Thursday, 31 May 2012

Wildlife Trusts – Natur Cymru special edition summer 2012

Original oil painting by Chris Chalk

·         Wildlife Trusts in Wales - how did it all begin? Kate & Geoff Gibbs
·         Cors Dyfi - one of nature’s jewels. Emyr Evans
·         At the bottom of the garden - wildlife surveys in Cardiff. Rob Parry
·         Wildlife gardening in north Wales. Anna Williams
·         Running a Wildlife Trust. Huw Jenkins
·         Dandelions of Cardiff. Tim Rich
·         NATUR. Celia Thomas
·         Fifty years ago - great black backed gulls on Skomer. David Saunders
·         Lady Park Wood - the loss of ground flora. Kathleen Vanhuyse, Pieter Vangansbeke and George F. Peterken
·         Coedwig ffosil Brymbo. Raymond Roberts                            
·         The Denbigh plum - threats to native varieties. Oliver Prŷs Jones
·         Is Pwyll y felin a turlough? Gareth Farr
·         New Dyfi catchment and woodland research platform. Huw Evans
·         Marine Matters - Protected or not? Mick Green
·         Mammal news. Frances Cattanach
·         Green bookshelf. Book reviews on bumblebees and slime moulds of Cheshire.
·         A review of the Iolo Williams DVD box sets - The Secret Life of Birds and WildWales.
Publication date 15th June. Cover price £4.00 or quarterly by subscription at £16 p.a. or £15 by direct debit. ISSN 1742-37400106 Format: 170 x 220mm, 50 pages, full colour.

For further information visit or call 01248 387 373.

If you would like to download an A4 poster for this edition please click here.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Grass snake in the greenhouse

Just watering the greenhouse .... it’s amazing what you might find! Elegant. Graceful. Beautiful. We might not have prize winning tomatoes but the grass snake is great. 

Field or bank vole?

Bird feeders are a great focal point but it’s not always the birds; this morning there was a small vole. Was it a field or a bank vole? The mammal society website is a good place to answer such questions.  As it was feeding on seeds, had reddish brown as opposed to greyish brown fur and a bicoloured tail (black on top, white below), I’m pretty certain it was a bank vole. They’re on the menu for tawny owls which have been very noisy these past few nights. They’re also on the stoat’s menu which recently has been seen through the kitchen window.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Birdsong karaoke

At 05:30 we gathered close to the osprey nest where Hafod Garegog meets the Welsh Highland Railway; Sabine Nouvet, ecologist from the National Trust, was there to lead us on a dawn chorus. The birds had been in full voice when my alarm went off an hour before and by now they were settling down. Unfortunately this was not the case with the midges.

Sabine and the psycho sedge warbler
Sabine guided us through the woods and we quickly got the hang of the chaffinch, a downward warble with a bit of a churr at the end. Song thrushes were like opera singers rehearsing their notes. Chiff chaffs were easy but dull whereas the wren’s was a complicated song. The willow warbler was a bit like a chaffinch without the churr and the garden warbler was a bit more ‘bubbly’.

Sabine’s descriptions were great but it wasn’t always easy to pick out the described call or song from the rich mix of other woodland birds. I think I got the redstart and eventually I picked out the pied flycatcher though I’m not sure how I’d describe it. Back by the cars we looked across the fields with their reed filled drainage ditches listening to the aptly described manic song of the ‘psycho’ sedge warbler.

We said our thank yous and goodbyes and drove out along the mile or so of new tarmac (not quite sure why the council found this a priority). As I journeyed home I wondered how many songs I’d remember and how on earth I was going to learn about all the other birds.

But this was my birthday and my clever wife had bought me a BirdVoice. A little microphone type gadget on which you can play back either the calls or the songs of every bird I could imagine. Just press the gadget onto the call or the song of any of the 290 species of European bids contained in a laminated, pocket size field guide. I can see this is going to be really useful and much moré than a gimmick. It would have been handy for Sabine to use when trying to describe the calls.

