2018 has been an incredibly busy year within The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. We asked the staff what their highlights were for the year and here’s just a few of what we got from them…
Red Squirrel Haplotype
The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales have discovered a new genetic marker in the mid Wales red squirrel population. By analysing hairs collected on sticky pads inside a feeding station, the team have identified a unique sequence of DNA, or haplotype, which hasn’t been found anywhere else in the world. This is great news for the squirrels, as it means they have a diverse gene pool, which helps them adapt to changing environments. The research was part of the Mid Wales Red Squirrel Project, a branch of Red Squirrels United.
Living Seas Wales
Living Seas Wales is part of the Wildlife Trusts’ vision for the future of the UK’s seas where marine wildlife recovers and thrives from the ocean depths to the coastal shallows. Our seas are at a turning point, now is the time to act. So, as part of the Living Seas project we developed a 7D augmented reality experience which toured Wales’ coastal path and even spent a few days at the Countryfile Live show in the summer. We engaged with thousands of people about Wales’ marine environment and how each of us can help it to thrive. Find out more here: www.livingseas.wales
The Marsh Fritillary is one of Wales’ most beautiful and endangered butterfly species. A number of our conservation staff across south and west Wales carry out surveys to monitor the butterflies. Our reserves where they can be found are managed carefully to ensure that these populations can thrive. This year we had a record count for marsh fritillary webs at Rhos Glyn yr Helyg. 818 were seen on our transects. Rhos Marion also had a couple of webs there too which is exciting as this is the first record of Marsh Fritillaries since the 1980’s!
Vaccination of the Castle Woods badgers began in 2014, when 34 animals were inoculated against bovine tuberculosis (bTB) using an injectable BCG vaccine. The exercise was repeated in 2015 before having to suspend on account of a global vaccine shortage. Vaccines became available again in 2018, and thanks to support from The Welsh Government, as well as donations from our members and supporters, the programme was able to recommence.
This has been a brilliant project so far, it feels great to be doing something to help protect these fascinating animals and be part of a more humane solution to bTB.
In June this year, our team covering west Glamorgan wanted to get an idea of how our calcareous grassland is doing in the Gurnos quarry at Taf Fechan in Merthyr. We spent a morning walking slowly through the meadow doing counts of the orchids there. In 2013 the same thing was done and an estimate of 1600 common spotted orchids was recorded. However, this summer we counted 2923! This means we’ve got a baseline idea of how many orchids that meadow can hold, and we can then check against this to make sure that the meadow is thriving, and we’re not seeing those numbers drop off.
This year's garden was a rain garden. The aim of our rain garden was to encourage people to bring sustainable draining systems into their gardens to decrease the risk of flooding in urban areas, prevent pollution and help local wildlife.
Elements of the garden included a shed with a green roof that had a downpipe fitted which fed water from the roof into a water butt. Green roofs will half the amount of water that ends up trickling off a roof and flowing down a drain. The water butt was kindly supplied by Celtic Sustainables. In the centre of the garden we had a beautiful, solar powered water feature that was kindly lent to us by Water Features 2 Go and to the side of our garden we had a willow hedgehog woven by South Wales Basket Weavers.
Other elements that we had in the rain garden included a fantastic array of pond and blog plants from Puddle Plants Nursery, and during the show we also had our Virtual Reality Experiences. People could either do our Dolphin Dive experience or our Flight of the Kingfisher experience.
Otter surveys in Cardiff
In April we spent a day in Cardiff’s Bute Park raising awareness of otters on the River Taff and showcasing the important research ongoing at the Cardiff University Otter Project. We had a stand that displayed a variety of items, including: stuffed specimens, footprint casts, and spraints (i.e. poo which otters use to mark territory). These specimens showed the special adaptations otters have for living an aquatic life, such as webbed feet, dense fur and the ability to close their nostrils whilst underwater.
We also ran several surveys along the river, looking for clues (e.g. spraints) that otters still use the river, which we were able to find on the day! We engaged with over 100 people on the day, with many unaware that they had these spectacular creatures in their city.
Sadly we said goodbye to the wonderful Ed and Bee, who’ve been the wardens on Skomer Island for the last 6 years. They have done absolutely incredible things for the Island’s wildlife, alongside a dedicated team of other members of staff and volunteers. We wish them all the best for the future and hope to see them again soon.
To carry on their work on Skomer, we’ve welcomed Nathan and Sylwia who will be the new wardens on the island. We hope that they enjoy many years with the trust enabling us to record vital data which will show the state of welsh wildlife around the Pembrokeshire coast and further afield.
Thermal imaging of dormice
WTSWW are involved in the Dormice Monitoring Project through our reserves across south and west Wales. Recently in Pengelli Forest it had been noticed that fewer and fewer boxes were being used. After purchasing a thermal imaging camera through a legacy and grant funding, we found that the Dormice are choosing to use the appropriate habitats instead that we’ve carefully managed for them. It is a relief and very encouraging knowing that the reserve has a greater number of dormice than originally recorded from the box scheme. It’s also brilliant to know that years of sensitive woodland management is helping to provide a suitable habitat for this species.
On Easter Sunday (1ST April 2018) a new era of wildlife conservation in mid Wales began as Brecknock Wildlife Trust (BWT) became part of The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW).
Brecknock Wildlife Trust was a small Trust in a wonderful area, with 18 Nature Reserves stretching from Ystradfawr in the west to Glasbury close to Hay on Wye in the East. It was becoming increasingly difficult to raise funds in this area with a small, predominantly rural population and ultimately, the Trustees felt that a merger with another Wildlife Trust was the best way to maintain and develop the conservation work in Brecknock whilst keeping a strong local identity.
BWT and WTSWW share a common border of over 60 miles, as well as two major river catchments and already worked in partnership on projects like the Red Squirrel Conservation. The overriding objective of the merger is to create an organisation which will be effective in the longer term in developing and promoting environmental conservation and habitat improvement over a wide area of Wales and its surrounding Marine environment.
Chris Packham Bioblitz
In July, we were fortunate enough to have Chris Packham’s Bioblitz Campaign visit two of our nature reserves. His UK Bioblitz was to raise awareness for his ‘Nature reserves are not enough!’ campaign. It had a serious purpose as the results of the 2018 bioblitz audit of wildlife at the sites he visits were recorded to create a benchmark. This will help measure the rise and fall in numbers of different species on these sites in the future.
Great crested Newts
While making improvements to the fencing around the meadow at Prior’s Nature Reserve, Gower, we found a first for the site; Two great crested newts were found wriggling at the bottom of a hole made for installing new gate posts to keep the winter grazing ponies in the meadow. The closest record of great crested newts is 5 miles west, but now other nearby ponds may also be suitable or already inhabited, perhaps nearby Gelli Hir Nature Reserve.
These further improvements will now have to be put on hold until a licence is obtained to work safely in that area, causing minimal damage to newts and their habitat.
This year, we once again broke our population record of 22,227 Puffins on Skomer which was set in a count on the 14th April 2017. In 2018 we conducted two counts on the 8th and 14th April. The count from the 8th was a whopping 30,895 Puffins!
We census the seabirds on Skomer yearly to monitor their populations and keep track of any trends. In other parts of the world, Puffins are doing very poorly, and it is not quite known why Skomer’s Puffins are bucking the trend. Without these annual numbers we would not know if this trend started to turn.
Changes to Parc Slip cafe – East Meets West
This year we’ve undergone some major changes at Parc Slip’s visitor centre. We have a new management team that have set up tasty new menus and events. Tom, an existing member of the coffee shop team has taken on the supervisor role, while some of our western team from The Welsh Wildlife Centre in Cilgerran have spared some of their time to oversea these changes.
30 Days Wild
This June for the whole month, every day, everybody, everywhere, were encouraged to enjoy nature on their doorstep, as well as the ‘great outdoors’. The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales (WTSWW) inspired thousands of people to take on ‘Random Acts of Wildness’ (practical, fun and quirky ideas that will connect people with the wild around them) every day for 30 days throughout June. Loads of people shared their wild experiences with us and we really enjoyed seeing people meander along a river bank, dance in a downpour, record a wild ringtone, meditate in a meadow and sip a glass of wine as the sun went down and appreciate their gardens. And its official, the University of Derby tracked the campaign and found that a daily dose of nature, even in bite size chunks, is good for you!
Basking in Glory!
The second largest fish in the world; the Basking Shark, has been visiting Welsh waters this summer much to the delight of our Living Seas team, based at Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre. Our Living Seas team hadn’t documented a Basking shark sighting since August 2015, but since this summer they have spotted 3 in Cardigan Bay! During an all-day boat survey on the 19th July volunteers from CBMWC spotted a 2 meter (7ft) long, juvenile Basking shark swimming just under the surface. 2 more sharks were then spotted in New Quay Bay by volunteers on land based surveys on 2nd August and 19th September.