Thursday, 27 June 2013

Birds of Meirionnydd - Adar Meirionnydd

For any enthusiastic natural history recorder the chance to dip into a fresh and updated account of their home patch is always exciting, especially a patch as diverse as Meirionnydd. Birds of Meirionnydd did not disappoint. This update has been long overdue since the publication of Peter Hope Jones’s Birds of Merioneth in 1974. After the initial rush to check up on species for which one has particular affinities, and knowledge from one’s local patches, I found I could then relax into a very enjoyable publication.

Although, like all counties, Meirionnydd has been subject to widespread modifications across the landscape, its habitats are still relatively diverse, which is reflected in the richness of its avifauna. Records and trends, mostly over the last hundred years or so, are summarised concisely. Breeding birds that have declined to extinction in the county include grey partridge and corncrake. Scarce breeding birds include eider and hobby, whilst specialities include ring ouzel, red grouse and wood warbler. Being mountainous in large part and quite sparsely populated, Meirionnydd is an under-recorded county, so it feels like there are always new discoveries to add to the bank of information collated.

The author is to be congratulated on assembling information from so many different sources and for the speedy summary and publication of records up to 2012. Birds of Meirionnydd is a book I would not want to be without, and at a very reasonable £7.50 it is highly recommended. It is also a juicy appetiser for the eagerly anticipated North Wales Breeding Bird Atlas (due autumn 2013) from the same author and his team, which will delve in more detail into the breeding distribution of resident species in Meirionnydd and beyond.

Dafydd Roberts

To order a copy of this book please send a cheque for £9.50 (includes £2 P&P) payable to 'Cambrian OS' to Geoff Gibbs, Fronwen, Valley Road, Llanfairfechan LL33 0ET.

This review was first published in the summer edition of Natur Cymru

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Tree Bumblebee - now in a garden near you!

Having recently spent a week on Bardsey at the Bird & Field Observatory, I was going to blog about the pair of Shelducks with their brood of ducklings, and the efforts of the adults to protect their young from the Grey Seals always on the look-out for a snack.

Photo by Julian Thompson
However, today I have even more exciting topics to enthuse about - reading about a new bumblebee, then seeing it in the garden, then finding its nest!!

The bumblebee is the Tree Bumblebee, which Mark Cocker wrote about in his Country Diary in the Guardian on Monday (not read by me until today).  He tells us that it was first recorded in the UK near Southampton in 2001, and has now spread very widely. Also that it is quite distinctive, with a foxy-brown thorax (upper part of body), dark (blackish) abdomen, finished off with a white tip to the abdomen.  After reading this, I wandered off into the garden sorting through the numerous bumblebees, and soon spotted several Tree Bumblebees! A phone-call to COFNOD, our local Records Centre, confirmed that the species is now established in North Wales.

A little more investigation showed that the bees had built a nest in a birdbox on the front of the house. At least five bees were on duty at the entrance, some fanning their wings presumably to cool the nest. Please spare a thought for the poor birds the box is designed for – in Natur Cymru #46 Roy Bomford (page 37) told us about Dormice taking over Pied Flycatcher nests, and now our garden tits (and House Sparrows) have to face their nests being taken over by bumblebees! Still, it’s all biodiversity, and this incomer may be more benign than some others (Harlequin Ladybird, Ruddy Duck, Japanese Knotweed...). It will of course compete for food with other species of bumblebee - does this matter?

Those of you who have already spotted this insect in your garden, please tell us about it, and of course pass details to your LRC.

Photo supplied by Julian Thompson

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Island Child: My life on Skokholm with R M Lockley

Ronald Lockley first went to live on Skokholm in November 1927: the following July he married Doris Shellard, a near neighbour to his previous home just east of Cardiff. Their daughter Ann was born in May 1930 at Martin’s Haven, in what was then known as Lower Island Lodge, now much changed as an information centre and appropriately called Lockley Lodge.

Ann made her first crossing to the island a few days later. Numerous family photographs provide a vivid testimonial to her childhood years, while her father’s copious diaries tell of the highs and lows of island life. There were certainly many lows, like poor lambing seasons and low prices for fish: on one occasion they even carried their catch to Cardiff but fared no better.

