Our 2020 Wildlife Trust Round-up!

Oh what a year 2020 has been for The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.

There has been more up’s and down’s than the world’s longest rollercoaster! 2020, the year where two-thirds of our colleagues were furloughed and the countryside went crazy busy as people enjoyed their daily exercise or tried to escape covid lockdown restrictions.

As everyone will be aware COVID-19 hit us hard. We lost 50% of our income overnight and the first lockdown came at our busiest time of year which was disastrous! 40 WTSWW staff were furloughed, leaving only a small team of skeleton staff to continue with urgent tasks to keep the Trust functioning. But survive we did and this would not have been possible without the sheer hard work of our staff, dedication from our awesome volunteers and the extreme generosity of our supporters and funders.

By reacting quickly and adapting our marketing and communications, we were able to bring wildlife into the homes of thousands of people through live broadcast screening and our popular Skomer Island Web cameras, which had most of us glued to our screens!

As 2020 draws to a close, we thought it was a great time to reflect on just how much we have achieved the past 12 months.

Here is a quick round-up of some of our highlights for 2020:

Parc Slip Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre
Improvements got underway at our Parc Slip Nature Reserve and Visitor Centre thanks to the £400,000 grant from the Welsh Government, Valleys Regional Park Discovery Gateways initiative. We have introduced new walking trails, an electric car charging point, a new green roof bike shelter, undercover outside café canopy, opened the boardwalk and filmed our exciting virtual reality wildlife experience called WILD Parc Slip…which we will be launching this early in the New Year. There are still lots more improvements to come in 2021 for this project.

Parc SLip Welcome Sign                    

New Nature Reserve Signage                                          There a 4 new walking trails on the reserve

Brecknock Nature Reserves
Brecknock volunteers Andrew Gilbey and Jen Walsby have been invaluable to WTSWW’s Wildlife Trust Officer, Steph Coates as ‘Pony-lookers’, especially during lockdown! By checking the ponies grazing Ystrafawr Nature Reserve, near Ystradgynlais or Vicarage Meadows Nature Reserve, near Abergwesyn. These reserves are at the furthest points of Brecknock so they saved a huge amount of time and fuel while ensuring the ponies were safe and well.

At Vicarage Meadows, and Cae Pwll y Bo near Abergwesyn we managed to get the hay cut and raked off, the volunteers returned just in time to help. A number of very large beech growing on a boundary bank have fallen and volunteers helped staff to clear branches off the meadows.

The Marsh Fritillary Restoration Project, funded through the same Welsh Government fund has enabled 4 volunteers to gain LANTRA Brushcutter qualification. Over another five sessions these volunteers will learn other habitat and reserve management skills and do practical work to encourage Marsh fritillary butterflies to colonize new areas of Ystradfawr Nature Reserve, near Ystradgynlais. We also ran a tree popper demonstration, these simple two part gadgets grip the base of saplings and pulls them out of the ground, roots and all. This prevents them growing back and opens up the ground for devil’s-bit scabious, the food plant for Marsh Fritillary caterpillars. Brecknock volunteers and staff were joined by other WTSWW staff and the Butterfly Conservation. A large area of the Weavers road was cleared ready for the Marsh fritillaries to fly in in the spring…we hope!

Work in the Brecknock area has been gathering pace this autumn. The staff and volunteers have been working hard with scrub control and infrastructure work on several reserves. At Pwll Y Wrach several paths have been tidied up and new way-markers have been installed. Lots of work has gone into getting planning, SSSI and Dormouse permissions so that contractors can come in to repair the accessible path after a landslip blocked it. Fingers crossed work will start spring 2021 with capital works funded by the Local Places for Nature and Greening the Public Estate Capital Grant funded by Welsh Government.

Cae Lynden is another Devil’s-bit Scabious and Marsh fritillary stronghold. A team of volunteers worked hard to remove 10 bags of crocosmia which was invading a corner of the reserve. Some corms were probably dumped there as garden waste many years ago and were spreading. A large area of the field was also cleared of light bramble cover to ensure that the Devil’s-bit Scabious is free to grow.

Conservation Ponies at work!

Tentative steps to re-start guided walks started with a Fungus identification walk with restricted numbers to allow for social distancing. Even though it was delayed to November there were still some interesting fungi to be found.

Teifi Marshes Nature Reserve
Kingfishers have had a good year with several successful breeding pairs and the resident Barn Owls reared three fledglings which were ringed by our licenced ringing group. Devil’s Bit Scabious, the foodplant for the caterpillar of Marsh Fritillary Butterfly, has been found in the wet meadows so we will manage this area to encourage it since the butterfly is threatened in UK and across Europe. Other special sightings this year have included the Brown Hairstreak Butterfly and of course the Bittern which was seen in the reed beds during July and August.

