Friday, 28 November 2014

The Nature of Scotland printed magazine - R.I.P.

In summer 2008 I subscribed to the Nature of Scotland magazine, published by Scottish Natural Heritage. It was a beautifully laid out, 68-page, quarterly magazine distributed free of charge to anyone who requested it and I believe over 30,000 copies of each edition were printed.

I reckoned the costs of producing and distributing the Nature of Scotland must have been in excess of £100,000 a year and maybe much more. As someone who was trying to recruit paying subscribers to the Nature of Wales magazine, Natur Cymru, I felt a bit envious; the amount of subsidy received by Natur Cymru was peanuts compared to the subsidy in Scotland.

But would it be sustainable? After a few years the quarterly frequency dropped to half yearly. Then there was a phase in which the online PDF version was promoted and the doors were closed to new subscribers of the printed edition.

And today I received a postcard saying that the printed magazine would no longer be posted to individual addresses with effect from October 2014. I never did get to feel edition 20 but you can read it online here or even listen to an audio version.

The end of the printed magazine is a shame but a commercial necessity masquerading as reduced carbon footprint. On the other hand Natur Cymru is on the brink of printing edition 53; an achievement made possible by a loyal set of paying subscribers, some advertising, some subsidy and some excellent volunteers. Keep up the good work! As much as I like the online world I think there is still a vital role for the printed word in pushing messages and reaching out.

NB gift subscriptions as Christmas presents are a great idea and help keep the show on the road!

Friday, 21 November 2014

Trying to reach Natur Cymru???? See our new phone number ...

Technology moving on in the way that it does, Natur Cymru has acquired a new phone number, which is:
0300 065 4867

In case you're worried it might cost you a fortune, 03 numbers are charged at the same rate as standard calls to STD codes beginning 01 and 02. There's more information on the Ofcom website:

Remember, the office is only staffed part time so please leave a message if there's no one there, or email us on

Saturday, 15 November 2014

If you go down to the ancient woodlands today ....

Red-eyed shingle lichen - photo from Plantlife
Dolmelynllyn is for lovers of the lower plants. The ancient woodlands around Dolmelynllyn are a Mecca for lichens, liverworts and mosses; the so-called ‘lower plants’. Students travel hundreds of miles to see the rare specimens, just a few miles north of Dolgellau, many of which have disappeared elsewhere a long time ago.

The magic formula is an abundance of rain, the temperate Celtic rainforest, fresh air and sensible management by the National Trust with help from Plantlife and Natural Resources Wales.

Rhodri Wigley, the lead ranger for the National Trust at Dolmelynllyn, and Dave Lamacraft, from Plantlife Cymru, explain what’s so special and how they care for it.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Mushrooms and other fungi brighten up the garden

The vegetable garden is still looking relatively good; cosmos blooms are just about hanging on, nasturtiums are brighter than ever, lots of tall yellow flowers have grown from the green manure mix. Autumn-sown broad beans, onions and garlic are all putting on lots of new growth.

But mushrooms are the stars of the show and there’s a profusion at the base of the dead sycamore tree. I don’t know what they are but they look good and are surely NOT for eating. 

On the front lawn are many different kinds of waxcaps plus two strange-looking types of club fungus. 

At first I thought the black one was ‘dead man’s fingers’ but my ID guide says they grow on wood. These are growing on grass so are a type of ‘earth tongue’ – although having said that, they might be growing out of a dead tree-root beneath the grass. Complicated stuff this natural history. Next to the black is a bright yellow one which I suspect is the ‘apricot club’. 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Award for Friends of Skokholm and Skomer

Skokholm photo by Sid Howells
At a ceremony in London on 29th October, The Friends of Skokholm and Skomer were awarded the Marsh Award for Local Ornithology in recognition of the huge amount of work they have done to put Skokholm Island back onto the British ornithological map. The award was presented by The Duke of Edinburgh at a ceremony hosted by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA) at the Mall Gallery in London.

Skokholm Island, off the coast of Pembrokeshire, is home to internationally important wildlife populations, and is particularly well known for its seabirds. It was the first Bird Observatory in Britain, but lost its Observatory status in 1976. The island was bought by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales in 2007, by which time the buildings and ‘birding’ infrastructure were in complete disrepair and non-functional. Thanks to the Friends this is no longer the case. The work took four years to complete and almost 20,000 hours of voluntary labour.