Above all there was the wildlife of Skokholm, especially the birds to be studied, and the establishment of the first Bird Observatory in Great Britain in 1933. From about that time Ann has memories of life on Skokholm and its natural history. For instance, she cannot remember a time when her father was not studying the Manx Shearwaters, especially the little colony on The Knoll, the rock ridge sheltering the buildings from southerly winds.

Memories too of the increasing number of visitors. Among them Julian Huxley, who she thought of as being long like a caterpillar so knew him as Mr Caterpillar. Of W. S. Bristowe, a spider authority, whose birthday it was during his visit, Doris making him a spider birthday cake. Others included John Buxton who was to marry one of her father’s sisters; H. Morrey Salmon who helped build the first Heligoland trap and whose sons were welcome playmates for Ann; and John Fursdon, later to become warden of the island in 1946.

There were at times hazardous boat journeys, pushing off from Martin’s Haven in a strong northerly, or passing through the tide races in Jack Sound or round St Anne’s Head. Ann says, “I can relive every moment of it still” when describing a near disaster as they planned to cross to Martin’s Haven. Her father’s diary simply recorded “we had healthy exercise and excitement, we changed our soaking clothes and had dinner.”

Visitors to Skokholm were usually transported from Dale by the Sturley family. Edgar the skipper hardly moved from his place at the tiller; John, amidships; Jim, the youngest, in the bow. Ann loved sitting next to Jim because he wore a dried starfish in his headband.

In the late summer of 1940 island life drew to an end because of the war. After 13 years the Lockley family departed. Everything from that season’s preserved gulls eggs to water tanks, furniture and livestock, including sheep and ponies, was transported to the mainland and the start of more pioneering, at Cwmgloyne, and later at Dinas Head north Pembrokeshire.

Indeed, and despite the title, about a third of the book is devoted to these mainland years, an intriguing part of the Lockley story which is often overlooked. As to Ann herself, she helped with the re-opening of Skokholm in 1946, of Skomer just for that season, and later spent some time on Caldey. After qualifying with a Diploma in Dairying she went to New Zealand under their immigration scheme in 1953, married and has lived there ever since, but quite naturally still misses the Pembrokeshire coast.

This is a fascinating book about the Lockley family and not just their life on Skokholm. When you have read it, search for a copy of her father’s Early Morning Island with more about Ann and Skokholm: though, as she says herself, she “cannot decide whether it was a children’s book or a children’s book for grown-ups!” There is even a photograph of Jim Sturley complete with starfish!

This a review of the book written by Ann Lockley and published by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch. Review by David Saunders first appeared in the summer edition of Natur Cymru

Monday, 24 June 2013

I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down

Oh no you won’t, Mr Wolf. The LookOut at RSPB Conwy is topped with an eleven tonne roof resting on walls made of straw bales. Work is underway to seal the exterior with a mix of lime and hemp whilst mud is applied to the interior. It should be open sometime in July and will make a great vantage point from which to watch the wildlife of the lagoon.

The RSPB is looking for volunteers to help complete the final stages. If you would like to learn a new building skill and take part in this amazing project then please get in contact with RSPB Conwy.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Phytophthora hits north Wales

Forestry Commission Map
29th May 2013
Walking through Coed y Bleiddiau I got to the end to find my usual route to Llyn Mair closed. Phytophthora! Not a swear word but the 'sudden oak death' curse killing trees in south Wales and now about to cause havoc up north. It’s also been confirmed at Tanygrisiau. How many other sites have been discovered in the past few days?

Phytophthora ramorum has been found in the larch trees below and above the railway line between Tafarn Trip and Campbell's Platform.

Infected parts of the forest are to be felled and walkers were being requested not to walk in the Maentwrog nature reserve to reduce the risk of spreading the disease BUT it's now been decided that that would be like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. There is an exclusion order covering the forestry plantation managed by Tilhill.

The following is the text of a press release from Natural Resources Wales on 25th June:

Natural Resources Wales has committed more than £2 million into the fight to deal with a disease which is attacking Britain’s larch trees.The new body, which looks after the Welsh environment, is to invest £500,000 straight away to combat Phytophthora ramorum (P ramorum) by cutting down trees around the edges of infected areas to try to stop it from spreading further.

The urgent strategy also includes a groundbreaking trial to see if injecting trees with a common herbicide could be effective in slowing the spread of the disease.

Natural Resources Wales will spend a further £1.7 million to remove infected trees, replant those areas and to build forest roads so that new areas can be cleared.

