Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Cormorants roosting on offshore windfarm structures

Cormorants frequently roost on man-made structures at the coast and in estuaries including channel markers and wrecks. In the past there have been fewer structures slightly further offshore in coastal waters suitable for use as roosts.  The North Hoyle windfarm, off the north Wales coast in Liverpool Bay, was in the first round of such offshore facilities to be installed in UK waters.

As well as the turbine towers this windfarm had mono-piles with anemometer towers mounted on them at both the western and eastern ends of the array of turbines. The anemometer towers became a roost site for cormorants.

Cormorants roosting on North Hoyle
windfarm anemometer tower (Ivor Rees)
The accompanying photo of the western anemometer tower was taken on 26th January 2006 while benthos samples were being taken for studies on available food for common scoter in adjacent parts of Liverpool Bay. At the time there were 25 cormorants using both the platform at the top of the mono-pile and up the lattice tower. This included the series of protruding arms carrying anemometers.

North Hoyle is in the relatively shallow (<20m), southern part of Liverpool Bay towards which birds from the large colony on the Great Orme would be expected to disperse to feed. With the increasing number of energy installations in fairly shallow coastal waters it would be interesting to know if this is becoming a widespread phenomenon and whether operators take steps to discourage the birds. If un-manned towers associated with tidal turbines also become widespread, the presence of structures at sea might, by reducing the need to return to shore to roost, influence feeding range / energetic relationships in some areas. 

This post was written by Ivor Rees

Monday, 26 November 2012

Llŷn Cycle Guide

The first quarter of the book sets the scene for the 25 routes that follow with titbits of local history, everyday life and practical advice. Llŷn written through the eyes of a cyclist, for the benefit of cyclists, with helpful hints on improving relationships with motorists, pedestrians and horse riders. Lack of colour in the images is compensated for by excellent hand drawn maps, cartoons and illustrations. A good ride and a good read.

The author's partner has just contributed an amazing papier-mâché work of art which will be used on the front cover of Natur Cymru, winter 2012.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The cat sat on the mat, but the fox scat on ..... the sundial!

Bloomin’ cheek of it. Earlier this year he or she killed our ducks and chickens.

Wales at Water’s Edge


The book opens at the south eastern corner of the Wales Coast Path and finishes 870 miles later in the mouth of the Dee. But of course you can start wherever you like in any of the ten segments.

Photograph seems such a mechanical word for the fantastic images captured or created by Jeremy Moore; a diverse range of subjects sometimes from an unusual angle. Lots of natural beauty as you’d expect and ugly things portrayed with panache.

The words by Jon Gower are personal, such as his timely good deed of alerting British Rail to a breached sea wall, thereby averting a disaster, and in reward for which he received The Collins Guide to British Birds.  Some words are not obvious  ....‘this wondrous coast is a place to walk, prog or beachcomb....’? According to the freedictionary.com, to prog is to prowl about for food or plunder. Or did he mean to say jog?

Alliteration abounds with the coast described as ‘crinkled, crimped, crenellated and corrugated’ – I suspect he wanted to go on to say ‘caravanned’ but instead continued with ‘.... holidaymakered and lighthoused, dolphin-blessed, wind-sculpted and always wave-surrounded.’  

There’s humour, interesting titbits and pictures to inspire – it’s a catalyst to get you out walking or as close as you can get to being an acceptable armchair alternative to the real thing.  I’ll be putting it on my Christmas list.

Crib Lem to Carnedd Dafydd, a scabrous walk

From a roomy layby on the A5 just north of Llyn Ogwen we walked up a farm track, got wet feet in a bog, then dropped steeply down until we faced the Glyder-like scenery. Miniscule figurines of early morning walkers on the horizon gave a sense of scale to this raven patrolled fortress. Our route into the clouds was Crib Lem, every bit as exciting as the north face of Tryfan but without the crowds.

Who or what was Lem or Glem? The discussion was inconclusive though someone spoke of a northern expression for being cold and maybe this was a Viking word we had subsumed. If you hung around contemplating too long it quickly became glem with a puddle of bog in your boots.

[I've now had it explained to me: Lem is the mutated version of Llym which means sharp or severe].

Our guide Rob Collister led us skilfully up the scrambly ridge until we reached the top of Carnedd Dafydd. We could hear the chough calling out and then it broke through the cloud and continued on its way.