Pembrokeshire Nature Reserves
The new, ENRaW grant funded, 600m boardwalk that replaces the dilapidated structure on the Wetland Trail at Teifi Marshes is progressing nicely and to date, just over 400m has been completed. There have been delays due to the pandemic and adverse weather conditions yet it is due to be completed by the end of February 2021. Other infrastructure improvements on the reserve include 270m of stock fencing to better aid grazing and the installation of post and rail fencing along with a new circular seating bench at the river viewpoint.

Funding has been secured for new interpretation panels at West Williamston and Llangloffan Fen to replace old structures. The car park and a section of boardwalk at Llangloffan Fen will also be upgraded this winter along with some open water enhancement work on the pools.

A new 200m stretch of fencing has been erected on the boundary of Dowrog Common, next to the main road so as to provide increased security for grazing animals. Further work on the common will involve erecting more non-permanent electric fencing to compartmentalize the site for better control of grazing along with the installation of a number of styles for improved access.

Pengelli Forest has received funding to repair one of the bridges on its many paths along with installing better waymarking signage. All to be done this winter. One of the shelters at the far side of the reserve will also be restored due to rotting timbers.

Two new troughs have been installed at West Williamston that now comply with Welsh Water regulations as the ones there before were almost 50 years old. New pipes had to be dug and laid, luckily no bedrock, just nice brown earth!

The new boardwalk!

Swansea & Neath Port Talbot Nature Reserves
As a member of the reserves team you get used to parts of your job being reactive, we respond to reserves access issues, tree hazards, fencing issues etc. This year the added visitor pressures on our reserves in SNPT saw a massive increase in anti-social behaviour – littering, fly-tipping, trespass camping and what were, at the time, unlawful gatherings. All of these needed responding to along with litter being removed before it posed a hazard to wildlife or people.

Just to add to the challenges we also were forced to close public access to some of our reserves due to the hazard posed by trees infected with ash dieback.

But it is too easy to focus on the bad news stories, these hide the conservation achievements we have made in the county during 2020.

We have had a big focus on our grassland habitats: The WCVA Landfill Disposals Tax Community Fund supported project Saving Priors Meadow has drawn towards a close with the meadow fenced, edge habitats restored, hedges laid and a new pond created for the resident great crested newts, all followed by a hay cut and the introduction of cattle for aftermath grazing. Scrub has been cleared from grasslands at Redley Cliff and The Dranges.

On the South Gower Coast reserves there has been a focus on gorse management and surveying for cotoneaster. We have delivered less woodland management than is typical but we continue to battle to eradicate Himalayan balsam in Gelli Hir and other invasive plants on our reserves across the counties.

Paul and the team would like to thank all who have helped them deliver their achievements.

Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre, Living Seas Wales and Skokholm Island
A large numbers of Rissos Dolphin were spotted very close to mainland (within 1 km) in St Bride’s bay. Alongside Dale Sailing boat. This caused much excitement!!

A large pod of Common Dolphins were present in Ramsey Sound for several days during mid-August. Within 200 metres of mainland and island.

There was several Minkie Whale sightings in St Brides Bay during August, some jumping clean out of water.

Several sunfish sightings in St Bride’s bay and from Skokholm Island on 23 August.

Ceteacean sightings from Skokholm lighthouse (where our Skokholm Wardens live) documented in daily blog, often with photos. Including up to 27 common dolphins with calves on 27 August.
14 August 2020 - Thousands of Moon Jellyfish around island's south coast.

9th August 2020 - Leatherback turtle sighting off Three Rivers estuary, Carmarthen Bay, South Wales reported to us by member of the public.

11th August 2020 - Sunfish in St Brides Bay, Pembrokeshire reported to us by member of the public.

Regular sightings of Bottlenose dolphins along the Ceredigion coast throughout the year. Daily sightings in New Quay from May.

Our Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre also launched its new Dolphin Live Web Camera!

Cardigan Bay Dolphins by S Perry

Skomer Island

Sadly, our Skomer was closed to visitors for the entire season. 🙁

However, our first ever LIVE broadcast series was launch in April 2020 with our Island Wardens, TV Wildlife Presenters Lizzie Daly and Iolo Williams…along with a few thousand feathered friends!!

Skomer LIVE recorded 14 amazing weekly episodes and welcomed 9 live guests. Each episode focused on a different species from the island and include updates from Nathan and Sylwia, and not forgetting our exciting web cameras!

We were also able to capture the moment our Manx Shearwater chick hatched, live on camera!

We were also overwhelmed with the support we received from so many people to our Skomer emergency appeal. A big thank you must also go to British singer-songwriter David Gray for kindly donating his new song ‘Running on the Waves’ to our fundraising appeal.

Skomer Live

               Iolo Williams and Lizzie Daly

That is just a snapshot of the incredible things we have achieved this year – and we couldn’t do it without our volunteers, members and supporters!

So, once again 'THANK YOU!' x