Trefor Owen from Natural Resources Wales said: “This response shows how concerned we are about this disease because of its impact on timber markets, the landscape, woodland and other habitats.We understand the anxiety this is causing the private forestry sector and communities in the affected areas. We are liaising with the Welsh Government and affected forest owners to see how the economic and other impacts can be minimised.”

The disease, which spreads through airborne spores from tree to tree, is proving difficult to contain and has moved more quickly than experts expected despite a massive effort to stop it in its tracks.Hopes of containing the disease have also been hit by one of the wettest summers on record and autumn weather conditions, which have been at the optimum for the spread of the disease. 

The full scale of the spread beyond the South Wales valleys to new sites in West, Mid and North Wales emerged during aerial surveys last month, which provided the first opportunity to assess the trees as they come into leaf. They also showed a rapid spread of the disease in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, with a particularly dramatic increase in South-West Scotland.

The surveys identified 2,500 hectares (more than 6,000 acres) of new infection in Wales – about 2.5 million trees – taking the total area of infection in Wales to more than 5,000 hectares (12,300 acres) containing about 5 million larch trees.

Some 1,200 hectares (almost 3,000 acres) of larch trees have already been felled in Wales since the fungus-like organism was first discovered here in June 2010 in Welsh Government woodlands in the Afan Valley. Early signs that this extensive felling had contained the disease proved misleading, however, and a Wales Disease Management Plan was endorsed in 2012 by the Wales Phytophthora Outbreak Response Team (PORT), which includes the Welsh Government and other stakeholders.

This recognised that the disease could no longer be fully contained. It sought to slow down the rate of infection and reduce the environmental impact and costs of disease control by selectively felling trees in areas of light infection, rather than felling all the trees in infected areas.

However, the sudden, unpredicted increase in new infections revealed by the latest surveys indicates that this approach could not keep up with the spread of the disease and the Wales Disease Management Plan was reviewed this month.

Trefor Owen added: “Regrettably, the disease has spread much quicker than anyone expected despite all our efforts, so we are urgently looking into new ways of eradicating infected trees by injecting a common herbicide into the stem. We need to do this to try and slow the spread of the disease. This would also have to be done without causing further damage to the environment.We empathise with the concerns of private woodland owners and managers and will also be adapting some of the regulatory controls as the disease is now becoming endemic on the western margin of the British Isles and we believe the current strategy of containment is no longer viable in Wales.”

He said the timber from infected trees could still be used to produce a wide range of timber products.

The countryside remains open and the disease poses no threat to human or animal health. However visitors to woodlands can help reduce the spread of the disease by taking some simple actions such as removing any mud, plant material or leaves from clothing, boots, dogs and car tyres.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Feral – a book about rewilding by George Monbiot

Kayaking out of the Dyfi in pursuit of non-existent mackerel; reassuring to know it’s not just me who can’t catch them but I’m worried that no-one seems to know why.

Rewilding the seas is probably the easiest to achieve, just exclude commercial fishing from a percentage of the seas and stocks will recover. Fishermen protest that they will be out of business but examples around the world show that short term loss is soon recouped with abundant and sustainable stocks. The economic cost of making and policing exclusion zones would be quickly offset by a healthy and productive fisheries industry yet governments around Britain are just dithering. To authorise scallop dredging in the Cardigan Bay SAC, our highly prized and most strictly protected bit of the sea, is a ministerial decision rightly ridiculed in the book. 

Rewilding the land is more problematic with upland farming and sheep coming in for much flack. I met George to interview him for Radio Wales (Country Focus, Sundays 07:00) and he took me to a hillside from where we could see the Cambrian Mountains. There’s a website promoting this wonderful area as comprising ‘some of the most beautiful, unspoilt landscapes in Europe, as well as rare wildlife habitats’. As far as George is concerned this is a green desert munched by sheep into a bowling green with contours .... ‘with the exception of the chemical monocultures of East Anglia, I have never seen a British landscape as devoid of life’.

As a person surrounded by upland farmers, whom I like very much, I scarcely dare mention the maths in Feral. On average our upland farmers receive £53K in subsidies and at the end of the year earn £33K i.e. the contribution farmers make to their income by raising sheep and cattle is minus £20K. This vast expenditure of public money (£3.6 billion a year in UK) supports the private businesses of a very small proportion of the rural population, just 5% in Wales, and delivers ecological destruction.  It’s a light the touch fuse and stand well back sort of opener to a conversation.