Sitting in the summit shelters we were reminded that carnedd means cairn as in burial and that Dafydd was the younger brother of (neighbouring Carnedd) Llywelyn, the last prince of an independent Wales. His daughter was Gwenllian and her name has now been given to what was previously called Carnedd Lladron or Carnedd Uchaf. 

From the top we strode out along the ridge towards Pen yr Ole Wen, with sunshine illuminating Llŷn, and paused to look at the vegetation beneath our feet. Was this montane heath? It’s very rare and, apart from Pumlumon, Snowdonia is the most southerly occurrence with our best bits in the Carneddau. It has suffered from too much nitrogen, excess sheep grazing and consequent dung and urine. With reductions in sheep numbers there has been a slight recovery but declines of some plant species. CCW wanted to establish whether it was sheep or walkers that are the problem and placed a camera on the ridge which clearly showed that walkers generally stick to the main path and that the sheep are the problem. There are very few sheep but for some reason they always tend towards the ridge, maybe that’s where they escape the midges? We had a brief discussion on rumours that there might be fencing to exclude the sheep and how ugly that would be in this wild part of the mountains. I will try and find out whether there is any substance to this rumour.

As we veered downwards Rob warned us to take care across this ‘scabreuse’ terrain – with a word like that I knew I was out walking with an international mountain leader. Definitely French and its English equivalent, scabrous, meaning ‘rough and covered with scabs’. Sort of appropriate for the bloody deaths of Llywelyn and Dafydd.

Events such as this are among the many reasons for wanting to join the Snowdonia Society and, with Christmas coming up, the 20% discount at Cotswold Outdoor is much appreciated. Many thanks Rob.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Natur Cymru - online with the Wildlife Trusts

Read Inside
Online magazines or digital editions are knocking on the door but for the moment Natur Cymru is firmly fixed in print. Choosing when to intercept new technologies, and new commercial models, will be very important. We are definitely not an ‘early adopter’ magazine. Having said that, here is a link to a basic page turning version of our Summer 2012 edition which had a focus on the Wildlife Trusts to coincide with their centenary. Please pass it on to anyone you think may enjoy reading it.

The purpose of putting this edition online is to give potential subscribers a chance to sample before they buy. Just click on the caption beneath the front cover to 'Read Inside'.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The Lord Lucan of Welsh mammals found squashed on road by Newtown

As one of the many people who have spent countless hours scouring the Welsh countryside for evidence of pine martens I’m not sure what I feel about the news that a young male has been found squashed on the road at Aberhafesp, just outside Newtown, Powys. On the one hand it’s reassuring to know they are still about and not just as memories or imagination. On the other hand it’s a shame that such a rare creature should be mown down by a driver.

This is the first specimen to be found in Wales since 1971 and the only other concrete proof in recent years has been a pine marten scat from the Vale of Rheidol in 2007.

There’s a report about the recent finding on Country Focus (Radio Wales, 11th November) which will be on the iPlayer until 18th November. If you want to get involved in the great pine marten hunt you should contact The VincentWildlife Trust. If you want to see what a pine marten looks like, or learn more about the scat survey methodology, here’s a (rather long-winded, sorry) film clip:


Saturday, 10 November 2012

South Stack’s Heath Restoration

Dave and Denise with the Ryetec behind
I went to RSPB South Stack two years ago to see the practice of ‘close shepherding’ to maintain the heathland. Basically the shepherd takes the sheep out from their overnight enclosure and guides them through the day to graze the parts of the unfenced heath that need it most. The use of a GPS stuck on the horn of the lead sheep records the route of the flock. This is close shepherding in action:

This week I went back to the southern end of the reserve where the heath is waist-high-too-tall for grazing by sheep and burning is not considered an option because the vast amounts of material would make it too difficult to control. So a posh mower has been hired which gobbles up the heath and collects the cuttings for use as either compost or for cattle bedding. Here is what the machine looks like in action:

NB the gorse is not strictly part of the designated heath but was being cut to create a suitable area for storing the cuttings prior to removal from site.

Ray Woods, lichens and the meaning of life

This year’s William Condry lecture was given by Ray Woods and it was a privilege to be in the audience. I must confess there were one or two sections that I did not quite understand so I’m mighty relieved to see the lecture has now been published on the Condry Lecture website.

