Friday, 30 September 2011

Coastal Otter Survey on Anglesey

Coastal otters, like coastal people, are not a different species, it’s just a lifestyle choice. They enjoy the sea food but not the salt which clogs up their fur and they need to rinse themselves out in fresh water. So this is why estuaries are a good choice when selecting an area for a coastal otter survey.

We worked our way along the mouth of the estuary at Rhosneigr, then upstream through the dunes, past the busy and noisy RAF Valley runway, towards the golf course. It wasn’t until we got to the bridge by the clubhouse that we found our first spraints – 8 one end and 1 at the other. 

Was it a single otter or many otters? Dog or bitch? In a few weeks time we will know when the DNA has been analysed at the Waterford Institute of Technology, helping us to build up a picture of the otter population and the territorial ranges of individuals.  

What we were doing was being repeated by 6 other groups of volunteers around the coast of Anglesey all organised by Menter Môn. My group leader was Ceri Morris, project officer for MISE - Mammals in a Sustainable Environment, a project looking into a range of mammals (including bats, dormice, red squirrels and harvest mice) that runs on both sides of the Irish Sea.

As well as leading our part of the survey she took time out to record an interview for the BBC Radio Wales Country Focus programme broadcast Sunday 2nd October. 

Here’s a short clip of Ceri and Dawn seeking out otter spraints - note the very elegant footwear!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Two Irish islands

As a change to our annual Bardsey trip, Kate and I took ourselves off to SW Ireland in early September. After an overnight in Skibbereen (County Cork) we headed for Baltimore and the ferry for Cape Clear Island. Cape Clear is in some ways a sister island to Bardsey, with a bird Observatory and strong Celtic traditions. It is the most southerly point of Ireland, apart from the Fastnet Rock which is 4 miles to the SW. Cape (640 ha) is considerably bigger than Bardsey (179 ha), has a population of around 120 and a daily ferry service 3-4 times a day from Baltimore. The boat is only cancelled in gales. Another difference is that farming on Cape is entirely based on the raising of beef cattle, which has led to the proliferation of electric fences along field boundaries (stone walls which have not been maintained). This makes it a bit more difficult to wander around birding! See photo of Kate getting under electric fence.
After 6 days staying beside the North Harbour on Cape, we headed further north to Castletownbere, a fishing port on the Beara peninsula, on the north side of Bantry Bay.
The next morning we crossed over to Dursey Island, at the tip of the peninsula, in (believe it or not) a cable car! This takes people and animals; 6 of us went across with a Texel ram. The islanders also get cattle across in the car, but the authorities are trying to ban this (gets in the way of the tourist trade). So cattle will have to swim. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

William Condry Memorial Lecture 2011

7 p.m. Thursday 6th October at Y Tabernacl, Machynlleth. The title of the lecture is 'A naturalist and his own square mile' and will be given by Paul Evans. 

Paul is a Guardian Country Diarist, presenter of BBC Radio Four wildlife programmes, and as well as being a writer and broadcaster he runs the travel and nature writing course at Bath Spa University. He writes with intimate knowledge, exact observation and an extraordinary lyrical grace about his home environment of Wenlock Edge in Shropshire and is widely acknowledged as one of the best nature-writers in Britain.

The lecture will be preceded by a showing of Liz Fleming-Williams’ and Simon Frazer’s still-film ‘Gwesyn’, about Drygarn Fawr and the Afon Gwesyn.


Natur Cymru will have a stall at the event.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Anglesey Grazing Animals Partnership

Slow maturing, organic, conservation grazing, traditional breeds, fresh air from the Atlantic - it all builds up into a recipe of clear conscience, tasty meat. This is what you get when you buy meat with the AGAP logo. Hilary Kehoe explains the work of the Anglesey Grazing Animals Partnership.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Harlech Beach Clean 2011

Hurricane Katia was on its way as Jenny briefed us volunteers for the annual clean-up of Harlech beach. The Snowdonia Society does this every year after the tourists have gone. Volunteers came from as far away as Chester and Rhos-on-Sea but the rubbish from much further – milk cartons from Wexford.

All sorts of garbage but mainly lots of plastics which end up in oceanic gyres; massive, slow rotating whirlpools. The North Pacific Gyre, the most heavily researched for plastic pollution, spans an area roughly twice the size of the United States!

The 38 bin liners full of the rubbish we collected will go a very small way to tackling the problem. We need to rethink the way we live. Here’s a film of the windswept volunteers busy on the beach.

Next litter pick is Snowdon on 7th October 2011. Meet at the Snowdon Mountain Railway at 07:40 for an early morning ride up on the service train and walk back down the Llanberis path. Alternatively meet at Pen y Pass at 09:45 to join the guided litter collecting walk on the Pyg and Miners tracks. This is what it was like on last year's Snowdon litter pick:

Contact Jenny at the Snowdonia Society if you would like to join in.

Jenny Whitmore

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Nature Writing Course October 10-15, 2011

Nature writing is an attempt to draw together in one literary form the realms of science, art and personal memoir. What better place to reflect upon all these themes than in wild Wales and the glorious coastal landscapes of the Llŷn Peninsula. We will examine the natural forces that create this beautiful environment but we will also consider how you find a language to express encounters with living places and wild things. Outdoors and indoors, this is a course where your walking boots are as essential as your laptop.

The tutors are Nigel Brown and Mark Cocker.

Nigel is a Lecturer in Biological Sciences at Bangor University and curator of the University’s botanic garden. Nigel has both a professional and lifelong interest in natural history. He has lived in northwest Wales for four decades and cherishes the region’s rich variety of landscape and wildlife.

Mark is one of Britain’s foremost writers on nature and contributes regularly to The Guardian. His seven books include Birds Britannica and Crow Country, which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2008 and won the New Angle Prize for Literature 2009. 

Residential: £525 (single); £300 (shared); Non-residential £275. 10% off for members of Naturalist Trusts or other nature and conservation groups. For further details contact Tŷ Newydd Writers’ Centre, Llanystumdwy, Cricieth, Gwynedd LL52 0LW 01766 522811

One of the students is the runner up in Natur Cymru’s Inspired by Nature writing competition.