There are lots of features and functions I’ve not yet discovered but you can find out for yourself by visiting the BirdVoice website.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Tawny owl’s revenge

Five evenings ago a young tawny owl was pushed and shoved out of the enormous Scots pine beside the house. A pair of crows, that nest at the top of the tree, dived onto the ball of fluff and feathers until Molly (our dog) and I chased them off. The bedraggled owl scrambled through the wire fence and crash landed into reeds below where once again the crows attacked. By the time we got there it was lying on the ground, exhausted, barely able to keep its eyes open. But when I approached, it gathered enough strength to fly fifty metres or so into the refuge of a nearby willow. We watched for a while and it seemed the crows had either not seen or lost interest.

Later that night there were two baby tawny owls crying out for food by the railway track at Campbell’s Platform. The next night they were a couple of hundred metres up the line. On the third night there were definitely three of them and I was able to stand in the middle of a triangle of trees as they pleaded to be fed. On the fourth night they were a bit further into the nature reserve and, maybe because it was a bit overcast and misty, the owlets started calling out much earlier, at about 7:30.

Last night we sat on our warm, midge-free balcony; it was bright and balmy and not until nine o’clock that we started to hear them, faint and far away to begin with. But by the time we’d gone to bed, the owls had moved into the same Scots pine, in the middle branches next to our open window, and were in full voice non-stop till dawn. This morning the crow family was looking just a bit tired!

Monday, 21 May 2012

My International Day for Biodiversity

Unknown Wales was the title of the conference hosted in Cardiff by the National Museum and organised together with the Wildlife Trusts of South and West Wales. My job, together with Geoff Gibbs, was to promote Natur Cymru at the event, which was on the nearest Saturday to the UN’s International Day for Biodiversity.

Over 1700 people walked through the museum doors and ten of them signed up to become subscribers; a good result for us and them we hope. Other participants provided all sorts of wonders. I enjoyed watching a man from the museum feeding tasty treats to a table full of carnivorous plants, carefully placing a woodlouse into the open mouth of a hungry plant. By the end of the afternoon the plants were well stuffed and fast asleep. On the next stand was a beautifully restored ichthyosaurus skull, discovered at Penarth, and recently acquired by the museum; the skull was good but it was the enthusiasm of the museum staff which brought it to life, highlighting amongst other things an ammonite in its eye. Stars of the show were the two slow worms on the Flat Holm stand – they seemed to relish the attention, gracefully moving around the keeper’s fingers and flicking out their tongues.

After lunch I took a break, while Geoff took charge of the stand, and enjoyed two of the day’s seven lectures. Paul Kay’s photographs of marine fishes from around the Welsh coast were spectacular; he was able to coherently explain the finer points of differentiating between seventeen different species of goby! Paul is an advocate of photography for identification purposes as opposed to killing fish for analysis. I enjoyed listening to Vaughn Matthews from the Wildlife Trusts reporting back on a project to monitor the degree to which Tir Gofal had benefitted brown hares and water voles. Unless I missed a slide it seems, depressingly so, that Tir Gofal measures resulted in no significant improvements.

I drove the 150 miles back to Snowdonia and, after a bite to eat, took our dog for a walk. There was a noisy commotion high up in a Scots pine as resident crows shoved a young tawny owl off a branch. It spiralled to the ground in front of our barn and the crows swooped down upon it. We ran to scare off the black devils but we too must have looked threatening and baby owl did a pathetic, downhill glide into some reeds. Once more the crows attacked and we had to chase them away.

It was lying flat, looking pathetic, struggling to keep its eyes half open ... what to do? I tried to get it into a cardboard box as a temporary safe haven but, once again, baby owl sparked into life and managed a fifty metre horizontal flight to beneath the low hanging branches of a willow.  I watched for a while to check the crows had not seen or had lost interest and that seemed to be the case.

After dark I followed my ears uphill to Campbell’s Platform, on the Ffestiniog Railway overlooking the Scots pine, and listened to the plaintive calls of two young tawny owls calling out for food. Hopefully one of them was my rescued owl, my real contribution of the day for international biodiversity.   

