – British Sugar seem to be able to get enough farmers to grow it so it must still be a reasonable option. It is a good break crop, totally different to any other crop we grow and that is why farmers still grow it.

The sugar beet crop has seen large increases in yield over the past 20 years, average yields have gone from 20 tonnes/acre to 30 tonnes/acre with some growers on the best land topping 40 tonnes/acre. That is why we can still make a profit from it, but basically, as every year goes by, the profit from an acre of land gets less and less and so if we don’t farm more land we are actually going backwards, we either have to farm more land, diversify or drop out!

Wildlife

Our wildlife has enjoyed the moist summer, certainly we had several Lapwings reared late that wouldn’t have been reared at all if it had been a dry summer. Blackbirds are still pulling worms out of lawns to feed nestlings and that doesn’t happen in a dry time.

Perhaps the biggest winner on the farm have been the Moorhens nesting on the ponds near the farmhouse. In the April newsletter, I talked about my dwindling population of Moorhens – three years ago we would have had 16 Moorhens wintering on the second pond, two years ago there were only 12 and last winter numbers were down to six. Total numbers wintering here do include birds from other ponds.

Not wishing for another species to go extinct from our garden, we built a further floating house on another pond, so that they could build two nests. This means that predators would not be able to see the sitting female in the house. Both nests are on their third brood and those young are all being reared successfully. The first and second broods are helping to raise the third brood in both ponds and so they are being well looked after.

A week ago, a nest was built outside the floating house on the edge of the pallet. This was used for brooding the latest young birds from the third brood, mainly at night and when it was raining. The net result is that we have more than 16 Moorhens to winter with us so building them another floating house definitely helped.

I am sure that everyone in the village will have heard a Cuckoo around this summer and I thought I would find eggs in several Reed Warbler nests, and I found over 50 nests. However, I only found one nest with a Cuckoo’s egg in it, and once it hatched it ejected the other Reed Warbler eggs the nest contained, to ensure its own survival.

In the past, young Cuckoos have had a very poor survival rate as they get too heavy and in windy weather the reeds or the nest give way. The young Cuckoo lands in the water and cannot survive. I kept a close eye on this one, especially as it was well up in the reeds, I put the nest in a wire cradle and bunched several reeds together. The Cuckoo hatched on July 9th and fledged on July 29th, which was the day before the windy weather arrived. Its foster parents had to work extra hard as it was in the nest for eight days longer than a brood of Reed Warblers would have been.

I was asked whether I should have saved the Reed Warbler eggs or taken the young Cuckoo out of the nest but to me this is an example of evolution at its best. How could it have evolved and how long would it have taken to evolve? It is absolutely amazing and the way that the Cuckoo manages its migration, stopping to fatten up in various places before it crosses the Sahara and the Mediterranean, how does it know to do that? Just mind blowing. It is diversity at its finest.

Don’t forget to look us up at the bird fair, I will be attending all three days and we will be on our usual stand. Our trailer for seed collection will be in the red car park.

You are invited to our lasting legacy event

Help secure a future for wildlife in Wales

This September we are holding two special legacy events at our visitor centres in Bridgend and Pembrokeshire.

These events will offer the perfect opportunity to meet staff and gain a real insight into the work of the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. Learn about how you can leave a lasting mark on our beautiful landscape and protect our wonderful wildlife.

We have already achieved a lot for wildlife, but there is so much more we are determined to do to safeguard Wales’ wildlife and wild places for future generations to enjoy.

You will have the opportunity to hear about how we have used previous legacies, the incredible impact that a legacy can have on our vital work to protect local wildlife and how you can make or amend a Will to include a gift to The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.

Join us for an inspiring morning, followed by a home cooked buffet lovingly prepared by our brilliant chef.

