Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Three brides for three billies

Last year our local gang of goats produced no surviving kids but this winter is looking promising. All six adults are in good condition with an equal split of female to male. Maybe we will hear the patter of tiny hooves in the spring. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Shrewsbury comes from cranberry

We’ve been living ‘off the fatta the lan’ again, harvesting cranberries from the bogs of sphagnum in the Snowdonia mountains. Beacons of red, part buried in moss, creeping vines with leaves like thyme, easy to see, easy to pick. 

Our good friends from near Bala have reared and prepared a turkey for us to roast and, in (very small) return, we have provided a jar of home-made cranberry sauce. Rain-washed berries, sugar, water and 15 minutes of boiling.

In Welsh their name is ‘llyg aeron’, which translates to shrew berries. Could this be from where Shrewsbury got its name?

Monday, 19 December 2011

Our Weekend at Porthmadog Cob

We were delighted with the number of people who turned up; a big Cymdeithas Ted Breeze Jones group on Saturday had the worst of the weather (wintry squalls of hail) but it’s their local patch and they’d seen plenty of birds before they reached our trailer.
On Saturday we had great views of Wigeon and Teal in front of the hide; the water then gradually rose once the sluices at the other end of the Cob closed, and the trapped Glaslyn water backed up! Most of the ducks then departed.

The next morning at 1030 the water was lower and some waders were in front of the hide, including Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Redshank. Watchers from the hide also had superb views of the wintering ducks including Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal & Mallard, plus the odd Goldeneye and a Red-breasted Merganser.

The North Wales Wildlife Trust trailer made an excellent base for getting out of the wind, dispensing drinks and soup, and providing information about NWWT and also the BTO – Kelvin Jones from the new BTO office in Bangor was there to help both days. Short journey for him as he lives in Tremadog.

The Godwit photo was taken in Holland a few years ago, and shows birds in breeding plumage. At least you can see the long bill and very long legs. These Dutch birds winter further south, whereas the wintering birds in Britain breed in Iceland. Most of the ducks mentioned above breed in Scandinavia or even further away, in Russia.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Cob 200 – grand finale birds

Throughout the year there have been many events to celebrate the 200th anniversary of William Madocks building The Cob. There has even been an excellentarticle in Natur Cymru, many thanks to Twm Elias.

View from the hide
This weekend, on 17th and 18th December, there will be a bird watching event organised by The Friends of Borth y Gest and The North Wales WildlifeTrust. The Glaslyn estuary is world famous for its winter wading bird visitors.  The Wildlife Trust will provide the experts, binoculars and telescopes.  No expertise necessary - if you would like to come along to learn about our local birds, just turn up between 11am and 3pm. Tea & Coffee available. 

The hide is just by the Toll House opposite Boston Lodge with a wonderful view of birds in the water and snowy mountains beyond.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Winter walk in the Carneddau

‘Map reading never was my strong point’ I muttered amongst my apologies for arriving 15 minutes late at Llyn Eigiau car park. I’d followed another small track several miles in the wrong direction. But the organisers welcomed me and said I’d been saved by the risk assessment paperwork which always takes a while to complete.

bad hair day
Rob Collister led our group of 7 into Cwm Dulyn with another group heading off the other direction. Rain which had flooded the roads overnight eased off, the clouds lifted and spectacular views were there to enjoy. Wild ponies grazed in amongst the bronze age settlement, one of them staring back at us through an exceedingly long fringe. Early lunch in the bothy (thank you Mountain Bothies Association) beside Llyn Dulyn already decorated with miniature Christmas tree.

stone polygon(s)
Refreshed we walked up the left hand side (as you face the ‘black lake’) and pretty soon we were into patches of snow and onto the summit of Foel Grach. Another break inside the mountain rescue hut, with a 5 foot high snowdrift piled against the side wall, then down onto a ridge between Foel Grach and Carnedd Llewelyn with stone polygons like elaborate floor mosaics.

Standing proud of the ground a lonesome peat hag .... was this all that remained of a much larger peat covering? Has all the rest of the carbon store been blown or washed away?

Sinking sun, beautiful light, snowy flanks of deserted mountains – what perfect peace. Then mood shattered by the high pitched whine of revving trails bikes on the horizon just a few hundred metres above. When does the open season begin? Maybe I should be more tolerant but how very dare they!

Great walk – many thanks Rob and the Snowdonia Society for organising it. 

Friday, 2 December 2011

NEF - Natural Environment Framework

In the spring edition of Natur Cymru we hope to publish something about the Natural Environment Framework (NEF) which will be out to consultation by then. As this is going to be a very significant change to the way we manage the countryside it's important that readers of Natur Cymru understand what's at stake and make their thoughts and views known. The following is an article prepared by John Griffiths, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development. Please feel most welcome to share your comments.

John Griffiths
As Minister responsible for the environment in Wales I am very aware of the quality and rich array of landscapes and habitats we have in our country. Wales boasts three National Parks, five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, more than a hundred European Protected sites and over a thousand sites of Special Scientific Interest. Indeed around 30% of the land and marine area of Wales is protected for its scenic beauty, wildlife or geological value.

These protected areas and the land and seas around and between them make a huge contribution to the health and well-being of the people of Wales.

The recently published UK National Ecosystem Assessment is the first analysis of the UK’s natural environment; it aims to measure the benefits an environment can provide socially and economically. The assessment confirms that the benefits we derive from the natural world are really important to our well-being and economic prosperity. Arguably these benefits are relatively more important to the Welsh economy than to other UK countries. A 2001 study estimated that the environment contributed £8.8 billion of goods and services to the economy every year, forming  9% of Welsh GDP and equating to one in six Welsh jobs in sectors including leisure and tourism, agriculture and forestry, water abstraction, conservation and waste management. In addition to this figure, important services are also provided by the environment to fishing, mining and quarrying, food processing, construction and other industries.