Friday, 18 May 2012

An example of coastal squeeze described by Ivor Rees

On a recent walk with Geoff along the section of the Cardigan Bay coast north of Barmouth, I was struck by the visible evidence for past changes in this low-lying coast. Whenever forecasts of sea-level rise come up for discussion, “Coastal Squeeze” of natural habitats gets mentioned. Though usually applied to salt-marshes in front of sea walls, it may also be used in other situations where intertidal habitats cannot roll-back as they come up against artificial structures or steeper land. Cardigan Bay is famous for evidence of change in coastal alignments. The place where these interactions were obvious was along 2km of coast north of Llanaber halt, on the Cambrian Coast railway line.
For about 1km north of Llanaber rock armour protects the railway, but more natural conditions prevail beyond this, with a shingle storm beach defining the coast line. On the landward side of this beach there is an elongated triangle of Phragmites marsh and willow scrub. Below the storm beach we saw one of the most extensive exposures of peat to be seen on any sandy shore in Wales. Continuity over time between the peat on the shore and the marsh as the shingle ridge has migrated landward is obvious. Unlike some of the other submerged forest peat beds on Welsh beaches, this one has few tree stumps. Peat tends to persist where it has been covered for much of the time by sand. Perhaps there are old photographs of this shore before the rock armouring was installed?
Ivor Rees

International Day of Biodiversity celebrated across South Wales

National Museums and Environmental groups host free natural history events ...
Three of Wales’ national museums are joining forces with environmental organisations to promote saving our natural world on Friday 18 and Saturday 19 May, marking International Day of Biodiversity. 

National Museum Cardiff, the National Wool Museum near Carmarthen and the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea will be hosting a wide mix of free activities for visitors over the two days.

Come to National Museum Cardiff (18 and 19 May from 10am – 4pm) to see live animals with the South East Wales Record Centres or make your own balloon bracelet thanks to the Marine Conservation Society and Cardiff Council, who will be explaining why releasing balloons can be harmful to the environment. Natur Cymru will be showing videos of Wales’ natural habitat and Flat Holm Island will be hosting activities exploring the Island’s unique plants and animals. Meet Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales’ scientists, find out about their research and discover how they look after objects in their care. Wildlife Trust Wales will be showing the hidden story of marine life from what you might find on the beach and you can even watch the RSPB’s peregrines who live on City Hall, live on the nest cam.

Help us celebrate International Day of Biodiversity at the National Waterfront Museum (19 May from 11am – 4pm) and find out more about Marine Biodiversity – this year’s theme. Discover which amazing marine and coastal habitats we have on our doorstep in Swansea and the important species they support with the Swansea Biodiversity Partnership.

Have you ever considered how place names are linked to Biodiversity? Visit the National Wool Museum (18 and 19 May from 10am – 4pm) to find out more with Carmarthenshire County Council. They will also be asking what biodiversity does for us?

These events will be linked to Amgueddfa Cymru and Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales’ second ‘Unknown Wales’ conference following on from its success last year to which 200 delegates attended. This year’s conference will take place on Saturday, 19 May at National Museum Cardiff and is free to all. Opened by TV presenter and naturalist Dr Rhys Jones, the presentations will cover a host of organisms, from lichens and ancient Welsh trees, to marine fish and brown hares.
To find out more about these events, please visit

For further information, please contact Catrin Mears, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales on (029) 2057 3185 or email

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Ponticum bash at Bryn Gwynant

Snowdonia has a bit less ponticum now than there was at the start of the week; thanks to the Snowdonia Society, a few local volunteers and a large work party of students from Capel Manor College, Enfield. The students are studying countryside management and one of their modules is ‘uplands’.  Practical upland experience near to north London is not easy to find so each year the college brings twenty or more students to Snowdonia for a week of work experience.

As well as tackling rhododendrons they also lent a hand to the removal of sitka spruce saplings to help the rejuvenation of blanket bog following tree clearance.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Train spotting with birds

Oak woodlands alongside the Ffestiniog Railway have plenty of good nesting holes and the birds seem oblivious to the belching dragons steaming past. Here are two short film clips; one of woodpeckers and the other of nuthatches.  

Friday, 11 May 2012

Iolo on the Ffestiniog Railway

Iolo at Campbell's Platform
We welcomed Iolo onto Campbell’s Platform as he stepped off the first train of the day with film crew in tow – actually, the main cameraman was already there.

They are working on a new series commissioned by the BBC called Iolo’s Great Welsh Parks. The series will have four programmes, each thirty minutes long, and this programme is based on Plas Tan y Bwlch. We saw and filmed some great wildlife, in oak woodland once owned by The Plas, but it’s up to the executive producer to decide what goes in and what gets cut - fingers crossed they’ll keep the footage of the goats which were on their best behaviour.