Next year’s Condry Lecture will be given by Mark Cocker on Saturday 5th October, which is just before he starts to present the Tŷ Newydd nature writing course from 7th to 12th October. I’ve not yet seen the course details but there is a rumour that Ray Woods may be co-tutoring. Early booking is advised. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Welsh Dragons

What did you do this weekend?  Well, I went to a symposium on reptiles and amphibians held in Llandrindod Wells. Of the 102 delegates I was probably the only one who did not already know that grass snakes (and sand lizards) lay eggs whereas adders (and other lizards) have live births.  I also didn’t appreciate that slow worms live for up to 15 years and that females only give birth every other year. No doubt these titbits will stand me in good stead for University Challenge or Trivial Pursuits.

Happy subscribers
The symposium was pulled together by Mark Barber who is going to create much greater awareness about Welsh dragons i.e. our amphibians and reptiles. The various species don’t have the same glitzy glamour as birds or dolphins nor the stringent legal protection we afford to bats or badgers but by this time next year we should all know a lot more. Watch out for their advert in the spring edition of Natur Cymru.

Across the UK there are 60 ARGs (Amphibian and Reptile Groups) of which 6 are in Wales. Details of the various groups can be found here.
It was great to meet so much enthusiasm and even more pleasing to me that 10 delegates signed up to become subscribers to Natur Cymru! Welcome to the club.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Wales Coast Path – Llŷn Peninsula

870 miles of Wales Coast Path stretching into the horizon is something to be proud of yet can be a bit daunting, but this pocket sized book serves up an exciting 10% of it in ten circular walks of between two to four hours. I can manage that - no problem.

The book is handy in every way: robust covers on front and back with folds to tuck into the page you’re going to refer back to; sections of ordnance survey maps that avoid the need for carrying a full sheet (unless you want to); enough background information to whet the appetite and clear directions provided you can remember your right from your left.

I can’t fault the choice of walks that make it into the ‘top ten’. Aberdaron, with screaming choughs and views to Bardsey, had to be there. Porth Dinllaen with the pub on the beach where I once spent a wonderful New Year’s Eve. Whispering Sands, Nant Gwrtheryn and Borth y Gest – they are all spectacular.

It’s one in a series of ten books planned to cover the entirety of the coast path. I’m sure the rest will be just as good. It looks useful, not a glossy gimmick, and at £4.99 it’s a bargain.

Clearing the dunes at Fairbourne

I have idyllic memories of sunshine and running barefoot in the dunes; but best not to do so near the Point at Fairbourne where there are protruding strands of wire and fencing. This Saturday, 3rd November, a team of volunteers will be tackling the problem to restore the dunes to the spectacular beauty spot many local residents and visitors enjoy for dog walking and bird watching.

Volunteers will enjoy a free ride on the Fairbourne Railway to the end of the line where the work is most needed, all are welcome so do get in touch if you would like to help in this clear-up campaign and experience this very special narrow-gauge railway for yourself! This is what it looks like on the railway:

Jane Byrne, vice-chair of the Fairbourne Railway Preservation Society explains, “The Fairbourne Railway has run through magnificent scenery along the sea front in Fairbourne since its origins as a horse-drawn tram service in 1895.  In 2010, the Railway gained charitable status and in large part is now staffed by volunteers from the FRPS.  In the 1980s, barbed wire fencing was put in to protect certain areas of the dunes and to hold sand back from the rails.  Marram grass now serves the purpose of retaining the sand and the fences have gradually broken or rotted and present a hazard to people and wildlife.  It is our aim to remove the dangerous wire and then work to guide visitors to walk in areas which will not cause damage to the dunes in future.  We would very much appreciate all support offered in this venture.”

The Snowdonia Society organises practical conservation workdays across Snowdonia throughout the year, working with a variety of organisations and community groups to enhance and protect areas of conservation value. “ By participating in our workdays, volunteers can enjoy the beauty of Snowdonia, meet new people, learn new skills and keep fit at the same time! Our volunteering program is varied and everyone is welcome to get involved.” Said Jenny Whitmore, Conservation Snowdonia Project Officer.

If you would like further information on this or other conservation volunteering opportunities, please contact jenny@snowdonia-society.org.uk or call 01286 685498. If you would like further information on the Fairbourne Railway please contact info@fairbournerailway.co.uk or call 01341 250 362.