Monday, 30 May 2011

Inspired by Nature & Cake

We'll be cutting the cake at the Hay Festival on Tuesday 31st May at 3pm. Come to the RSPB stand and have a slice. The occasion is the prize-giving for the nature writing competition but it's also a chance to celebrate the various significant birthdays: RSPB Cymru 100, WWF 50, Ty Newydd 21 and Natur Cymru 10.

Cake made by Debbie's Cake'ole

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Nature Week .... so much nicer than biodiversity!

June 4th is the start of Wales Biodiversity Week with over 70 events across the country. Here's a list of what's on, when and where:

Calendar of events during Wales Biodiversity Week

Saturday, 28 May 2011


Boles are alcoves or shelves built into walls to house skeps of bees, the way it was done before the invention of efficient, wooden beehives. By placing the skep in the alcove it would be protected from the worst of the rain and insulated from the cold on 3 sides.

Towards the bottom of our drive are a couple of derelict buildings with bee boles, one called Beekeepers Cottage. ‘Our’ bee boles are beautiful, dry-stone constructions, but a bit run down.

Just down the road towards Dolgellau, at Dolmelynllyn Hall, the National Trust are restoring their wall of bee boles. It’s a case of one-upmanship, not just a few but 46 boles!

On 5th June 2011 they are holding an open day to celebrate 75 years of the property being in National Trust ownership. This event will include an expert on hand to explain the traditions of bee-keeping with skeps on display. The wall and the skeps will not be used for bee-keeping as this is not good for the welfare of the bees compared to modern hives.

If you miss the open day it’s still a sight worth seeing. The old house was the one time home of William Madocks, builder of the Cob at Porthmadog, and is now a characterful hotel and restaurant.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Fire-Fighting yn ennill cystadleuaeth ysgrifennu

John Harold yw enillydd cystadleuaeth ysgrifennu Natur yn Ysbrydoli Natur Cymru a noddir gan WWF Cymru a Tŷ Newydd, y ganolfan ysgrifennu genedlaethol.

Dywedodd Gillian Clarke, bardd cenedlaethol Cymru ac un o'r beirniaid: 'Rhoddais y wobr gyntaf i John Harold am Fire-Fighting. Hwn oedd y darn y dysgais fwyaf ganddo. Mwynheais y ffordd y gwnaeth y stori am dân yn y rhostir a'r mynyddoedd ddatblygu, a gallu'r tân i ddinistrio ac adfywio. Roedd cais Frances Voelcker yn agos at y brig hefyd, a hynny am ei harsylwadau ar amgylchedd naturiol cyfnewidiol Graig Goch.'

Bydd Gillian Clarke yn cyflwyno gwobr ariannol o £500 i John Harold yng Ngŵyl y Gelli ar 31ain Mai a hefyd yn cyflwyno taleb o £500 ar gyfer cwrs preswyl yn Nhŷ Newydd i Frances Voelcker.

Dywedodd James Robertson, golygydd Natur Cymru, 'Roedd y beirniaid yn cytuno'n unfrydol ar enillwyr y ddwy wobr. Roedd y ddau yn rhagorol. Rhoddir y wobr gyntaf i John Harold am ei waith gwreiddiol, pwerus am dân ar yr ucheldiroedd. Rhoddir yr ail wobr i Frances Voelcker, am ei darn ystyriol, telynegol sy'n disgrifio ei mynydd'.

Disgrifiodd Andrew Forgrave, golygydd materion gwledig y Daily Post a'r beirniad arall, y ddau gyflwyniad buddugol: 'Mae Fire-Fighting yn mynegi barn uniongyrchol ar fater sy'n dwyn dinistr i fryniau Cymru yn flynyddol. Diffoddwr tân neu losgwr? Yn fedrus, mae'r awdur yn aros ei gyfle cyn cyflwyno'r gwir, ac yn gorffen y darn yn grefftus â rhai safbwyntiau personol. Mae Graig Goch yn ddarn telynegol. Er nad oes naratif cryf mae delweddau bendigedig ac, ar y diwedd, teimlir cyswllt yr awdur â'i phwnc yn glir. Ysgrifennu trawiadol, heriol gan saer geiriau dawnus.'