The series is due for broadcast in 2013 and is being produced by Cardiff based Aden Productions. This is the same company that produced Secret Life of Birds and Wild Wales and which are now available as DVD box sets. There is a review of both in the next edition of Natur Cymru

Monday, 7 May 2012

Shape shifters in the Forest of the Wolves

False puffballs 2011
Apart from the wolves we also have shape shifters or slime moulds.  From what little I understand these organisms (or creatures?) start life as a single cell amoeba. After mating they form zygotes which in turn develop into plasmodium. The joys of Wikipedia mean you can quickly cross reference all these bits of jargon so here’s what’s said about plasmodium:

an amoeboid, multinucleate and naked mass of protoplasm having many diploid nuclei and is the result of many nuclear divisions without cytokinesis... (So now you know!) .....When the food supply wanes, the plasmodium will migrate to the surface of its substrate and transform into rigid fruiting bodies. The fruiting bodies or sporangia are what we commonly see; they superficially look like fungi or moulds but are not related to the true fungi. These sporangia will then release spores which hatch into amoebae to begin the life cycle again

I knowingly encountered my first slime mould on 29th April 2011, it was the False Puffball,  Enteridium lycoperdon, about three to four metres off the ground on the shaded side of the trunk of an oak tree .

False Puffball 6th May 2012
I have been keeping an eye out for my friend or friends who eventually re-appeared a couple of trees away but at least a week later than last year. Are they later because of the cold weather or were they slower eating the available food?
False puffball 11th May 2012

If you want to see them they’ll be around until about 20th May after which time they will have released their spores and all you’ll see will look like the dried remains of a mudball.  The tree is opposite Coed y Bleiddiau cottage come railway halt at map reference 6642441746. This is what they looked like on 6th May 2012:

Sunday, 6 May 2012

More on the Coastal Path celebrations!

I (Kate) also was helping to celebrate the Path opening, I joined a Ramblers Cymru walk from Tal y Bont (near Penrhyn Castle) to Llanfairfechan. It was very cold to start with, but warmed up after we passed Abergwyngregyn. I met a number of NWWT members and collected a few donations. If you would like to see my species list of plants and birds, please email me You might even like to sponsor me for a few pence per species, I’m up to about £45 and my target is £100. The species list is only a snapshot as the RA walks don't allow one to stop and search and there was too much chat and adverse conditions to hear bird song clearly (Geoff had been dispatched to the NWWT Rhiwledyn reserve on the Little Orme,  so was not on hand to help). No good for butterflies either, nevertheless there were things to find and admire.

The photo shows the group, with me on the extreme left; we’re outside the entrance to the NWWT Aberogwen (Spinnies) reserve, only half a mile or so from the start of the walk. It was taken by Russell Sheaf.
  Kate Gibbs

A Welsh Mass Trespass

Saturday 5th May 2012. Across the country groups were out walking to enjoy the first day of the 870 mile Wales Coast Path.  I joined in with the Caernarfon and Dwyfor Ramblers for the six miles from Cricieth to Porthmadog. It was brilliant: good company, fine weather, blooming flowers and a great sense of occasion.  We all waved at the TV helicopter as it hovered then flew onwards up the coast.

Despite fine weather and being a bank holiday weekend, there was plenty of space, with no feeling of being crowded – the long coastline a vast expanse at low tide. You could almost feel lonely!

It doesn’t sound right but, half way up the Vale of Ffestiniog, my local village of Maentwrog is on the Wales Coast Path! Further downstream is Pont (bridge) Briwet, but that doesn’t (yet) take walkers. It’s about to be rebuilt and maybe, in a few years time, there will be a footbridge. Another alternative is to wade across to Portmeirion at low tide but make sure you don’t step in the wrong part of the sands.

So, if you’ve made it half way up the Vale of Ffestiniog, why not go the whole hog? We’ve created this little eighteen mile diversion for your delight and delectation. The route takes you up to the ancient village of Llan Ffestiniog, with its community pub, then high up to the quarry which housed the National Gallery in WWII and down the other side of the valley where the last wolf in Wales was slain.