The benefits and services provided by our natural environment include the provision of food, water, timber and energy, the regulation of climate, floods, air and water quality; and a range of important cultural services, including health, recreational, aesthetic and spiritual benefits. All of these are supported by natural processes such as soil formation, photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, and biodiversity which are essential for the operation of the system as a whole.

There are increasing pressures on our natural resources. A third of the services we get from the UK’s ecosystems are in decline, and Wales, like other countries in Europe faces major challenges in meeting international targets to protect biodiversity.  Population growth and climate change will only increase these pressures in the future coupled with rising demand for food.

Over the past 60 years governments working with the private and voluntary sectors have tried to regulate and manage natural resources through a number of approaches aimed at addressing specific problems. While this has led to progress in many areas, the result has been a complex and piecemeal system that often struggles to address cumulative impacts or reach the best outcome in terms of costs, sustainability and resilience.

Thinking about our landscapes and natural environment holistically, in terms of the ecosystem services provided, and the breadth of social, economic and environmental issues that need to be considered, is a powerful aid to our understanding and management of natural resources. This approach is in keeping with the principles of sustainable development and helps us move away from the single issue approaches which have had limited success in the past.

For these reasons I am pleased to be taking forward our work in developing the Natural Environment Framework, ‘A Living Wales’. This is based on an ecosystem approach, which demands that we look at the environment as a whole and understand its relationship to our social and economic needs, health and well-being. Its guiding principle is to ensure that Wales has increasingly resilient and diverse ecosystems that are managed to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits. And, with the new powers the Welsh Government now has to make laws for Wales, we now have an opportunity to refresh the way we manage our landscapes and natural resources for the future.

I have been particularly struck by the potential value of mapping ecosystems and their services as a means of drawing together and communicating key social, economic and environmental opportunities for a given area. I believe this could become an important tool for developing positive collaborative action which seeks to achieve multiple benefits for our people, environment and economy. The current financial climate means we need to achieve multiple benefits from single places or projects and our new framework is being designed to achieve just that.

I want ‘A Living Wales’ to benefit all sections of society. In particular we will bring forward proposals to strengthen the approach to the urban environment so that we can make a direct contribution to improving prospects for our most deprived communities. Access to, and contact with, nature has been shown to have significant health and wellbeing benefits and I want to ensure that our urban communities have the best possible quality of environment on their door steps. The need to reconnect people with their local natural environment is compelling and is an important way of improving everyone’s quality of life and securing ‘buy in’ to future positive environmental action.

Climate change is one of the key challenges facing the world today. An ecosystems approach can enable better, joined up strategic action to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, through for example the protection of carbon rich soils, and changes in land management practices which are important for carbon regulation in Wales. Equally, an ecosystem approach will enable us to modify and develop landscapes to help protect us from future climate change impacts, such as expanding wetlands to help manage flooding, and increased green space in urban areas to moderate local temperature extremes.

A Living Wales will also identify a range of sustainable economic opportunities arising from ecosystems and their services and ensure that future investment in the environment maximises employment and training opportunities to support the development of green jobs and sustainable Welsh businesses.  

In the 60 years since Wales gained its first National Park our understanding of the environment, its processes and key drivers of change has increased considerably. Whilst it is right that we celebrate what these protected areas have achieved, in looking forward it is important that their purpose becomes focused on the management of ecosystems for resilience and the services they provide. We are currently reviewing the Policy Statement for National Parks and National Park Authorities in Wales to consider how we can build the ecosystem approach into the management of our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Our approach builds on the European Landscape Convention definition of ‘landscape’ as a framework in which to manage natural and/or human interactions, as well as considering landscape quality as an ecosystem service. It must be forward looking and should seek to create future landscapes as well as sustainably managing those we have inherited.  We also need to look at the marine environment to develop ways in which terrestrial and marine issues can be integrated.

As a priority I want to start turning ecosystem theory into practice through a series of pilot projects to test our approach in different environments and contexts from urban to deep rural and coastal, including protected areas. I also want to look at some of our most pressured urban environments to ensure that we deliver a better quality of life for people who live there.

This approach will only work with the full involvement and commitment of local people, the private sector and land managers who need to see the advantages that an ecosystem approach can bring. We must ensure that there is ample opportunity for people to input into the design and to lead on the implementation of ecosystem action. It is this joint working that will help to ensure we deliver.

We will soon be launching our Green Paper to set out our direction for this radical approach to natural resource management in Wales. This paper will set out where we are now, the challenges we face, how we plan to involve people and communities, governance and next steps. We are asking for your views on a number of set questions such as do you support this ecosystem approach and what do you think our main priorities should be?

The Green paper and all supporting documents will be published on our website in early 2012 – please visit for more information. 

After Life in the Rot Box

Bruce Ing, who has written an excellent article on slime moulds for the next edition of Natur Cymru, is appearing in a BBC documentary called After Life. The 90 minute programme will be broadcast on Tuesday 6th December at 9pm.

Bruce with a slime mould
Details of the programme can be found on the After Life website which includes some gruesome footage of amongst other things a rat being disposed of by sexton beetles, time lapsed of course.

The programme is all about the science of decay. A ‘rot box’ has been created at Edinburgh Zoo simulating a typical kitchen and garden in which normal household items are consumed by an array of maggots, fruit flies, different bacteria and so on ..... including, I assume, some slime moulds which feed on the bacteria? Anyhow, best not second guess, watch the programme instead.