Dywedodd Anne Meikle, Pennaeth WWF Cymru: 'Mae WWF Cymru yn falch iawn o fod wedi noddi cystadleuaeth ysgrifennu Natur Cymru eleni. Y gobaith yw y bydd darllen gwaith mor ddawnus yn annog pobl eraill i ddarganfod rhyfeddodau byd natur a rhai o'r bygythiadau maent yn eu hwynebu.'

Mae'r ymgeiswyr eraill a gafodd wobr gydradd yn y gystadleuaeth, a theitlau eu herthyglau, fel a ganlyn:

John Woolner Welsh Dragon
Merlin Evans A Little Bird Told Me
Julian Jones Re-Wilding My Town

Cyhoeddir yr erthyglau buddugol yn rhifyn haf Natur Cymru sy'n dathlu ei 10fed pen-blwydd. Cynhelir y seremoni wobrwyo yng Ngŵyl y Gelli ar stondin RSPB am 3 pm ddydd Mawrth 31ain Mai.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011


We set off from Plas Tan y Bwlch station on the Ffestiniog railway, six of us and a dog, to observe springtime in the Vale of Maentwrog.

First stop was the 'rainforest' look-out, high above the River Dwyryd; the streams were still flowing but the trees and ground flora were thirsty for moisture and not showing off their luxuriant mosses and liverworts.

The track through the plantation was sheltered and sunny, with butterflies lighting on the wayside flowers. On the dark, needle-soft, moist plantation floor we found the heart shaped leaves of the marsh violet, the food plant for small pearl bordered fritillary.

We escaped the darkness and emerged into the sunshine, onto a cleared area where oats were once grown to nourish former smallholders and their stock. From here we could see the Tomen y Mur hilltop encampment used by the Romans and others - it has an amphitheatre!

The sparse acid oak woodlands on the slopes below the railway were alive with birds- flycatchers, warblers, tits, woodpeckers and overhead, we saw and heard choughs. The woodland floor was bursting with fern fronds and blaeberries and the blue sheen of bluebell was breathtaking. We walked past cottages and a willow sculpture with histories, a fortifed house with its own 'halt' on the railway and on up the slope towards the fascinating railway 'loop' at Duallt. Bog bean was in flower around the little Llyn beside the 'request stop'.
The train steamed into view and we climbed aboard for an 'overview' of our route back to Plas station.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Stone Walling 12th June 2011

It's coming round to that time of year with Open Farm Sunday and the Snowdonia Society's Dry Stone Walling Competition. Three times I've competed and each time failed to come in the top 3 of the amateurs. Maybe this year?

It's not the winning but the taking part. Great food is laid on, £10 if you complete your section and the stunning scenery of Snowdon towering above Hafod y Llan. Details of the event are here and for an idea of what last year was like have a look at

Bluebells and goats in the Vale of Ffestiniog

The bluebells in the Maentwrog nature reserve are fantastic this year. With the blessing of the warden I cut and raked a lot of bracken last September and this has improved the display. I’ve also been tip-toeing around uprooting or snipping new bracken with my pruners.  Next year I’ll extend the patch to make it even more stunning for people as they walk down the Vale of Ffestiniog.

In bright sunlight the blue is pale, but by mid evening, after rain, it’s a deep rich colour. Nicely offset by the black and white of the goats as they browse their supper.

Otters on the Dwyryd

Six years ago I saw my first otter by the Afon Dwyryd, playing in a puddle on a rainy night. Having got my eye in I expected they’d be commonplace but it took until last Friday (13th May) for my second sighting.

A mother seemed to be teaching her two large children how to catch fish. From the film below you can see the moment the fish is caught and hear the squeals of delight as they leap out and in to the holt or resting place. Mother emerges first, then one of the children leaving the other to eat the fish.

On the original film I think you can make out that it is a small eel but YouTube quality is a bit grainy for that detail.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

'Fire-Fighting' wins writing competition

John Harold is the winner of the Natur Cymru Inspired by Nature writing competition sponsored by WWF Cymru and Tŷ Newydd, the national writers’ centre.

