Author: Lyndsey Maiden

Pine Martens: an ally for our mid Wales Red Squirrels?

Pine Marten by Karl Franz

The Vincent Wildlife Trust is hoping to boost mid Wales’ struggling pine marten population by bringing a small but significant number of martens from Scotland.

Pine Marten by Karl Franz

Pine Marten by Karl Franz

Charismatic, elusive and running out of time; this native Welsh mammal, bele’r coed, has all but disappeared from the Welsh landscape.

Once widespread throughout Britain, the pine marten’s historical decline began with forest clearance, but was exacerbated by the rise in game shooting and associated predator control in the 19th century.

By 1900, the marten was effectively extinct over much of Britain, confined to the more remote upland areas that included Snowdonia and the Cambrian Mountains. Today, the marten is hanging on in the more isolated areas of rural Wales, but it is clear that the numbers are just too low for the population to survive without intervention, so intervention is planned.

The pine marten is chiefly a woodland animal and will avoid open countryside. Its preferred diet is small mammals and fruit, but it is an opportunist and will take whatever is locally abundant.

Pine martens will eat grey squirrels – which could be fantastic news for red squirrels. Red squirrels are agile and too quick for most pine martens who find the larger and much slower grey squirrel a far easier target. There is evidence of declining grey squirrel numbers in areas where the pine marten is recovering and a corresponding increase in numbers of red squirrels.

Now is a critical time for the pine marten in Wales as the species stands on a knife-edge. This project represents a chance to help ensure that this iconic species will once again be a symbol of our Welsh woodlands.

It will take time to re-establish a pine marten population in mid Wales and we risk losing our red squirrels if we stand by and wait for this natural order to be restored.

In the meantime, we need to maintain a sustained programme of grey squirrel control to strengthen the red squirrel population in mid Wales so that, a few years down the line, the reds will have become resilient enough to withstand some predation from pine martens whilst benefitting from a reduction in the grey population

 

Oak mooching

deer truffle (Elaphomyces granulatus)

There I was mooching under an Oak (as you do) when out of the corner of my eye I noticed what I thought was another Hazel nut (at Taf Fechan we are not short of Hazel nuts even under Oaks). Then I noticed the pattern on its surface so not a Hazel nut thinks I but as I was under an Oak it must be a fallen Oak marble gall which seemed reasonable until I picked it up and discovered it wasn’t (you can’t break a marble gall with your finger nail).

So not a nut and not a gall.

deer truffle (Elaphomyces granulatus)

deer truffle (Elaphomyces granulatus)

My third try at an ID came out at possible fungus but unfortunately by then I had already picked it up it so no in situ photograph.

So after some thought option three comes out at Common Earthball (having learned that fungi can be tricky things this time I decided to keep it just in case which was fortunate). Now I was happy with finding a Common Earthball as it was a new species for the reserve but after posting my discovery on the Glamorgan Fungus group facebook page everyone started to get rather excited at the possibility of it being a much rarer fungi called a False Truffle.

After a few glorious seconds thinking I was rich the word “false” settled into my brain and I returned to looking up False Truffle in my books. As it is a rare find the fungi was sent off to the Glamorgan Fungus group to check the spores under a microscope which will hopefully confirm its species…

Addendum: after sending the specimen off to the Glamorgan fungus group more fungus enthusiasts started getting rather excited so it was sent to the expert on British truffles for a definitive opinion, the answer came back that unfortunately it was too immature to be 100% sure but it’s almost certainly Elaphomyces granulatus or the Deer truffle.

Graham Watkeys, Taf Fechan Warden

Amphibians and reptiles get a helping hand at Llangloffan Fen

Llangloffan Fen Ponds

We have recently benefitted from funding from Amphibian and Reptile Conservation to restore and create new ponds at its Llangloffan Fen nature reserve.

Llangloffan Fen Ponds

Llangloffan Fen Ponds

Two ponds, one of which was an old one now restored have been created with the use of a mechanical digger. These new areas of open water will provide further suitable habitat for the assemblage of species the reserve supports that depend on them.

Amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts will of course benefit the greatest yet invertebrates such as damsel and dragonflies, birds such as Heron and Water rail and aquatic plants such as the rare Three-lobed water crowfoot and Pillwort will also gain.