Here's a description of where to go and what you might see on The Vale of Ffestiniog Way

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Gwaith Powdwr - family fun day 19th May 2012

Seventeen million grenades and other munitions were made at Cooke’s Explosives Ltd during WWII. Nowadays it’s an extensive nature reserve where the most lethal thing is an adder.

The site has a long history of explosives production starting from 1865 with gun cotton, then TNT and a range of ‘safety explosives’ for the mining industry. With the demise of British coal mining, the business was no longer economically viable and closed in 1995. Three years and six million pounds of decommissioning later, the site (Gwaith Powdwr) was donated by ICI to the North Wales Wildlife Trust.

On Saturday 19th May there will be a ‘fun day for all the family’ from 10:30am to 4pm including bushcraft, pond dipping, minibeast hunting and so on. This is a free event although donations are most welcome. To whet your appetite here is a recent film clip:

It’s a brilliant place to explore, bringing together a mix of natural history and industrial history. It used to be the biggest employer in the area with a workforce of five hundred in the 1960s but today’s only employee is Rob, the warden, helped by a small army of volunteers.

A massive explosion occurred in 1915 (enemy sabotage?), totally destroying the facilities, and responsibility for the site was taken over by the Ministry of Munitions before being sold to Cooke’s in the 1920s.

A key feature of the 60-acre site is the partitioning into three valleys – in the wake of the big accident, production was distributed across the valleys to limit the risk of an explosion in one area spreading to the other.

One of these was called Klondyke Valley because the pipework required for producing nitro-glycerine resembled a gold-rush town. The plumbing has gone but one of the key buildings remains, the Settling Shed. Amongst other things this housed seven settling tanks in which residues of nitro-glycerine were removed from the water used to keep the explosives cool and stable.

When explosives are being mixed it is essential to keep them cool and the process involved piping in water from a nearby pond with an operator monitoring temperature dials and adjusting the flow of water accordingly. Probably not the most fulfilling work but exceedingly important. For his comfort he was provided with a stool but for his protection it had just one leg – if he fell asleep, it would not be for long! 

This is the most modern of the buildings dating back to 1988 when a huge blast destroyed the previous one, killing two of the employees, and shaking the buildings of Penrhyndeudraeth like an earthquake.

Ballistic pendulum
The footpath across the summit of the hill goes through the heather to the Pendulum Shed. Not some giant clock although people in the town could set their watches by it at 2 p.m. every weekday. Suspended from a steel frame is a two tonne ballistic pendulum (pendil balistig) with a pair of rails in front. A canon mounted on the rails was fired point blank at the pendulum. The force of the explosion would cause the canon to recoil on its tracks and the pendulum to swing – the degree to which it swung was the measure of how powerful the explosives were!

This part of the site is the area where nightjars breed and during early summer the footpath is closed to prevent disturbance. Guided walks are organised by Rob – it’s unusual to see these pre-historic looking birds, but the noise is unmissable, it sounds like the rumblings of a diesel engine.

Sandbag wall - great for nesting
Dotted around the site are several Explosives Sheds where products were wrapped and sealed in wax to protect them from the damp. The sheds have detachable roofs and are surrounded by thick safety walls made of sandbags so that in the event of an explosion, the force of the blast would go upwards and not sideways … adds a whole new dimension to ‘raising the roof’. Sparks were a hazard to avoid and to that end the floor was lined with lead and workers provided with rubber shoes and anti-static overalls.

Linking all these buildings and remote areas of the site is a network of tarmac and railway tracks. My first impression of the fading tarmac was that it was out of place in a reserve but on the other hand they make easy access for pushchairs, wheelchairs and mobility scooters. One of the railway tracks went through a tunnel which is now grilled off and makes a great hibernation roost for lesser horseshoe bats. Bats have also colonised the emergency shelters where workers would take refuge in the event of the alarm being sounded.

The final building in the explosives process is the Belfast Store where explosives were safely stored prior to shipment by rail or by ship. One of the many safety features of this building is the lightning conductor, an unlucky strike could set the whole thing off. Cooke’s had their own steamship called the Florence Cooke which started work in 1923 and during the war was used as an ammunition ship at Scapa Flow and took part in the Normandy landings.

Alas in 1959, the year after Mr Cooke retired and ICI took over, it was decided that road transport was more efficient and she was sold for scrap.