Gillian Clarke, the national poet of Wales and one of the judges, commented: I gave first place to John Harold for Fire-Fighting. This was the piece from which I learned most. I enjoyed the unfolding story of fire in the heathland and mountains, its power to destroy, to regenerate. Close behind was Frances Voelcker, for her observations on the changing natural environment of Graig Goch.’

Gillian Clarke will present John Harold with the £500 cash prize at the Hay Festival on 31st May and also present the £500 voucher for a residential course at Tŷ Newydd to Frances Voelcker.

James Robertson, editor of Natur Cymru, commented ‘The judges were unanimous in agreeing on the winners of the two prizes. Both were outstanding. First prize goes to John Harold for his original, powerful take on fire in the uplands. Second prize to Frances Voelcker, for her thoughtful, lyrical exploration of her mountain’.

Andrew Forgrave, rural affairs editor at the Daily Post and the other judge, described the two winning entries: ‘Fire-Fighting is an insider’s view of an issue that brings annual devastation to Welsh hillsides. Fire fighter or arsonist? Cleverly, the author bides his time before coming clean, and rounds off the piece nicely with some personal perspectives. Graig Goch is a lilting piece with a poetic quality. Lack of a strong narrative is off-set by some wonderful imagery and, at the finish, the writer’s bond with her subject is clearly felt. Impressive, challenging writing by a gifted wordsmith.’

Anne Meikle, Head of WWF Cymru, said: ‘WWF Cymru is delighted to have sponsored this year’s Natur Cymru writing competition. We hope reading such talented work will enthuse others into discovering the wonders of nature and some of the threats which they face.’

The equal runners up in the competition and the titles of their articles are as follows:

John Woolner    Welsh Dragon
Merlin Evans     A Little Bird Told Me
Julian Jones      Re-Wilding My Town

The winning articles will be published in the summer edition of Natur Cymru which celebrates its 10th anniversary. Prize giving at Hay will be on the RSPB stand at 3 pm Tuesday 31st May.


For further information please contact Huw Jenkins, Natur Cymru on 01766 590272

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Fixing upland footpaths

I had been on Snowdon with a gang of Snowdonia Society volunteers helping unblock the drains and prevent  footpath erosion on the Pyg Track. At the bottom of the path you could not help but notice the boots dangling from the power cables. Maybe someone overcome with the elation of surviving Crib Goch?

This film shows you what the gang got up to.

Monday, 9 May 2011

A pair of slime molds

Walking home through Coed y Bleiddiau, part of the Maentwrog nature reserve, I saw a pair of unusual objects about 10 foot up a tree. Bearing in mind some of the unusual sculptures on the nearby nature trail I thought I’d best check with the warden to see if this was another work of art. Not art but nature or maybe witchcraft. These were slime molds.

Doug (the warden) kindly copied me a 7 page document about the finer details of slime molds. It was the sort of prose that requires a dictionary every other word and by the end of the first page I was none the wiser.

What I have managed to absorb is that they are shape shifters. A bunch of amoeba? Reach for the dictionary and you will understand they are a ‘genus of Protozoa’.  Amoeba is derived from the Greek word meaning change and Proteus was a Greek god who could change his shape. So now you know.

Looking at the images on Wikipedia I can see that mine most closely match the False PuffballEnteridium lycoperdon. It’s at the stage called ‘aethalium’ which precedes the release of spores after which it’ll look like the dried remains of a mudball.

If you go down to the woods today, you’ll never believe your eyes.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Peacocks love nettles

7th May and new nettles are being devoured by hungry black caterpillars. Looks like another good year for the peacock butterfly. We hosted several of these on our bedroom window, it was like a conservatory for basking butterflies last winter. Unlike most butterflies, which live just a few weeks, these have a long life with adults surviving potentially 11 months from July until June .... provided they settle down to hibernate rather than play in our window.

If you look at the film you’ll see lots of little black droppings, not poo but ‘frass’ and I think it will be very good for the garden.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Dark bees and Russian kale

Russian kale survived and fed us through the cold winter.  Now in full flower, with millions of yellow petals, I’m told it’s a prolific self-seeder. That’s good because the northern dark bees (apis mellifera mellifera) love it.  They’re also doing a good job with the imminent strawberry harvest and perpetuating the dominance of chives in the herb garden.