One of the pools is of considerable size and evidence of Otter use has already been recorded through spraints being found on adjacent tussocks.

Spoil from the excavated pools has been piled in banks nearby having a south westerly aspect so as to provide suitable basking opportunities off the wetland floor for reptiles such as the Common lizard, Adder and Grass snake.

Llangloffan Fen Ponds

Llangloffan Fen Ponds

These banks should allow a visitor to the reserve a better opportunity to see one of the species named although Grass snakes are also aquatic in nature and can spend up to an hour under water if disturbed!

It will take a year or so for species to really establish themselves within the new areas of open water yet from the results of past ponds created on site, the future looks good.

Nathan Walton, Wildlife Trust Officer for Pembrokeshire

Burning returns to Dowrog Common

Burning at Dowrog Common

This winter has seen the return of the practice of burning to help manage the mosaic of habitats found on Dowrog Common nature reserve.

Burning at Dowrog Common

Burning at Dowrog Common

It has been almost 20 years since this management practice was last implemented. Over the years, parts of the common have suffered from the lack of suitable grazing enabling scrubby species such as gorse and dense swades of leggy heather to smother valuable areas of open habitat.

These open areas are important to over 350 species of flowering plant that include the Lesser butterfly orchid and Yellow centaury.

An eager, yet cautious team of volunteers all armed with fire beaters and face shields took control and areas separated by a network of fire breaks were burned. The weather conditions were just right and the burn was successful.

Some may argue too successful as towards the end of the ‘programmed’ burn, a gust of wind caused embers to jump a firebreak and take hold on an area not destined to be burnt this year.

The team

The team

None-the-less, the amazing volunteers of the Wildlife Trust (along with assistance from the fire brigade!) eventually managed to get the burn under control before the dark set in.

You can never predict what can happen with a burn yet be prepared for things to not go as planned!

These burnt areas should now allow key flora species a better chance to re-establish themselves and survey work will be done to monitor progress.

Nathan Walton, Wildlife Trust Officer for Pembrokeshire

 

Polecat at Ffrwd Farm Mire reserve

Frwd Farm harvesting reed B Killa

We have caught some exciting footage in a camera trap set up at Ffrwd Farm Mire reserve, our wetland reserve near Kidwelly.

The motion sensor camera was set up to monitor for mink as part of our mink control programme, an important aspect supporting the NRW lead ‘water vole project’. Through this over 100 water voles were released last summer. On the camera we were treated to sights of polecat (a new species for the reserve), otter, fox, and snipe.

Frwd Farm harvesting reed B Killa

Frwd Farm harvesting reed B Killa

Also at Ffrwd, the volunteer group has been cutting back vegetation to make way for machinery that will renew and improve a culvert over a ditch. This will open up a new part of the reserve, enabling us to carry on digging out old ditches and increasing open water.

After months of clearing up brash after a hedgelaying contractor at Carmel Nature Reserve, the volunteers finally got the taste of this traditional skill for themselves. First we had a day’s course in the ‘Breconshire style’ and now have completed around 50 meters of hedgerow.

Changes in legislation in regards to TB testing cattle have meant that we have had to implement new infrastructure at Carmel. It has been necessary to erect new fencing and make alterations to the holding pen. Grantscape has kindly paid for this work, which is crucial in the ongoing management of the species rich grassland.

 

Mostly scrub

Woodland management

Our winter work programme is drawing to a close with spring on the doorstep.

Coed Maidie B Goddard has had a lot of work done on it this winter but there is still plenty to do so we spent a day clearing some pretty large patches of brambles from the top meadow. We’ve also cleared blackthorn and brambles at

Woodland management

Woodland management

Caeau Llety Cybi, birch and willow from the rhos pasture at Pennar Fawr, willow and bramble from the meadow edge at Rhos Marion and willow and birch from the bog at Cors Ian to improve the watervole habitat.

There are a lot of droopy willow trees in the meadows at Rhos Glandenys. Their branches shade out the grassland species underneath and reshoot when they reach the floor spreading further. To prevent this and protect the rhos pasture we have cut back some of the overhanging branches and created habitat piles. A large rhododendron was cut down last year so we have also been keeping on top of the regrowth.