Between the maths and the science there’s some interesting history and surmise about the plants and about the animals that once roamed here. Rhododendron Ponticum was with us long before the Victorians but why was it not such a problem as today? Could it be that our long gone elephants and rhinos grazed on it? To me this conjures up a fantastic picture of safari in the blooming purple foothills around Beddgelert.

This book will provoke a lot of debate for sure.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Natur Cymru 47 - a marine theme

Puffin by Sharon Whitley 
Marine nature conservation in Wales: gloom or hope? - Blaise Bullimore. The struggle to establish protected areas at sea.

Adfer gorgors yn Rhyd-ddu - Gethin Davies.

Sea stars and the Sea EmpressRobin Crump. A tale of two cushion stars in south-west Wales.

The one that got away - Pippa Moore. What influences recreational crabbing success?

‘I carry your heart with me …’ Eloise Williams. Natur Cymru writing competition runner-up.

Harvest time again  -  Matt Sutton and Vicky Swann. Seed collection and meadow restoration in Pembrokeshire.

Observing a Grey Heron – Linda Auld. Herons and egrets at large.

What is happening to our honeybees? -  Pete Barrar. Responding to the threats: a new National Beekeeping Centre in Wales.

A walk in the fields - Julie Bromilow. People in the landscape and the Zero Carbon Britain vision.

A meadow too small: the strange case of Crug-y-Byddar – Julian Jones. A valuable habitat at risk because of a protection loophole.

Discoveries in science – Tim Rich. Waiting for a Sorbus – three new whitebeam discoveries.

Green Bookshelf – Dafydd Roberts, David Saunders, James Robertson.

Woods and Forests – Kylie Jones Mattock. Restoring the Celtic rainforest: the challenge of a lifetime.

Mynd i’r Eisteddfod? / Going to the Eisteddfod?

Nature at large – Colin Miles. Surveys at the National Botanic Garden.

Marine Matters – Ivor Rees. Dilemmas in the rush for renewable energy.

Cystadleuaeth Gelf Natur Cymru Art Competition.

The summer 2013 edition of Natur Cymru is now available. To ensure a renewable source of Natur Cymru please subscribe here! 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The wettest drought on record - the weather of 2012

A public lecture at Bangor University presented by Professor Geraint Vaughan in the Main Arts Lecture Theatre on Monday 24th June 2013, at 6.30pm.

Professor Geraint Vaughan will be giving his re-scheduled public lecture for the Science Festival Week. The event is sponsored by the Royal  Meteorological Society and the Climate Change Consortium of Wales.  Entry is free of charge, includes a wine reception and is open to all members of the general public.

2012 began with predictions of drought and with hose pipe bans  beginning as early as March in some parts of the UK. The 3-month  outlook released by the Met Office UK originally forecast: “…average  UK rainfall slightly favours drier than average conditions for  April-May-June as a whole, and also slightly favours April being the  driest of the 3 months. With this forecast, the water resources  situation in southern, eastern and central England is likely to  deteriorate further during the April-May-June period”. However, April  and June ended up being the wettest months recorded, since records began in 1910.

Clearly, predicting month to month variations in rainfall at long-lead  times remains very difficult. There are a number of factors  influencing the climate system and our weather. Sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean can act as a mirror reflecting heat back into the atmosphere but as it melts, the dark ocean becomes a heat sink for the sun’s rays, warming the earth’s surface. The position of the jetstream  – the atmospheric circulation that drives our prevailing west to east  flow of weather systems - appears to have been a major contributing factor behind the high rainfall last year. Evidence suggests that during March and April there appeared to be a ‘blocking pattern’ in the jetstream’s path – causing its deviation to the north and south of  its usual eastward progress.

What is the science behind the extensive high rainfall and extreme  flooding events during 2012? Come and find out from one of the world’s  leading experts - Professor Geraint Vaughan. Professor Vaughan is a  native of north Wales and Welsh language speaker. He gained his BA from Cambridge University and DPhil from Oxford University. Geraint  started his research career in the Meteorological Office, initially on  rocket-borne measurements of mesospheric ozone, then on airborne  measurements of stratosphere-troposphere exchange. In 1984 he joined  the Physics department at the University of Wales Aberystwyth, moving  to University of Manchester as Professor of Atmospheric Science in January 2005.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Chives at the bee hotel?