The Friends are incredibly important to the islands of Skomer and Skokholm and since 1981 the membership has grown to over 400. Members help finance essential work through their subscriptions, but more importantly, many have taken part in voluntary work parties to help bring Skokholm back to its former glory and its return to official Bird Observatory status in 2014. Some of The Friends often act as voluntary wardens on both Skomer and Skokholm, helping with practical maintenance tasks, wildlife recording and research studies and are currently engaged in digitising the daily bird logbooks which date back to 1933. Well done all you hard workers!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Kim Atkinson Art Exhibition

New Exhibition - Kim Atkinson
Gweithiadau Newydd - Kim Atkinson
3 Tachwedd /November-6 Rhagfyr/ December 2014

Natur Cymru is very pleased to feature original works of art on its covers, and we've been lucky enough to have Kim's art on four Natur Cymru covers in the past. If you're near Bangor in November, now's your chance to see her work 'in the flesh', and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee at the same time! Her work will be on display at Kyffin Cafe, 129 High Street, Bangor.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Heathlands – walking the talk

During the morning of 8th October, in a jam-packed Rhiw Village Hall, we heard lots about heathlands, as you’d expect in a seminar titled ‘Heathlands for the Future’. Then in the afternoon and the following morning we got to walk the talk; seeing and experiencing some of the work underway to restore 5 coastal heathland sites in Llŷn. This is part of 26 projects within the much larger HLF Llŷn Landscape Partnership (Partneriaeth Tirlun Llŷn). 

Euros Jones of NRW and Arwel Jones, the project manager for Partneriaeth Tirlun Llŷn, explained that what started off 10 years ago as a conservation project has now taken on a community and economic dimension with a diverse range of partners. The initial funding of £500K from 2004-09 was followed by £1.7m from 2009-15 and hopefully there will be more beyond. Listening to the speakers it sounds as though Llŷn, the triangle from Nefyn to Pwllheli to Bardsey, is ahead of the game in ‘integrated natural resource management’, the new wave of conservation strategy. The partners are pursuing an ecosystem approach and have demonstrated great achievements; but ecosystems need long-term nurturing and now is the time to drive on with it. You can get a flavour of the diverse range of projects from the Llŷn AONB website.

Jan Sherry, heathland ecologist for NRW, and Hilary Kehoe, the heathland project co-ordinator, set the heathland scene. Coastal heathlands, and their dependent species, are in decline due to changes in land use and farm economics. What’s left on Llŷn is a narrow strip of varying quality constricted by improved land; but things here are getting better. 522 Hectares of land have been embraced by the project achieving improvements in vegetation structure through cutting and grazing. Instead of a dense mass of leggy heather and gorse there is now a varied structure which not only looks good but benefits prized species such as chough, linnet and the adder. 

Burning the heath was investigated as a possibility but the conclusion was that the gorse returned rapidly at the expense of heather and other vegetation. Cutting with a flail was better and even more so after a low cut when the cuttings were removed.

Seedbanks varied from site to site; whereas Mynydd Tir Cwmwd had lots of heather seeds Mynydd Bychestyn had barely any. Seeds were collected and spread with the help of local schoolchildren – what looked like a Somme battlefield two years ago has regenerated with masses of heather and minimal gorse. As if to prove a point an accidental fire on a nearby patch had the opposite effect and has seen a resurgence of gorse.

3 year old heathland bedding
As well as agreeing plans for reduced burning and more grazing, which benefit nature, there has been a lot of work to investigate how to improve the economy of the farms. To add local value 19 farmers undertook training in food hygiene and butchery and 5 of these have gone on to process and market their own produce. By-products from the heathland management include heathland bedding which saves time and money and you can read more about this here.

After the tea break Sharon Parr wowed us with what’s going on in the Burren LIFE Project on the west coast of Ireland. There are many parallels with the work here on Llŷn with lots of common sense ideas for making things work on the ground - you can read more about this here.

Fortified with sandwiches and cakes galore we heard a short presentation from Reg at the RSPB about the UK chough survey and the importance of Llŷn which is home to 14% of the UK population. Llŷn chough do not exist in isolation and their destiny is inextricably linked to the populations in Snowdonia and Ynys Môn. The extent of the research and conservation work is immense – this is truly a landscape scale species. You can read more about this here.

Lichenologists don't mind a drop of rain
As the storm clouds gathered we wrapped up in waterproofs and headed across the road to Mynydd y Graig and Penarfynydd Farm. Unfortunately Thomas Jones the farmer was unable to show us around and by the time we reached the trig point on Penarfynydd the lightning was all around with heavy horizontal rain lashing us. Some descended quickly back whilst others plodded on to see the Golden Hair Lichen. The large rocks on which it grows have been fenced in to prevent the ponies getting too close and in particular to stop them scratching their flanks on the extremely rare Lobaria Amplissima.

It wasn’t quite the dream day to visit this stunning farm but you can learn more about it here and see a film of Thomas Jones talking about different aspects of the farm.

