2019 – reflecting on conservation success!

Reporting our work

The report of the Conservation Team’s work for the financial year 2018-19 has been completed and documents all our achievements for wildlife during the prior 12 months. It’s available here.

Research and monitoring

Artificial nest boxes were a hit on both the Pembrokeshire Islands this year. On Skokholm on 05 September there were three storm petrel chicks in the ‘Petrel Station’, a wall of artificial nest chambers built by the wardens and their volunteers in the quarry area of the island. On Skomer, a pair of Manx Shearwaters laid an egg in one of the artificial burrows, which were installed by the Skomer team in 2018. Both species have bred in artificial burrows on the islands before, but what is unique about these achievements is the way it will allow us to use new technologies such as recording equipment to access the burrows in a non-invasive way, to learn more about their breeding behaviour.

All our auk species continue to do well on our Pembrokeshire Islands.  Counts of all three species were high both on Skokholm (puffins- 7447 individuals, guillemots- 4654 aol, razorbills 2755 aol), and on Skomer (puffins - 24,108 individuals, guillemots - 28,798 individuals, razorbills 7,529 (individuals in 2018, not counted in 2019). All three species are showing a trend of increasing numbers, and we continue to monitor breeding success and other population parameters and work with a number of partner universities and agencies to keep a close eye for any signs of change in those trends.

Species projects

Access to cheaper technology is also revolutionising our red squirrel monitoring. Our ability to buy larger volumes of trail cameras means that we are able to monitor red squirrels, which live at very low density in mid Wales, much more effectively than ever before. Previously we relied heavily on public sightings, which were limited by the remote locations and inhospitable terrain. Now we can systematically monitor for red squirrel activity in key locations, and our wonderful project staff and their volunteers have been instrumental to this. It’s also allowed us to capture some really interesting behaviours such as this red squirrel chewing on a bone.

We completed the fourth year of our five year badger vaccination project in Castle Woods, Carmarthenshire. Over the four years we have now vaccinated a total of 91 badgers in the nature reserve. You can read our report on this our 2019 results here.

We’ve been busy creating adder habitat on our Dowrog Common nature reserve. Working with ARG, we’ve identified some areas of scrub that are important to retain for the benefit of adders, whilst also creating lots of new open habitats including fire break areas, and new scrapes.

The My Wild Cardiff Project aims to inspire and educate the people of Wales’ capital city about urban wildlife in their local green spaces, and particularly in their own gardens. Through this project we have organised many different wildlife engagement events, from bumblebee walks to otter surveys.

One of our longest running events in Cardiff,  in collaboration with National Museum Cardiff, is ‘Unknown Wales’. The event is a day of talks about lesser known wildlife and conservation projects in Wales. This year saw the 9th annual Unknown Wales conference which focused on a theme of getting involved with conservation projects, including projects run by the Trust. Talks during the day ranged from slime moulds to rare bumblebees, with 160 people attending.

Each year we also build a feature garden at the Cardiff RHS show, with the help of many dedicated volunteers. This year our feature garden of a bird nest, chicks and eggs (made of willow, scrub and other natural materials), aimed to highlight the decline of bird populations in Wales and won the Best Feature 2019 Award.

Reserves

In January 2019, WTSWW entered a Glastir contract, which will provide important funding to support our nature reserves management. In Ceredigion, it has contributed to the costs of installing a fantastic rain water harvesting water trough on Rhos Glyn yr Helyg. This will provide drinking water for livestock and therefore support critically important grazing in the future- in a part of this marshy grassland reserve that had been very difficult to graze before, because of its distance from the existing water supply. This will help us manage the reserve better for its most important feature, the marsh fritillary butterfly- for which this site is now the most important in Ceredigion.

Meadow restoration in Priors Wood and Meadow, Gower. Following the receipt of funding in autumn 2018 from Welsh Government’s Landfill Disposal Tax Community Scheme, administered by WCVA, during 2019 we got going in style with this exciting project which focusses on the existing hay meadow and surroundings. The haymeadow has been chain harrowed and mown, and hedges have also been laid. Access has been improved, and fencing work has been undertaken. This will all contribute to the better long term management of this haymeadow area – species-rich haymeadows being one of our most threatened and vulnerable habitats.

Further East, replacement fencing at Cwm Colhuw Nature Reserve has allowed us to continue grazing the reserve with ponies, which is important for the management of grassland waxcaps there. At our woodland reserves, Coed-y-Bedw and Coed Garnllywd, annual nest box surveys continued. The surveys found that 72 out of 115 boxes and 41 out of 50 nest boxes were occupied at Coed-y-Bedw and Coed Garnllywd respectively. Most of the nest boxes were found to be used by great tits, blue tits, nuthatches and the occasional wood mouse.

In May Staff changes at Parc Slip, which is the base of the Trust’s South Wales Conservation Team, saw us welcome a new Conservation Manager, Kerry Rogers, to the team. We were also able to celebrate the contributions of the Trust’s longest serving staff member, Nigel Ajax-Lewis, by re-naming a bird hide at Parc Slip after him. Nigel was instrumental to the creation of Parc Slip Nature Reserve, and we revealed the renamed hide to him and his family in November on the 30th Anniversary of the Nigel secured an agreement from British Opencast to restore Parc Slip  from an opencast and turn it into a nature reserve.

Nigel and his family celebrate the re naming of the Northern Wetland hide

The Northern Wetland Hide is renamed the Nigel Ajax-Lewis Hide

Habitat improvements at Carmel, Carmarthenshire

During 2019 the team have done further significant hedgelaying, again thanks to financial support from Welsh Government’s Landfill Disposal Tax Community Scheme, administered by WCVA. Some of the hedgelaying has been done by contractors, and some by the staff and volunteer teams. This traditional technique is very skilled and time consuming, but creates fantastic habitat for wildlife (unlike the more common modern flailing technique, which leads to gappy bases and poor habitat for mammals and breeding birds). The project has also paid for new water troughs which will help us manage the grazing of this large reserve more carefully, and support further restoration the haymeadow habitats through aftermath grazing.

We’ve also been busy managing our extensive reedbeds at the Teifi Marshes in Pembrokeshire. Two areas have been cut in 2019, one is cut by a thatcher so that the reed can be used for thatching houses, and a second area is cut by our staff and volunteers using scythes (a ‘conservation’ cut of reed that’s not good enough quality for thatching). This rotational cutting helps maintain the quality of the reedbed habitat which is home to a number of important species.
We now have cattle on the Dranges nature reserve, owned by the ‘cow club’ – a group of staff that have jointly bought and look after the cattle.

New and unusual records

Pine martens were caught on camera at our Nant Melyn nature reserve in north Carmarthenshire for the first time in 2019. We had cameras out monitoring for squirrel activity in August and picked up pine marten, much to the excitement of our team!

The Pembrokeshire islands continue to generate a profusion of exciting bird records. Both islands have great blogs that allow you to keep up with their sightings but just a few examples from 2019 include: Skokholm- three Night Herons flying over the island on 30th May, an American Golden Plover stayed from 25th-27th May, and a Short-toed Lark was recorded on 22 June. Skomer- a Golden Oriole was recorded on 11 June, and on 16 May, an Ortolan Bunting. It’s not all about the birds, either! On Skomer on 28 May, Robin Taylor visited Skomer with the intention of confirming a moth larva found on Skomer last year- and confirmed a first record for Pembrokeshire! The species was Luffia ferchaultella. It is a member of the 'Bagworm' group of moths. The larvae live in cases built from sand grains, and they are lichen feeders.

Our Carmarthenshire staff are finding more and more specimens of the scarce Hazel Gloves fungus across Carmel National Nature Reserve, whilst hedgelaying, so it appears to be quite widespread on this site.

Parc Slip Nature Reserve had some exciting species records in 2019. In (very) early January, we had a rare visitor appear at the pond outside the visitor centre. A Siberian chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita tristis), first spotted by Tony Swan and later confirmed by the county recorder, caused quite the furore among local nature enthusiasts. Siberian chiffchaffs are less striking than our common chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) but differences in plumage are subtle, and calls must be used as well as plumage to determine identification. Usually wintering in India it’s rare to be found this far east of mainland Europe. The bird remained in the area of the pond for a couple of weeks, which allowed many visitors to enjoy and photograph it while comfortably eating cake in the café.

Siberian Chiff Chaff by Vic Shone

Weekly overnight moth traps at Parc Slip yielded 345 moth species (4196 individuals) throughout 2019, with the highlight of the year being an Oblique-striped moth. Though it isn’t the most striking moth to look at, it was a new record for the site, bringing the total number of moth species recorded at Parc Slip to over 650 since 2012.

By Vaughn Matthews

2019 was a busy year for the Trust! We can't wait to see what 2020 has in store for us!

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