We will be holding two events during September, details are as follows:

Event 1

Venue: Parc Slip Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre Discovery Room, Fountain Road, Tondu, Bridgend, CF32 0EH

Date: Thursday 19th September 2019

Time: 10:30am for approx. 2 hours followed by a buffet lunch

Cost: Free

Event 2

Venue: The Welsh Wildlife Centre, Cardigan, SA43 2TB

Date: Saturday 21st September 2019

Time: 10:30am for approx. 2 hours followed by a buffet lunch

Cost: Free

If you would like to attend either event please RSVP to Carys Evans, Communication and Fundraising Officer, on 01656 724100 or email cm.evans@welshwildlife.org by 13th September 2019.

 

Best wildflower meadows to visit this summer

Thanks to the arrival of summer, wildflowers are blooming across the country.

Pollinator havens, where a plethora of flora combines to create a technicolour mosaic across the otherwise green landscape.

I am of course, talking about wildflower meadows.

Unfortunately, 97% of flower rich meadows have been lost in England and Wales over the last 80 years. Meadows require careful management and intermittent grazing which unfortunately is often too slow and unproductive for todays modern intensive farming practices.

Wildflower meadows are a wildlife hotspot, often home to some 40 different species of flower! This doesn’t include the insects and fungi which also depend on this vital habitat.

Meadows are not only a treat for wildlife, they are also the perfect place to unwind and admire the beauty and magnificence of mother nature. When visiting a meadow, the air is filled with the sound of bees gently hopping from one flower to the next, butterflies dancing through the sky and birds singing overhead. You will breathe in the familiar scent of summer as the pollen tickles your nose as it is lifted into the air with the wind.

When visiting a meadow, you don’t have to look far to see clouds of butterflies. Blues, browns and reds flutter above your head as you embrace the beauty before you.

Our meadows offer the perfect opportunity to do some butterfly counting as part of the Big Butterfly Count.

Here are our must visit meadows this summer:

Cae Eglwys, Brecon, LD3 9PR

Walk amongst the orchids at Cae Eglwys. Staff and volunteers have been working tirelessly since 2006 to control the bracken, which has revealed a kaleidoscope of colour. Common Spotted Orchid, Broad-leaved Helleborine and Eyebright among others, brush your ankles as you walk through this spectacular meadow. Expect to see Common Blues, Ringlets, Small Coppers as well as many more dancing above the meadow during summer months.

Please note, there is no parking at the reserve. Park at nearby village Sarnau and walk from there.

Priors Meadow, Gower, SS577936

Situated on the edge of the magnificent Prior’s Wood, there is a wildlife paradise home to Whorled Caraway, Ragged Robin and Devil’s-bit Scabious to name but a few. This precious habitat is one of the last remaining old hay meadows on Gower and has been managed as a meadow for at least 100 years. The meadow is sympathetically managed with thanks to the Saving Priors Meadow project which began in October 2018. Staff and volunteers work hard to maintain and manage the land to improve and protect the wildlife that call it home.

Teifi Marshes, Cardigan, SN187430 

Despite the name, the Teifi Marshes Nature Reserve is home to various habitats and wildlife. One of which is a beautiful wildflower meadow which provides a vital pollen pit stop for the resident pollinators. A rainbow of flowers carpets the floor as the air is filled with the gentle buzz of bees.

The feast to your senses continues as you wander through the Welsh Wildlife Centre, the smells of homemade food filling the air. There is something for everyone at the Teifi Marshes;  wildlife, an adventure playground, a willow maze and a giant willow badger.

For a day of family fun, visit the Welsh Wildlife Centre and Teifi Marshes.

Pwll Waun Cynon, Mountain Ash, ST035998 

Situated in the Merthyr Valley, Pwll Waun Cynon was once a neglected, overgrown and scrubby reserve. Thanks to the hard work of staff and volunteers plus a helping hand from resident grazing cattle and ponies, this wonderful reserve can finally live up to its potential!

Despite being completely flooded in 2018 by Storm Callum, the meadow is now awash with wild flowers. It is the perfect location for a spot of Butterfly counting! The reserve is home to many water birds, uncommon plants and the occasional Mink!

To experience a wildflower meadow in all its glory, visit during summer months.

What are you waiting for?

More information about our reserves can be found here

 

We’re looking for a new Trustee!

