Thursday, 28 November 2013

Bird Atlas book and results available

I was lucky enough to be invited to the launch of the Bird Atlas 2007-11: The breeding and wintering birds of Britain and Ireland, held at the premises of the Royal Society near Trafalgar Square on 21st.

It was great to see all six authors signing copies of the book (mine was too heavy to take down with me unfortunately), and to meet up with lots of other BTO activists, both staff and volunteers. As this latest Bird Atlas for Britain and Ireland is the third breeding Atlas and the second winter Atlas, the species accounts have lots of maps showing changes in breeding distribution and abundance over 20 and 40 years, and winter distribution changes since 1981-84 (the previous winter Atlas).

Headline findings from the book were released on 25th November. Read the British Trust for Ornithology's press releases to find out more about colonisation of Collared Dove in Wales, the Great Spotted Woodpecker now in Ireland (used to be no woodpeckers there at all!) and the rapid decline of many Scottish breeding waders, like Lapwing and Curlew. This decline is also causing concern here in Wales.

Geoff Gibbs, chair of Natur Cymru

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Signal Box at Penmaenpool

Nothing compares with the beauty and joy of walking the Mawddach Trail from the coast to Dolgellau than perhaps walking from Dolgellau to the coast. I was there the day after the first snow; a crisp blue sky and autumn colours in the oak woodlands. My guide was Rhys Wynn, area warden for the Snowdonia National Park.

Rhys checks out the visitor book
We walked a stretch of the trail while making a recording for Country Focus which will be broadcast on this Sunday’s edition at 7am and available as a podcast for the next 30 days. Rather than tell you what he said, I recommend you to tune in for this and other great stories.

We ended up in the signal box at Penmaenpool. No longer the levers and cables for moving the rails but a Tardis-like natural cum cultural history museum with a brilliant view across the estuary. It’s staffed by Rhys and a team of ten volunteers and will be open over Christmas and New Year, then again at February half term and more frequently from Easter onwards. The more volunteers, the more often it will be open. If you would like to join in, please contact Rhys whose details are here.

A great example of the National Park working with volunteers at minimal cost to create a high value attraction out of a piece of history.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Building for the Future Sustainable and Efficient Housing

This day school, organised by CPRW and chaired by Prof Gareth Wyn Jones, will look at how to ensure that new housing stock plays its part in reducing carbon footprint, sustaining the supply of building materials and keeping the population warm, happy and healthy!

The event takes place on Saturday November 23rd and will be in the 1st floor lecture theatre at Electric Mountain, Llanberis.

Speakers include architects with experience of building for the future and balancing the priorities of energy efficiency, materials sustainability, and cost.  The concepts of the Passivhaus and the ReFab House will be discussed alongside the need for imaginative design and affordability.  Carole-Anne Davies, Head of the Design Commission for Wales will discuss the Commission’s role in persuading large scale house builders to adopt these new approaches and some owners will describe their experience of living in such ‘perfect’ houses.

Cost per delegate: £20 (CPRW members) £30 (non-members including one year’s free membership of CPRW).

Please contact Frances Llewellyn to find out the starting time and to book so that the numbers for catering are known.  Payment can be on the door with cheques made out to CPRW Caernarfonshire.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

52 Wildlife Weekends

52 Wildlife Weekends is a book to tease you out and about. It starts with the first weekend in January; Islay in Bute and Argyll for ‘Wild goose chases and whisky chasers’. There are four pages per weekend the fourth of which gives practical details such as grid references of where to look.  The other three pages give selected highlights and in the case of Islay the focus is on barnacle goose, Greenland white-fronted goose, chough, otter and goose barnacle.

Quote CYMRU and buy for just £9
A handy map at the start gives locations of the weekends in Wales, Scotland and England but no Ireland. From Chester to the Chilterns and Gloucestershire to Lincolnshire there is a big gap in middle England; sorry Birmingham. Many of the sites are by the coast and four of the weekends in north to mid Wales.

Weekend 34 in mid August, ‘Mad Manx and mountains’, comes closest to my home with Manx shearwater, osprey, soprano pipistrelle, feral goat and Alpine saw-wort. It seems a good compromise which people could supplement with a bit of online searching. If they really wanted to know more they could take out a subscription to Natur Cymru and buy some back editions!

If marine mammals are your preference there is a table to guide you to the top five weekends of where and when to see them. There’s also a table for combining both A and B but you won’t find a weekend which combines reptiles and fungi at their best!

