At the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales we rely greatly on the help and support we receive from our dedicated volunteers. One such volunteer, Cliff Woodhead has been the voluntary warden at Coed Y Bedw Nature Reserve, near Cardiff, for over 25 years, not only undertaking practical conservation management but also monitoring the reserve’s woodland bird populations. After all this service to the reserve, he has decided to pass on the challenge to the next generation of conservationists – though they will have a hard act to follow.
Cliff’s particular interest is birds and Coed Y Bedw supports a range of resident woodland specialists such as treecreepers, great spotted woodpeckers and tawny owls which are joined in the summer by visiting migrants including blackcaps, redstarts and pied flycatchers.
His involvement in the reserve began in 1985 after meeting the reserve’s warden at the time, Brian Stiles, whilst carrying out a bird survey nearby. Cliff was keen to share his sighting of a male pied flycatcher and was told that they were present on the reserve and that a small number of nest boxes had been put up for their benefit. Cliff began regularly checking these boxes along with carrying out vital path maintenance work and he was present when David Attenborough planted a beech tree within the reserve to commemorate the Trust finally purchasing Coed Y Bedw from the Forestry Commission Wales.
Cliff also appeared in a film about the reserve, which is available to view at the bottom of this page. Both his knowledge and the beauty of the reserve come across brilliantly in this video by Robin Davies-Rollinson.
In the following years the number of nest boxes within the reserve and its immediate surroundings had increased to 125 and since 1990 Cliff has been responsible for running an exhaustive nest box monitoring scheme which involved fortnightly visits to the reserve from March to July, checking all the nest boxes and tracking the successes and failures of the occupants as they established nests, laid eggs and brought up chicks. He has been able to record important data about the trends in different species: “sadly the pied flycatcher has suffered a gradual decline generally as a breeding species, peaking at 20 pairs in 1989 and gradually reducing to 5 pairs in 2006, since when only 1 pair has bred. On the plus side, pairs of redstart have reached double figures, mainly in the surrounding fields, over the years and the provision of boxes has increased populations of our resident species, notably great tit and nuthatch; the latter peaking at 14 pairs in 2012”.
Cliff has taken a keen interest in all aspects of the reserve and over the years there have been many highlights, but it is his main love of birds which provided this one: “whilst checking on a long-tailed tit which was building a nest 35 feet up an alder tree in the fields behind the reserve, I heard the fluty call of a golden oriole. There was a heavy mist following overnight thunderstorms from the south and I eventually spotted the bird flying with a mistle thrush family and I was able to alert local bird-watchers before it moved on”.
Despite him stepping down from the day-to-day duties of voluntary warden, he will no doubt continue to visit the reserve and occasionally assist with the new nest box checking scheme which will now be run by Cardiff Ringing Group – they will certainly benefit from Cliff’s unparalleled knowledge of where to find all 125 nest boxes – not an easy prospect as the spring growth begins to shoot up! Hopefully he will continue to get years of pleasure from Coed Y Bedw, whether keeping a casual eye on the nesting birds or indulging his love of photography with the numerous species of fungi around the reserve. Everyone at the Trust would like to say a big thank you for all the hard work that he has put in to the reserve over the years!
Voluntary wardens such as Cliff are an invaluable asset to the Trust and our work would be much more difficult and far less thorough without their assistance throughout the patch. If you are interested in finding out about any opportunities to become a voluntary warden at your local site then please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A video by Robin Davies-Rollinson