CAN YOU HELP THE WILDLIFE TRUST PROTECT WILDLIFE FOR THE FUTURE?

We’re looking for a new Trustee!

The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales manages some of the region’s most precious wild places.

Our mission is to rebuild biodiversity and engage people with their environment, by:

  • Creating and enhancing wildlife havens within and outside nature reserves, particularly by creating Living Landscapes and Living Seas
  • Inspiring people about the natural world and helping them enjoy and protect it.
  • Publicly standing up for wildlife and the environment

This year the Board has one vacancy and is looking for someone with a high-level, professional conservation background to complement the existing professional skills of the Board.

We want to build a diverse and inclusive Board that reflects the membership and communities that we serve.  So if you are over 18, and would like to use your skills and experience at Board level to help us help wildlife, then we would love to hear from you.  We would also like to continue to have a good geographical representation on the Board and welcome applications from all areas.

Trustees are unpaid volunteers and do not usually receive expenses.  The commitment is to attend Board meetings (about 6 a year, usually on a Monday evening in Bridgend and 2 Saturdays at any of the Trust venues) as well as volunteering some spare time to help develop the Trust’s work and to occasionally attend other meetings or events.

The term of appointment is for up to three years in the first instance, although there is the opportunity to be co-opted to the Board for an initial term of one year.

Wildlife Trust staff are deeply committed to their work in protecting wildlife and ably supported by many dedicated volunteers including Trustees.  We have a lot of work to do, and being a Trustee can feel demanding at times, but it is deeply rewarding and you will be part of a friendly and energetic team.

Please download the Information about being a Trustee and the Code of Conduct.

The deadline for applications to join the Board for the AGM 2019 is  Friday 23rd August 2019.  

Our current Trustees would be delighted to talk informally to anyone interested in applying.  Please contact Diana Clark, who would be happy to set up a meeting or phone call with an existing Trustee to discuss the role.

Contact details: Diana Clark, The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, The Nature Centre, Fountain Road, Tondu, Bridgend CF32 0EH. Tel: 01656 724100

Email: d.clark@welshwildlife.org

 

Interested in learning more about The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales?

Join us on Saturday 26th November at the Welsh Wildlife Centre for our annual AGM

More details to follow

Dive into National Marine Week 2019!

 This summer The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales’s Living Seas team invites you to join them on an epic adventure to celebrate National Marine Week. Search the Shore, Dive into a virtual world of Dolphins and Ramble those Rockpools!

Make the most of the coast with The Wildlife Trusts and spot shoreline treasures and ocean giants this National Marine Week.  The celebration runs from 27th July to 11th August 2019 – a fortnight to take advantage of the tides – and showcase wonderful marine wildlife around the UK.

There is a fantastic programme of events so if you would like to become a dolphin detective, help out with a beach clean, go on a seashore safaris or watch the Cardigan Bay dolphins then be sure to join in the celebrations with The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW). The Wildlife Trusts will also be launching a new version of their popular citizen science project – Shoresearch – and are calling on everyone to get involved in monitoring marine life on UK shores.

A fabulous range of colourful sea-side spotter guides and marine activity sheets to help all ages enjoy the beach and rockpools will be available at WTSWW’s Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre (CBMWC) in New Quay. There are guides to marine megafauna, rockpool wildlife and adventure, seabirds, jellyfish, reduce your plastic use and even how to make your own felt crab!

Sarah Perry, Living Seas Manager for the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, says:

“The seas around Wales are home to a wealth of marine life from limpets to jellyfish, periwinkles to dolphins. We would like to celebrate all the wonderful marine wildlife this summer with the visitors to our Welsh shores. The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales has a host of fantastic events lined up as part of National Marine week and for the holiday season as part of our Living Seas Wales project and through our Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre. We look forward to showcasing the wealth of marine wildlife in Wales with locals and visitors alike”.

You can find out more about our WILD marine events by visiting our website or following our marine team on Twitter.