They are building a bee hotel at the Ugly House on Saturday 15th June
 ........ but do they have chives? For more information
click here 

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Chafers everywhere; rejoice or cry?

Sunday morning 9th June and the grass bank above the house, a chunk of about 20m x 10m, was popping out chafers. I sat down amongst them, as they crawled up stems from which to launch themselves. One was on my denim leg. At first I thought it was damaged or deformed with legs on just one of its sides, but then its legs sprung into place on the other side and off it flew. Such a beautiful sight, and to me the big surprise was the absence of hungry birds swooping in for a seasonal feast.

I looked up chafers on the web ... ‘Chafer larvae attack the roots of lawns and some ornamental plants, fruit and vegetables, while adult chafers feed on the leaves of a range of different shrubs, plants and immature deciduous trees.’ Should I be worried? I suspect not but maybe that’s another question for me to take to the Wildlife Gardeners Question Time at the Ugly House next Saturday 15th June.

Local author and ‘eco gardening’ expert, John Walker, will be on the panel and signing copies of his book ‘How to create an Eco Garden – practical guide to greener, planet-friendly gardening’. Also on the panel will be Jo Thomas, a horticultural specialist who has worked at Kew Gardens, Chelsea Physic Garden and the Eden Project.

During the day, which runs from 10am until 4pm there will be opportunities to build portable bee homes, join a guided walk through the Tŷ Hyll gardens and to buy from the well stocked plant stall. The tea room will be open all day providing excellent scones and honey cake. There will be a range of activities for children including games, a bee quiz and a bee photo challenge plus of course face painting.

This event is being laid on by the Snowdonia Society’s Friends of Tŷ Hyll and the North Wales Wildlife Gardening Project. For more information you can contact Margaret Thomas on 01690 710711.

As for the chafers, this is what they looked like:

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Woodpeckers nesting over bluebells

Woodpeckers might not be the rarest but they are star performers, brightening our bird table. When they fly off, hurdling through the branches, this is where they go to, stopping en route for a beak full of insects to feed the bleating chicks. With a carpet of bluebells beneath and birdsong all around the moment is close to perfect.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Gwylltio – encouraging children in Wales to discover wildlife / yn annog plant Cymru i chwilio am fywyd gwyllt

Children love to play computer games and watch TV but Gwylltio presenters Rhys and Cath will encourage children in Wales to go out and discover the wildlife in their area. Using the Gwylltio app (which is free to download here from the iTunes website) children can play search and find games, watch film clips and learn fun facts about wildlife in various habitats and seasons. During the Gwylltio series, children from all over Wales will venture out in their local areas to discover what wildlife is hiding there. They will set up secret cameras to see foxes, badgers and deer, set traps to catch moths and beetles, and use devices that will pick up mouse footsteps, a red squirrel's fur and detect other invertebrates (creatures without backbones). Gwylltio, every Monday at 6.05pm and every Saturday at 10.30am on S4C.

Mae Gwylltio yn gyfres natur newydd i blant sy'n dechrau ar S4C ddydd Llun, 17 Mehefin am 6.05pm. Mae plant heddiw yn hoffi chwarae ar y cyfrifiadur a gwylio'r teledu ond bydd Rhys a Cath, cyflwynwyr Gwylltio, yn annog plant Cymru i fynd allan i chwilio am y bywyd gwyllt yn eu hardal nhw. Gan ddefnyddio ap Gwylltio (sydd ar gael i'w lawr lwytho am ddim yma o wefan iTunes) gall plant chwarae gemau chwilio, gwylio ffilmiau a dysgu ffeithiau difyr am fyd natur mewn cynefinoedd a thymhorau amrywiol. Ar Gwylltio bydd plant o bob cwr o Gymru yn mynd allan i'w cynefinoedd nhw i chwilio am y bywyd gwyllt yno gan osod camerâu cudd i weld llwynogod, moch daear a cheirw. Byddant hefyd yn gosod trapiau i ddal gwyfynod a chwilod ac yn defnyddio teclynnau i ddatgelu olion traed llygod, ffwr gwiwerod coch a phob math o greaduriaid di-asgwrn cefn. Gwylltio, bob nos Lun am 6.05pm a bob dydd Sadwrn am 10.30am ar S4C.

Item contributed by Casia Wiliam of S4C