Volunteering by Geoff Powell

Geoff Powell using a 'tree popper'

Geoff Powell using a 'tree popper'

Geoff Powell

Geoff Powell

I'm a life member, regular volunteer and volunteer warden with The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. You might have heard of our glorious Pembrokeshire island of Skomer, because Skomer's thriving puffin population was in the news in July. Researchers are trying to discover why the Skomer puffins are doing so well compared with declining populations elsewhere. And it's not just our puffins that are doing well: water voles and dormice are thriving on some of our reserves, and with our help red squirrels are making a come-back in Mid-Wales, among many other successes.

We own and manage a wide range of reserves including islands, woodlands, wetlands and grasslands across the southern regions of Wales from the Pembrokeshire islands in the west to the reserves of Brecknockshire in the east. We even own a castle and a lighthouse!

What Geoff's Volunteering Work Involves

I became a member of the Trust in 1984 and work on the Ceredigion reserves twice a week with work-parties led by our Wildlife Trust Officer, Em Foot. Most of the work is with hand tools and involves maintaining fences and gates to keep grazing livestock in and rogue animals out.

Other work includes managing woodland to encourage young trees to grow so that those woods have a future, removing scrub encroachment on our grasslands and wetlands, often using a hefty tool optimistically called a 'tree popper'. Keeping access paths clear, controlling unwelcome species like brambles, Himalayan balsam and bracken, removing ragwort from reserves where there is grazing and periodic surveys of orchids, deer signs, gulls and caterpillars.

Why Geoff Volunteers with The Trust

If asked why I volunteer with The Wildlife Trust, I could say it's because I enjoy the company, the outdoor work and the biscuits that Em provides (always palm-oil free!), all of which is true, but the underlying reason is, of course, deeper and more serious. The natural world is in crisis, as indicated by the sudden collapse of normally common species, and this alarming fact is simply impossible to ignore.

Changes in the climate and in farming over recent decades have conspired to make much of the British countryside a hostile place for wildlife.

Geoff's Background

I grew up in an English county long given over to intensive farming, where by the 1970s profit-driven industrialised agriculture was pursued ruthlessly without the least regard for the environment. Already denuded of hedgerows, Dutch elm disease then ravaged the last remnants of woodland in the landscape.

So it was a huge relief 37 years ago to move to West Wales, where I had family connections, and to take up residence in a little house in six acres of woodland in a lovely valley, on a little river with otters and dippers – paradise! But even in paradise biodiversity is in decline, a decline that The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales is in the business of fighting by raising public awareness, promoting the cause of conservation in both the countryside and the marine environment, and managing its numerous reserves for maximum biodiversity.

Marsh Fritillary Butterflies

My personal interest is in a reserve near where I live, a rhos pasture of marshy grassland and a Site of Special Scientific Interest where I am the volunteer warden. The site is grazed by cattle to maintain the right conditions for Devil's Bit Scabious and three species of orchid, and to provide a suitable sward height for the Marsh Fritillary, a European-wide endangered butterfly whose caterpillars feed on the scabious.

Historically the reserve is an excellent site for the fritillary, but 11 years ago the population crashed, probably due to a parasitic wasp attacking the caterpillars and a very wet summer which prevented the surviving adults from breeding successfully. This year, however, things are looking up: 5 butterflies were seen there in June raising hopes of the beginning of a come-back for this gem of a butterfly.

Volunteer with The Wildlife Trust

If you're interested in volunteering with the trust you can find more information here. Alternatively call us on 01656 724100