In Wales we have over 870 miles of incredible coastline to explore. The Wildlife Trusts’ campaign for better protection for wildlife and its home around the UK. Data collected by our staff and volunteers has helped identify important areas for marine life in Welsh waters and led to the designation and management of Special Areas of Conservation for bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises. Data collected through our Shoresearch surveys will help experts monitor our fragile sea life and better understand the effects of pollution, climate change and invasive alien species.

Follow #NationalMarineWeek on Twitter and Instagram!

Everything you need to know when planning your day trip to Skomer

Skomer Island offers an otherworldly experience for all who choose to visit. Although the last of the puffins will soon be setting off on their travels, the island offers the perfect opportunity to see beautiful birds, adorable rabbits and of course the white fluff of seal pups!

Here is everything you need to know when planning your day trip to Skomer

  • Catch the boat from Martin’s Haven in Pembrokeshire to Skomer Island everyday of the week except for Monday. All people wishing to visit Skomer must purchase a landing ticket from Lockley Lodge Visitor Centre.
  • We allow a maximum of 250 people with landing tickets onto the island on any one day; this helps us to keep path erosion in check and also helps to manage the movement and behaviour of visitors when in close proximity to the seabirds.
  • Skomer day visits are oversubscribed during May to mid-July, and unfortunately not bookable during the season, but the best time to go (and avoid the largest crowds at the ticket office) would be early to mid-July.
  • Ring the ticket office on 01646 636800 the afternoon before you wish to travel for queuing and sea condition updates as the queues can form from very early in the morning.
  • Landing fee is £11 for non-members. Members to the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales benefit free landings on Skomer Island. These are limited to 2 free landings between May-July and unlimited in April, August and September.
  • There is an additional fee payable to the Skipper of the boat, £11 for adults, £7 for children in cash.
  • Weather will affect day-visits throughout the season. Skomer’s landing point faces the north-east so any northerly or easterly wind will affect our ability to land safely. Any strong wind from any other direction can also affect safe landing. The boat Skipper will make the decision on the viability of day trips at 8am in the morning. When making this decision the Skipper will also be considering sailing conditions in the afternoon. These need to be considered as the return journeys form the island need to be made in safe conditions.
  • The decision to sail is Tweeted on @skomer_boatinfo shortly after 8am. We do appreciate that news of a cancelled sailing can be upsetting, particularly if you have been queuing since before 6 in the morning, however, the decision to not sail is taken to protect you. We do make every effort to get visitors across but we will not compromise their safety.
  • If you can only visit during May or June we recommend that you avoid Tuesdays and Saturdays as they are the busiest days; we are also busy any day after a wind affected ‘no sail day’.
  • Please be prepared to queue from very early in the morning for the weeks around and including the Whitsun period.
  • We recommend taking advantage of a round island cruise if you are unable to secure a landing ticket; you will see volumes of razorbill, guillemot and puffin ‘rafting’ on the water. The Skipper provides an informative commentary.
  • Please ensure to take water and snacks as there is no shop on the island.
  • Dress appropriately for the weather including sturdy shoes and warm layers if necessary.
  • ALWAYS stick to the paths, Skomer is home to thousands of ground nesting birds therefore it vital that you never deter from the paths.
  • Lastly, have fun!

When should you visit?

Skomer offers a wildlife paradise year around, but if there is a particular species you would like to see here’s when you should visit:

Puffins – March to July

Razorbills – March to July

Guillemots – March to July

Manx Shearwaters – May – September (please note, these can only be seen at night)

Grey Seals – March to April and then August to November for Seal pups

Bluebells – late April to early June

Red Campion – May to late June

Please note, May and June are our busiest months and tickets sell out extremely quickly. Ensure to use our handy tips above for the best chance of getting on the island.

No matter when you visit, expect incredible vistas across the sea towards mainland and neighbouring island Skokholm.

We would love to hear your wonderful stories from Skomer, share them with us via social media.

Stay in touch on Facebook,  Twitter and Instagram

For more information about visiting Skomer, click here

 

 

Could you recognise a true bug?