Before dinner we all had a chance to look around the excellent £1m Porth y Swnt visitor centre which opened last June and is home to the 2 tonne optic recently removed from Bardsey Lighthouse. Dinner in Tŷ Newydd was complete with ‘son et lumière’ as the thunderstorm continued and high tide waves rolled up to the hotel.

Tim Jones from NRW had the challenging task of talking to us after the feast of local produce. Key points he made were the need to get community and economy into environmental projects and this was clearly the case on Llŷn. Instead of looking at sites in isolation we need to look at and work on whole landscapes and the newly announced ‘area natural resource management trials’ at Dyfi, Tawe and Rhondda were looking to learn from Llŷn.

Some hours later we were back in the same restaurant for breakfast and once more the tide was up, with big waves rolling in. No surfers but a seal, treading water, bobbing up and down whilst looking into the hotel, just metres away. Earlier some guests had seen a baby seal on the slipway – presumably the only safe place to be parked while mum got on with the fishing.

We took the O Ddrws i Ddrws Llŷn Coastal minibus to Bryn Poeth where Kevin Roberts talked to us about heathland bedding and then walked around the coastline to see the Ryetec flail collector in action. Along the way we saw areas where the heath had been improved, areas where bracken used to be rampant and which were now clear of it thanks to initial spraying and subsequent grazing by cattle. There was a marked difference between the two sides of the fence where cattle can and can’t graze – the side without the cattle was a dense mat of vegetation, several inches deep and not receptive to seeds. As we walked into another field it was explained how this used to be heathland up until the 1970s but that it had been ploughed up just days before being designated as an ESA (Environmentally Sensitive Area) – ironic that legislation to protect should be a catalyst for damage.

Compared to the Pembrokeshire heathlands, Llŷn has few plants that are given the chance to flower, due to the uniform grazing of sheep, but there had been a big increase at Bychestyn this summer through grazing with cattle. It was great to see the Welsh Blacks on the edge of the coast with the wild sea and Bardsey beyond. Obviously it was the wrong time of year for us to see flowers but we did get to see Prostrate Broom on the edge of the windswept cliff at Pen y Cil.

Our walk ended on Mynydd y Gwyddel which is farmed by John Williams. The top of the mountain is popular with people coming from the nearby car park to enjoy the view and maybe have a picnic. It’s also where you can see the Spotted Rock Rose, very rare, found just here and on Anglesey. The mountain is grazed only by sheep at present but if the fencing and water supply was improved, then John would graze it with cattle from October to July taking them off for calving and bulling during the busiest time for visitors.

John explained that he would not be going into Glastir as the rules prescribe just 37 sheep during the winter whereas he has a flock of over 150; at this stocking level the unit would not be viable and the site would become overgrown. 37 might be an appropriate stocking level for inland, mountainous areas, but Llŷn has its own climate with resultant vegetation growth; what we need is an area-based approach as opposed to a ‘one size fits all’. The intention of Glastir is to improve the landscape but if John followed the rules he would be rewarded for damaging it! This is one of those situations, as in The Burren, where farmers need to make the decisions and be rewarded if and when they deliver a positive outcome such as species rich grassland. An arbitrary number at an arbitrary date makes no sense in this situation. This site would benefit from a higher level scheme that would reward positive management, such as the scheme in place on Penarfynydd.

Putting structural diversity into the heath
Back at Aberdaron, after sandwiches and soup, we wrapped up the seminar with a discussion. 64 people had signed up for the seminar and most of them had been able to attend at least part which goes to show that ‘heathlands for the future’ is a popular topic. Jon Hudson from NRW said that he had plenty of ideas that he wanted to take back to Pembrokeshire.

Glastir was discussed and we agreed that we needed to lobby for positive change through farmers and if possible take a roadshow to Cardiff. Having said that we felt it would be a good idea to get Carl Sargeant to visit while he is new in post. There was agreement that the partnership should be using the work as a case study to show to politicians and to help shape and influence future environmental schemes.

Ongoing funding for Llŷn was discussed. The ecosystem approach has been trialled and now we need a long term project to drive this agenda forward. Landscape management is not only good for nature, it can also help develop the tourism offer and contribute to maintenance issues around the coastal path. What we’ve got is ‘ready to go’, a solution and not a pipedream.

There had been promising words from the Fund for Nature but nothing concrete yet. LIFE funding had been considered and this may be a sensible route for future funding. Interreg was discussed without much enthusiasm – it’s a shame that The Burren is not on the east coast.

It was felt that Llŷn should aspire to having a Pembrokeshire level of branding; this is slowly happening through the #Ecomuseum brand. See also

All in all an excellent seminar, a catalyst for networking bringing many parties together, well organised by Hilary Kehoe and members of Partneriaeth Tirlun Llŷn (Llŷn landscape partnership).