There are so many species to choose from in the Brecon Beacons that could be classed as ‘iconic’.
With the range of landscapes encompassed within the National Park there is a huge range of habitats from mountains and moorlands on Old Red Sandstone, Limestone crags and grasslands, wet marshes and bogs to woodlands and river corridors each with their own range of flora and fauna.
This is a small selection from a talk I gave for the Biodiversity Information Service at the beginning of March. To watch the whole talk follow this link to the video on the BIS YouTube channel
1. Red kite
A conservation success stories of recent times. Its image is used as the emblem of many businesses around the Brecon Beacons including Powys County Council. It is identified by a red forked tail and white wing spots under the wing towards the tip. In the 1960’s only a few pairs remained in mid wales due to egg robbing and illegal poisoning due to the misconception they preyed on lambs. However, Red Kites prefer carrion & worms but will take small mammals.
When low egg production was also considered it was realized that they would not spread out of Wales without help. This led to the formation of the Kite Committee which later became The Welsh Kite Trust – protection against egg robbers & education. Support from RSPB. By the 1980’s numbers were starting to increase and it is now commonly seen throughout the Brecon Beacons.
2. Purple saxifrage
This plant grows on cold loving, north facing slopes and usually on damp rough vertical rock faces or screes. It is therefore hard to spot safely. In addition the tiny rosettes of leaves are similar to miniature house leek so it is often only when the penny-sized flowers appear April to June that it becomes more obvious. It is the only purple flowered saxifrage.
3. White Clawed Crayfish
Their name comes from the pale underside of their claw. This is the UK’s only native crayfish but it is threatened by a disease brought by the invasive American signal crayfish which they are not resistant to. They suffered decline of 50 – 80% over European range with habitat degradation and water pollution adding to their demise. Some colonies survive in the fast running, mineral rich streams in the Brecon Beacons National Park. They require streams that are less that 1m deep where they hide under stones. They have a varied menu of fish, carrion, invertebrates, detritus & water plants.
4. Silurian Moth
This rusty brown moth was recorded on Hatterall Hill in 2011 after a gap of 35 years by a team of moth specialists using light traps. This population was confirmed as breeding when caterpillars were found in the same area April 2012. Since then much effort has gone into finding more populations. It is an upland specialist and only flies after 1am! Although seemingly confined to the Herefordshire/Monmouthshire border, a population has been recorded in the Brecknock Vice County, VC42, south of Hay on Wye. The caterpillars feed on bilberry plants so maybe there are still populations to be found!
5. Welsh Clearwing Moth
A fairly large species of clearwing moth can be distinguished from others two narrow yellow bands on the abdomen and a large tail fan. The latter is orange on females and a light brown on males. It requires old birch trees, preferably in a sunny position, as the caterpillars feed on the inside of living bark for several years. The birch trees can be scattered over hillside pastures, in open birch woodland and on wooded heath. The moth emerges through a 5mm hole, leaving exuviae sticking out. Find these and you have proof that the hole was made by a clearwing and not a longhorn beetle! As a day flying moth it can be attracted to specific pheromone lures in sunny weather.
6. Horseshoe bats
Both lesser and greater horseshoe bats are found in the Brecon Beacons with the Usk Valley supporting the largest maternity population of the lesser horseshoe. This is thought to be approximately 5% of the total UK population but surveys of their winter roosts in caves along the Llangattock escarpment suggest that this may be an underestimation. They feed mainly along woodland edges, pastures and wetlands with the lesser favouring midges, caddisfly and lacewings and the greater taking larger moths and beetles.
7. Bilberry bumble bee
This little bee is found in heather rich areas, species rich grasslands & open woodlands but it is rare to find away from areas supporting some bilberry. It is a pollen storing species and not reliant on nectar. They make a small nest with around 50 workers in old rodent burrows. The queens typically appear in April and workers from late May. The males & new queens fly from mid-July
Sometimes called the ‘Phantom of the Forest’, their agility flying through the trees after their prey of small birds and mammals id due to their tail and narrow wings. They can reach 40km per hour. In fact they need dense woodland to hunt, to give the element of surprise, and to nest. They are seldom seen above tree cover. They are similar in colouring to sparrowhawks with a grey back and brown barred breast but they have a distinct white stripe above their eyes and a more rounded tail. The female is the size of a buzzard. They are most easily seen late winter and spring when their ‘sky dance’ courtship display brings them out of the forest to swoop and plunge together. They mate for life and young are raised between March and June. They are making a comeback in Wales.
9. Sessile Oak
The sessile or ‘Welsh oak’ has a more upland and western distribution than its cousin, the pedunculated or English oak’. The acorns of the sessile oak do not have a stem but the leaves do. It is the other way round for the pedunculated oak. However they can hybridize. When left to grow it can form dense single species woodlands where the ground cover is formed mostly of mosses and bryophytes. In more open and mixed woodlands there may be carpets of flowers such as wild daffodils and bluebells. Both species of oak are important to biodiversity. Over 300 species are only found on oaks. Their acorns are enjoyed by species such as squirrels, badgers and jays.
10. Autumn Gentian
Favouring dry calcareous soils this large biennial gentian. It produces leaves in the first year and the flower spike in the second year between July and October. It is often found in groups.
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Pauline Hill, WTSWW's People and Wildlife Officer.