The word “bug” can have many different meanings, it can be slang for when someone is irritating you (“don’t bug me”) or a device that spies use to listen in on conversations. Most often “bug” is used to refer collectively to insects and other invertebrates, but to a taxonomist (a biologist that groups organisms into categories) this usage would be considered incorrect. Bugs, or “true bugs” because of aforementioned misuse, are insects within the Hemiptera Order. This means that all bugs are insects, but not all insect are bugs.

In the world there are over 70 000 true bug species, 1 800 of which are found in Britain. This order includes shield bugs, plant hoppers, bed bugs and aphids.

So what sets the true bugs apart from other insects? The main difference boils down to mouthparts.

True bugs pierce plants with a long, rigid and straw-like proboscis (mouthpart). The proboscis of the true bug is non-retractable, meaning they cannot chew. Instead, once they have pierced the plant, they push their saliva through their proboscis into the plant, which begins digesting the plant material, after which they suck up the food (plant sap) through their proboscis. Most other insects with a similar proboscis, for example butterflies and bees, are able to retract their proboscis.  This allows them to move food into their mouth, whereas the true bugs can only pierce and suck the plant.

Another characteristic trait of some true bugs, though not all, is that half of their forewings are hard and leathery, while the other part is soft. This is reflected in their taxonomic name “Hemiptera”, hemi means ‘half’ in Greek and pteron means ‘wing’.

Some of these plant-piercing species are considered pests, in Britain there are 800 species of aphids, whiteflies and scale insects. As well as damaging and weakening crops by feeding on the plant they can transmit disease from plant to plant too.

So the next time you are pestered by aphids in your vegetable patch, be sure in the knowledge that you are being bugged by a true bug.

Interested in learning more about your environment and wildlife?

Why not come along to one of our events?

More info here

News from Vine House Farm

We are delighted to continue working in partnership with The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW). Vine House Farm donates £10 for every new Trust customer and 4% of every sale to WTSWW and other partner Trusts! Crucially, the donation has never been added to our prices – it’s simply something we allow for and our prices remain some of the lowest in the market.

What’s happening on the farm?

June was far too wet for us, with potatoes being the main concern. Two of our fields have been so waterlogged that we were unable to spray them against blight for more than two weeks.

Blight is a microscopic, fungus-like organism that develops in moist weather. The spores easily break away from infected foliage and can be wind-blown for long distances during dull, humid weather. If a spore lands on a wet leaf surface, it produces many swarms that settle and grow into the tissues of the leaf. After about three days it becomes visible to the naked eye and if not treated by a fungicide it will spread through the crop. All the leaves turn brown, killing them and the crop. The spores will fall on to the ground, get washed into the soil which causes the tubers to rot away.

We spray our crops every ten days to keep blight away and if we see some of the leaves have the disease, we have to spray weekly. Over the years better chemicals have been produced to improve the control of blight, but more aggressive strains evolve and so the battle goes on.

Genetically modified potato varieties have been produced which are immune to potato blight. If we grew them, it would mean our potato crop would only need to be sprayed four times during the growing season, instead of 12. As you know genetically modified crops are not allowed to be grown in this country and until they are, these new potato varieties will have to wait to be grown commercially.

All our crops need sunshine to yield well. June let us down as far as sunshine is concerned, but as I write, the week ahead is forecast to be sunny, which should help to reduce the threat of potato blight.

Wheat crops in particular will be soaking up the sunshine until about 25°C which is too hot for the crop which often happens in the middle of England. The North Sea coasts of Yorkshire and Northumberland are where the highest yielding crops of wheat in the world can be grown, as the temperature seldom gets to more than 25°C. The days are longer during high summer than further south, allowing more sunlight to reach the crops.

The wet June has kept the men out of the fields, so they have been tidying the yard and completing workshop jobs that were on hold, such as repairing an irrigation engine and making improvements on a couple of tractors. The men have also been fixing the engine on an antique potato rocker, which riddles the potatoes as they come off the land, with one channel going for human consumption and the other to stock feed. Not something we would use in the fields these days, but a fascinating part of farming history.