Another beautiful sunny day was spent clearing the birch regeneration from one of the heathy outcrops at Cwm Clettwr. Having cleared most of the top last time we moved down one side, where the trees are slightly bigger having not been cleared in the recent past. As usual we left any oaks, hazels and rowans but did remove a few Western hemlock. Habitat piles were built in areas of no heather.

Old Warren Hill Sycamore by E Foot

Old Warren Hill by E Foot

The brambles have already started to grow so we spent a day cutting them back from the paths in Old Warren Hill– makes you realise how long the paths really are! The bluebells have started to show through across the reserve so we look forward to another good display in May.

Thank you very much to everyone who has helped this month. If you would like to volunteer with us in Ceredigion there are work parties on a Wednesday and Thursday out on the reserves, year round, contact Em on 07980932332 or e.foot@welshwildlife.org or find out more about Ceredigion reserves

Pwll Waun Cynon C.1820

One of the willing hay gatherers by Graham Watkeys

You don’t need a flux capacitor to time travel you just need a hay rake and a large field like this one at Pwll Waun Cynon.

Hay gathering at Pwll Waun Cynon by Graham Watkeys

Hay gathering at Pwll Waun Cynon by Graham Watkeys

So a quick recap on meadow management: most meadow species need low nutrients and relatively poor soils to thrive and when these nutrients start to build up they quickly get outcompeted by the more vigorous grasses reducing biodiversity so removing cuttings (which rot down increasing soil nutrients) from the site after mowing is essential.

So how do you do this without machinery? Well you do it the traditional way by getting yourself a willing workforce (Hint: even more willing if said workforce were to be paid, as is traditional I believe, in cider (or Welsh cakes – the editor)) of agricultural serfs or volunteers (in this case these terms are interchangeable).

You pop them in a line each armed with a hay rake and you get long (and in theory ahem straight) lines of hay in nice little bundles ready to be collected and removed from the field.

It may be old fashioned and very hard work but it works and works surprisingly well as we cleared around a third of the meadow all told and removed half of the resulting hay bundles during the day.

Although I think we are all agreed that next time it gets cut we should try the 21st Century method of a tractor and a bailing machine (Hint: unless the Trust decides to pay us in cider (We can do Welsh cakes Graham – the editor)).

Graham Watkeys – Taf Fechan Volunteer Warden

Please consider supporting our Meadow Appeal to help our volunteers and staff manage do fantastic work like this.

 

Fighting fire with fire

Delicate burn at Y Gweira by G Watkeys

This week we teamed up with the South Wales Fire Service to carry out a controlled burn at Y Gweira Nature Reserve.  The reserve is part of the Llantrisant Common & Pastures Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a fantastic mosaic of marshy grassland, wet heath and raised bogs, which has been grazed by the Freemen of Llantrisant for centuries.

Y Gweira Nature Reserve sits just outside the Common, and for this reason has probably received less grazing over the years than the rest of the SSSI, resulting in a dense thatch of rush and moorgrass developing.  These dense and deep tussocks inhibit growth of more delicate plants, such as the various rarities and colourful wildflowers found on the site, and provide a less appealing meal for the cattle which are such an essential part of maintaining the rich grassland diversity.

sibthorpia europaea Cornish moneywort by J R Crellin

Cornish moneywort by J R Crellin

Since the reserve is criss-crossed with deep ditches, where rarities such as Cornish moneywort and Royal fern flourish, cutting the grass was out of the question, and we began to consider burning as a potential method for opening up the grassland and encouraging grazing.

With special permission from Natural Resources Wales, a small patch of the reserve was chosen to carry out a carefully controlled burn.

The experts were brought in for this job, and after the site had been thoroughly checked for nesting birds and other vulnerable wildlife, the South Wales Fire Service moved in with their equipment.

The Fire Officers were incredibly skilled at controlling their fire, so that section by section the dead and dry tops of the tussocks were burnt off, with a fast and relatively ‘cool’ flame which causes little damage to the lower ground-level vegetation.

On hand were Fire Officers with beaters, blowers, and back-up water hoses, and our Valleys Volunteer Group, nervously supervising what turned out to be an impressive demonstration and surprisingly gentle process.

The practice of controlled burning is a traditional grassland management technique, which if employed carefully can be an effective tool for opening up and reinvigorating grassland.  We’ve put that method to the test at Y Gweira, and we will be monitoring the patch closely over the next few years to see what changes will result from our carefully executed experiment.

As an added benefit, the Fire Service used the opportunity to train their team in a method of prescribed burning, which is an effective tool for controlling and preventing grassland arson incidents.  By carrying out a controlled burn early in the year, combustible material such as dry grass and bracken can be removed from an arson hotspot, making it less vulnerable to fire-setters later in the spring when the fire service becomes so overstretched and our wildlife suffers most.

In the event of a wildfire, the method can also be used to create fire breaks and quickly stop its spread.  Fighting fire with fire!

The Dranges Marsh Fritillary Habitat Recovery Project

It felt like we were doing battle with the weather and ground conditions but as winter progressed so did the SITA Trust funded project to restore the habitat for Marsh Fritillary butterflies at The Dranges, Bishopston. February 2015 saw the completion of the external fencing, a total of 2500m.

Dranges fencingInternal boundary fencing was commenced and completed a total of 1470m. 11 gates and 2 stiles were installed, 3 existing gates on the external boundary were also rehung. 4 swing gates were also installed where the fencing crossed watercourses.

Through the winter the staff and volunteer teams have worked hard clearing scrubby vegetation and two of the wet meadows were cut and collect mowed.

With the removal of rank vegetation and the new fencing this will enable the site to be grazed in future making the management of the grasslands for the  Marsh Fritillary sustainable.

Dranges swing gateThe work to improve drainage and access at various points across the site was completed as the contractors pulled out of the site and as they reinstated.

Over 60t of stone was brought onto the site to firm up areas where crossing would become impossible and to increase the resilience at pinch points.

We have now said goodbye to our specialist contractors AJ Butler Contracting Ltd who delivered the fencing and mowing work. I would like to thank them for their flexible and sympathetic approach to working this site. The ground and weather conditions were challenging and without their low ground pressure machinery this job would have been near impossible.

Delivering so much work in such a short period of time has certainly impacted on the site but the contractors reinstated as they pulled out of site we have now handed it over to nature while the site ‘settles’ and greens up again. We are now minimising our own access onto the site to reduce the impact and will return once the weather improves.

 

A year of monitoring birds at Teifi Marshes

Sedge Warbler Teifi Marsh

As the days get longer and migrant birds start to head back from warmer places, the Teifi Ringing Group have been looking back over the 2014 highlights of bird ringing on the Teifi Marshes. This reserve is a haven for wildlife on the edge of Cardigan.

This work is important because long-term monitoring of bird populations is needed in order to conserve them effectively. Ringing birds helps to find out if numbers are stable, decreasing or increasing. If there is a change in numbers, particularly a decrease, we need to know why. Conservation action can then be targeted appropriately.

In 2014, 3,267 birds were ringed on the reserve and 1039 were recaptures, many from previous years, some birds ringed elsewhere.

Sedge Warbler Teifi Marsh

Sedge Warbler Teifi Marsh

Sedge Warblers topped the list with 569 new birds and 133 recaptures. Many of these were migrants, using the marsh as a stopover on their way to and from their wintering grounds in West Africa.

One Sedge Warbler ringed on the marsh was caught in Senegal in January 2014, 4094 km away. Walk along the cycle track through the reserve from April and listen out for their complex song consisting of a series of irregular trills and warbles.

If you visit the marsh early in the morning in August, you are likely to find ringing in progress near Mallard hide. You would be welcome to stop and see these beautiful migrants in the hand.

Reed Bunting Teifi Marsh

Reed Bunting Teifi Marsh

Reed Warblers also sing from the reed beds but their song is more repetitive. 366 of these were ringed last year and 239 recaptures.Many return from previous years to breed in the same part of the marsh.

A long term project for the British Trust for Ornithology was started looking at survival of adults for both Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings. Reed Buntings are being coloured ringed as part of the same project so keep a look out for these in your garden. Some have been resighted around Cardigan already.

Cetti’s Warblers are often heard but not seen. A good number of 28 were ringed, a healthy population for a relatively new resident on the reserve. Other Warblers ringed in large numbers were 298 Blackcap, 75 Willow Warblers, and 352 Chiffchaff. 92 of the many thousands of Starlings roosting in the reeds by Kingfisher pond were ringed in early winter. Other less common birds ringed in small numbers were Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Woodpigeon and a Water Rail.

During evening visits to the reserve, 184 Wagtails and 180 Swallows were ringed. White Wagtails roost in the reeds on their migration north. One White Wagtail ringed by the group in April was found in Vidvikursveit, Iceland, 1730km away, 76 days later.

A Common Rosefinch was the first record for Teifi Marshes. Firecrests are uncommon but do winter here. One was ringed and another was caught that had a Brussels ring on it.

The reserve is well worth a walk at any time of the year and a visit to the Glasshouse café to try the delicious food served there is a must.

To keep up to date with bird ringing on the reserve see the regular updates on the Teifi Marshes Bird Blog Spot

Providing a home for otters at Coed y Bedw Nature Reserve

Making an otter holt at Coed y Bedw - V Matthews

Otters are one of the UK’s largest carnivores and are an unusual example of an animal whose fortunes have dramatically improved over the last few decades. They have recovered following years of persecution and the effect of harmful chemicals entering the water system. Since the 1960s otters have bounced back so that now they can be found in nearly every river catchment in Wales.

Otter by J Maiden

Otter by J Maiden

Primarily feeding on fish they occupy large territories encompassing rivers, lakes and other wetlands such as reedbeds. Our Coed y Bedw nature reserve near Pentyrch is primarily woodland but has an extensive stream network, along with a pond, which will offer plenty of potential food for otters. They are known to be present around Taff’s Well but so far have yet to be reliably recorded in the nature reserve itself.

Otters have a large number of resting places around their territory either beneath the ground (known as holts) or above the ground (couches). Holts are often beneath overhanging banks or upturned root plates of trees but can also be in burrows of other animals. At Coed y Bedw there are some potential natural holt sites but our staff and volunteers recently worked hard to create an artificial holt in a secluded location on the reserve, away from footpaths and other potential sources of disturbance.

Making an otter holt at Coed y Bedw - V Matthews

Making an otter holt at Coed y Bedw – V Matthews

The sturdy construction, made from wood from the reserve, provides a nesting chamber and two potential entrances, one leading into scrub and one towards the main stream. The holt was then roofed with logs, topped with brash and leaf litter before being finished over with ivy to ensure that it didn’t stand out from the surrounding habitat. We will keep regularly monitoring the site for signs of otter activity; mainly looking for their characteristic droppings known as ‘spraints’. Even if otters don’t take up residence the holt offers potential habitat for small mammals including hedgehogs as well as excellent deadwood habitat for fungi and invertebrates.

The Butterfly

Brimstone by Jim Higham

I encountered a Butterfly yesterday. In fact I encountered The Butterfly.

Well I say encountered but what I mean is involuntarily ducked out of the way of a determinedly meandering missile with one thing on his mind.

Brimstone by Jim Higham

Brimstone by Jim Higham

The bright yellow Brimstone is how Butterflies got their name, it is the original Butterfly and it can be found diligently patrolling its territory at this time of year looking for females.

My particular Brimstone had a lap time of around 15 minutes and since it had chosen to follow the path through the wood I could sit and wait for this athletic insect to pass me again and again, always at around head height, always around 15 minutes, always coming from left to right, never stopping, seemingly forever searching. I hope he found a female.

Apart from The Butterfly I also found two others sunning themselves after a long hibernation.

A Peacock sat on a bank flashing its eye-spots if I got too close “Look mate I’m a big scary thing me Grrrrrr!” and a Red Admiral who’s particular trick was to wait till I pointed my camera then explode away in a fit of flapping only to land a few metres away daring me to try again and only a herculean effort of Butterfly stalking, epically nonchalant sidling and tip toeing prevailed allowing me to get the photo on the second attempt (it may be sentimental whimsy on my part but I think if I disturb a Butterfly three times without getting a photo it counts as a fail and I then leave it alone). (And breathe – the editor)

Graham Watkeys Taf Fechan Volunteer Reserve Warden