Well mapped and indexed with great photography and writing by James Lowen which hurries you along with enthusiasm. It’s a book that could go a long way to get people up and out, connecting with the natural world.

Published by Bradt Travel Guides with a price of £14.99. It can be found a bit cheaper online but the best deal is the Natur Cymru reader offer. Just quote CYMRU and you will get it for £9 inclusive of UK postage. If you click on the caption beneath the picture of the book you will go direct to the page for ordering online from Bradt Travel.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Pearls in Peril in Wales

£3.5 million has been allocated to save freshwater mussels from disappearing into oblivion. We used to have millions but populations have plummeted due to pearl fishing and habitat destruction.

Nineteen rivers in Scotland, one in northern England and the Afon Eden near Trawsfynydd are the focus of the research and rescue. Full details of the project can be found on the project website. There is also a podcast by project officer, Elain Gwilym, on the work in Wales and this can be downloaded from Radio Wales Country Focus. 

Empty pearl mussel shell, must have been at least a hundred years old

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Guided walk around the Plas Tan y Bwlch hydro scheme

Saturday’s walk to see the Plas Tan y Bwlch hydro electric scheme was a popular event with over thirty people taking part. It’s all very well hearing or reading about these schemes but there’s nothing quite like seeing it in action to understand the issues and how it all works.

We began at the top and worked our way down towards the turbine house with Andrew Oughton, who runs The Plas, leading the way. The top half of the scheme has a lot of pipework above ground because the ecologists argued against the felling of any trees. Good for the trees, but not so good for the view.  Maybe next time or in other schemes they might opt for burial of the pipe even if it does cost a couple of trees.  To minimise the visual impact the pipe is lagged with hessian and did I hear correctly, that the pipe has been smeared with yoghurt to encourage the growth of moss?

I won’t attempt to tell the story of the hydro because that has already been exceedingly well described by Twm Elias in the Autumn edition of Natur Cymru.

The 13th of June, 2013, was an important day in the history of Plas Tan y Bwlch, the Snowdonia National Park Centre, as the latest hydro-electric scheme at the Plas was officially opened. This is the third such scheme since the first small scheme was established in 1884, when the Plas was among the first houses in Wales to have its own private electricity supply....

The rest of the article can be read online here.

After visiting the turbine house we walked back up through the gardens with head gardener Chris Marshall leading the way, explaining the history of the gardens and the current emphasis on wildlife friendly gardening. Chris manages thirteen acres that were once looked after by a team of fourteen gardeners. One volunteer helps out and more are needed. If you fancy giving a hand, Chris will be very pleased to hear from you. There’s a lot to be done but the setting is so beautiful I’m sure it would be a labour of love.

Thank you Andrew and Chris for a great visit organised by the Snowdonia Society.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Global wine shortage averted by north Wales vineyard

Pant Du vineyard in the Nantlle Valley is the most northerly commercial vineyard in Wales. Planted six years ago, this is the first season for a bumper crop due to great growing weather through summer and autumn making up for the slow start of a bitterly cold spring. The harvest came in on 30th October, later than usual as Richard Wyn Huws gambled on the weather, holding out for the grapes to reach the right level of sweetness. Good job the previous week’s storm missed north Wales.

Every day Richard had been out with his refractometer to measure the Brix (Degrees Brix or °Bx), the official scale for sweetness. Less than 17 and the result would limit production to just Rosé (Rhosliw) but for Red he needed over 17.  A blob of juice was squeezed onto the gadget. The degree to which the fluid refracted the light, taking account of the temperature, was measured and the reading came back 18.9. Time to pick with rain clouds moving in over Cardigan Bay.

A dozen friends and family snipped away with secateurs filling buckets with dark Rondo grapes, some of them already turning towards raisins. Full buckets were emptied into stackable boxes and these in turn loaded onto a trailer pulled between the rows by quad bike. Four tonnes of Rondo, enough to make 3,200 bottles. This Welsh contribution will go a small way to reversing the global decline in wine production over recent years.

The high risk decision to create a vineyard this far north has been vindicated! With hindsight Richard said he would have made more use of Rondo in preference to other varieties that struggle to ripen with our growing conditions. As for the terroir, Richard was stumped for the Welsh word, but said the glacial nature of the valley had deposited a mineral rich, well draining soil at his end of the valley. Light coloured fragments of slate had been used as a weed suppressing mulch at the base of the vines but more importantly the slate reflects the sunlight onto the underside of the grapes as well as holding warmth like a storage heater.

Bottles are due back in April and are likely to sell out fast. Buy early or be disappointed!