Wildlife

Dawn chorus is now reduced to three species in our garden, Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves and the Wren. Wrens are not sociable birds and try to hold a territory all through the year, our singing Wren is telling other Wrens to keep out, but at what stage it is telling its previous partner and fledglings to keep out I don’t know. However, I don’t think it will be as brutal as that as it is in their make up to know that they will want their own territory sooner than later.

The wet weather affected all the birds on the farm and in the garden, some benefitted and for others it was disastrous, meaning the failure of a brood of young. This isn’t too bad if the species is multi-brooded, but the Black Headed Gulls are single-brooded and about 80% of their young died during the wet weather. The adults were unable to find enough food and, as they were away from the colony for so long looking for it, they were unable to brood the chicks, which got cold and died.

Blackbirds welcomed the rain as it brought worms to the surface. This means only the male was needed to collect food, whilst the female brooded the young to keep them dry and warm.

About 30% of young Tree Sparrows in our nest boxes failed during that rainy week, some due to rain getting in the nest box. We would usually recommend nest boxes face away from the midday sun, which is of course to the north, but that has back fired this year around here, as nearly all of the heavy rain was from the north east. Did you see the episode of Springwatch when Chris Packham said over 90% of Great Spotted Woodpecker nests faced north east?

Barn Owls are doing OK, I don’t know how many young were eaten during the week of heavy rain but we still have two to five broods, which is far better than last year. Last year, we had a wet April which messed up the breeding of the voles. This April was dry, so the voles got off to a good start, providing plenty of food for hunting Barn Owls.

The Reed Warblers had to delay their nest building, which usually happens in the second week of June. That was a wet and windy week, so they were unable to start weaving grasses around the moving reed stems. Their nests are a work of art suspended in the reeds. This year I have found about 50 of them and they are doing well.

The first Corn Buntings did not lay eggs until after the heavy rain, so they should not have been affected by the rain too much. We have been keeping feeders filled with wheat so that they have a good food source.

Several broods of Lapwings have fledged and disappeared, but our millet fields contain four pairs with young birds. The crop is only a few inches high which keeps the ground moist. This keeps the invertebrates near the surface, so the chicks have plenty of food and will be brooded by the female for longer. The male keeps watch and harasses any predator that looks like being a danger to his chicks. Predators are one reason for the Lapwings decline, but another reason is that there are less invertebrates in the majority of our soils than there used to be. This means the young chicks are constantly on the move and that movement gets noticed by the predators. By having catch crops of oil radish, this provides them with more food than on most arable fields today.

Events & Talks

We have the following farm walks:

3rd, 10th & 11th August

16th – 18th August – the Bird Fair in Rutland Waters

 

Castle Woods bridge wins local award

We are delighted to announce that the new bridge in our Castle Woods nature reserve, Carmarthenshire, completed in 2018, has won an award from the Llandeilo and District Civic Society.

The Society makes these annual awards in order to promote the improvement of the built environment, presenting certificates for exemplary restoration, maintenance, design and improvement schemes.  WTSWW’s Carmarthenshire staff and volunteers were very pleased to win one of this year’s Civic Awards for erecting the new footbridge.

We’re particularly delighted that the award specifically recognised the contribution of our brilliant local volunteers who made the construction possible.

The large bridge, spanning six metres of steep ravine within the woods, had previously been closed for safety reasons, preventing use of a very popular path leading from the main Dinefwr drive down to the track to Bridge Street- a favourite with local dog walkers and tourists alike. The new bridge was designed, planned and implemented by the Carmarthenshire staff team Becca Killa and Ceri Evans and their volunteers.

We were particularly delighted to receive the award for this project because it reflects the value in which the local community hold this path and access to the woods.

Conservation Manager Lizzie Wilberforce attended the Llandeilo and District Civic Society AGM in July to receive the certificate on behalf of the Carmarthenshire team.

Thanks are also owed to The National Trust for storing and transporting the bridge materials. The purchase of the materials for construction was was supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery.