Friday, 25 January 2013

Santes Dwynwen and her Church

Llanddwyn Island and the Santes Dwynwen church are a magnet for romantics with fifty to sixty thousand visitors a year. For many years the ancient church has looked like a bomb site, with rubble filling the insides of fallen walls and arches. But now it has been excavated and the circular cemetery wall unearthed, with work underway to restore the main arch and other featurues.

If you’ve been before, it’s time to take a second look. If you’ve not yet been, 25th January is the most romantic date to visit, on Santes Dwynwen’s Day. 

Monday, 21 January 2013

Making Cake at RSPB Conwy

Joy has been training youngsters at RSPB Conwy to make seed cakes for the birds. It’s one of those messy sorts of activities with appeal. You can hear the instruction and the fun on Sunday’s Country Focus, Radio Wales, as millions get ready to take part in Big Garden Birdwatch – the world’s largest bird survey. 

Lifetime Award for North Wales Naturalist

I was delighted to be present last week for a very special event, when Iolo Williams presented Peter Hope Jones with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Welsh Ornithological Society. Peter has made a major contribution to Welsh ornithology, over at least 50 years. Way back in 1960 he was Warden at Newborough Warren NNR, just when the conifers were growing up and Montagu’s Harriers were nesting. Later he worked for the Nature Conservancy in Meirionnydd, carrying out bird surveys in the mountains as well as looking after National Nature Reserves in the area.

He has had a lengthy involvement with Bardsey and its Bird Observatory; his book ‘The Natural History of Bardsey’ published in 1988 remains the best account of the island and its wildlife. He is an excellent photographer and this book is illustrated with his own photographs. And we mustn’t forget his latest, and largest, book – the bilingual ‘Birds of Anglesey’ by Hope Jones and Whalley, published in 2004.

The presentation took place in Peter and Joan’s small house in Menai Bridge, not the previously selected venue on Church Island which Peter visits nearly every day. Earlier sleet had encouraged the group to remain indoors.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Iolo in the Vale of Ffestiniog

The third episode of Iolo’s Great Welsh Parks, recorded in and around Plas Tan y Bwlch, will be broadcast on Sunday 20th January at 17:35 on BBC Wales. Tune in to see what he finds. The fourth and final episode, filmed at Stackpole, will be broadcast the following week. Details of the programme and viewing via iPlayer can be found here.

The series was produced by Cardiff based Aden Productions who also filmed the series Wild Wales.

Horny old goat

The horns of a wild Snowdonia goat are spectacular to see, especially when the billies are cracking their heads together to decide who’s top goat in the rut. Yesterday I found the horns of a dead billy poking out of a snow covered pile of bracken. Not such a pleasant sight but instructive. At first I thought maybe he’d lost his right horn in a fight and grown a new one. But no ...

Horns are hollow sheaths, enclosing the pointed bony cores that rise out of the skull, which grow throughout the life of the goat and are never shed. The hollow sheaths are made of keratin, the same substance as our fingernails.

Had a nail biting fox chewed it off? More likely it slipped off when I pulled it out of the bracken so I’ll go back to see if I can find it. My friendly goat expert (Bryan) has estimated the goat to have been nine years old which I suspect is a good old age in the wild.

Below is a film clip of the goats last spring when there were three billies in the heft but now there is only one. Fingers crossed there will be a kid this year although I doubt the warden shares my enthusiasm!

Friday, 18 January 2013

Snowdonia Society business membership – a badge to make a difference

I’ve always been a bit sceptical about badges, probably scarred by years of big company ISO 9000 tick box certification.  Do quality grading schemes really make a difference?  So many people have these types of badges but how much are they worth to the businesses and their potential customers? Certification or quality management assurance is certainly big business and big bureaucracy.

But here’s a badge with a difference - Business Member Snowdonia Society (Aelod Busness Cymdeithas Eryri). Membership is aimed at any business which shares the goals or objectives of the Society.

RAW Adventures, which organises mountain activities, is one of the first to become a Business Member. It is run by local mountain leaders Kate and Ross Worthington. Kate said .....’ we are looking forward to continuing to support and promote the outstanding work that the Society does. Both Ross & I have been individual members for a number of years, even before moving to the area, and have enjoyed some great days on events such as the Snowdon litter pick. We love sharing the Snowdonia mountain environment with friends and family as well as for work. We feel that being business members is a great opportunity to give something back to an area that is very dear to our hearts’. 

Membership fees are £50 a year in return for which the business gets publicity on the society’s website and in the magazine, multiple copies of the magazine and use of the logo. Members are able to show they care about Snowdonia’s future and raise awareness of their business amongst like-minded environmentally aware people. Full details of the scheme can be found here.

Another new recruit is Trigonos, a residential centre for educational and training events, workshops and retreats based in Nantlle. ...’The qualities of the Snowdonia National Park are an important factor drawing people towards Trigonos. Those qualities are taken for granted but have only been maintained through the commitment of generations who love Snowdonia. If we benefit from the Park then we should do whatever we reasonably can to maintain its integrity and character. Being a business member of the Society is a significant step to that end. By supporting the Society and the Park in general we are also helping to maintain and increase long-term employment for local people. The two objectives are totally compatible.’

Coming clean ... as well as working for Natur Cymru I also work for the Snowdonia Society so I am a bit biased. If you know of any business that might be interested in becoming a business member of the Snowdonia Society please forward this to them. Many thanks. Huw

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Wildlife Art Competition

The Natur Cymru wildlife art competition is under way - entries needed by 30th April. Full details are on our website and can be found here.

Traditional notice boards are a good way of alerting people to the opportunity so if you have the time and opportunity there is an A4 poster which can be downloaded here or by clicking on the image.

Sponsors of the prizes are:

  • WWF Cymru
  • Snowdonia National Park
  • Wildlife Trusts Wales
  • Ken Bromley Art Supplies

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Wild Things

I was copied into this email which I thought would make a good Natur Cymru blog post. The author of the email is Dr Trevor Dines, the Plantlife Cymru Conservation Manager, and he said at the foot of the email that he would like it circulated ......


(I’m trying very hard not to say “I’m going to be on the telly”, but…)

Just to let you know that Wild Things, the new Channel 4 series that I’ve been involved with, will begin at 8.30pm on Monday 21st Jan. This new six-part series opens up a completely different view on the world around us, revealing how plants offer an understanding of changing British wildlife. Using maps to show which species have come and gone over the last 50 years, each episode explores a different part of Britain and tells the stories and the science behind the changes.

With help from Plantlife, the Botanical Society of the British Isles, the British Lichen Society and the British Bryological Society, as well as Bangor University and Treborth Botanic Garden, Wild Things aims to introduce maps and change to a whole new audience in an accessible and slightly quirky way.

Wild Things has been produced by Welsh independent TV company CwmniDa, Caernarfon, and is their first series for Channel 4.

A book, The Wild Things Guide to the Changing Plants of the British Isles: Guide to the Changing Plants of the British Isles, complete with maps, illustrations and more background information, has also been written to accompany the series. 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The birds and the beers

Once or twice a month the Snowdonia Society (Cymdeithas Eryri) organises social events for members of the society and the first event of the year is on Saturday 19th January. Rhys Jones will lead a midwinter morning walk around Llyn Bach and along the Porthmadog Cob where we hope to see lots of wildfowl and waders that winter on the Glaslyn Estuary. This will be followed by a traditional pub lunch with a range of real ales at The Ship.

If you would like to come along please contact Frances Smith on 01248 685498 or by email to

Friday, 4 January 2013

Barn Owl Conservation Handbook

Barn owls have undeniable charm. The other night I saw the pale, ghostly outline of a barn owl waft upwards into the night sky, only the third I have seen this year, and each encounter is a memorable moment. Down the centuries they have been the farmer’s friend, denizen of his barns. The cat of the sky, a mouser and rat-catcher of brilliance, barn owls attract admiration and affection, sentiments which were behind the establishment of The Barn Owl Trust in 1988, an extremely effective single species organisation.

This substantial book aims to be comprehensive, an indispensable guide for ecologists, surveyors, land managers and ornithologists. At almost 400 detailed pages, it is remarkably thorough. Its nine chapters cover ecology, legal aspects, surveys, habitat creation and management, accommodation for barn owls, mortality, planning issues and injury and rehabilitation. It is full of case studies and practical examples of barn owl conservation in action. For me this is one of the most winning aspects of this book: it keeps the practicalities of barn owl conservation in view at all times.

Inevitably in a book with a number of authors, I found the writing patchy, and some sections were not as engaging as perhaps I would have liked. It is a heavyweight tome at a heavy price, so it will pass by most general readers. But this is a handbook designed to draw together a mass of material in one place, a source of information rather than of bedtime reading. As such it contains a wealth of information of interest to its target audience and beyond. Perhaps also, despite the challenges that humans inadvertently put in the path of barn owl survival, like motorways, it is an uplifting tribute to the energy and commitment that so many people have devoted to the cause of this beautiful bird.

This review by James Robertson appeared in the winter edition of Natur Cymru.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Green buttons at Waitrose

Waitrose Menai Bridge puts up £1,000 a month for good causes which this January includes the Snowdonia Society. Just pick up a green button at the checkout and pop it into the middle column. At the end of the month the money will be divided between the three selected good causes which also include CPRW (Campaign for Rural Wales) and a local Beavers group (which is nothing to do with mammal reintroductions).

They do this at other Waitrose stores around the UK which are a scarce commodity in north Wales; the nearest ones to Menai Bridge are across the border in Cheadle and Sandbach.

Apart from being a good cause it’s a great store so if you’re passing please call in and vote. As I have just started working for the Snowdonia Society I am of course biased! 

Level pegging at the start of day 3

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Wildlife in Trust

This is a massive book (it weighs over four pounds) – in natural history terms the same as an osprey, commemorating a hundred years of conservation, a history of the Wildlife Trusts. A history which commenced in 1912 (see Natur Cymru 43, pp 6-10) with the formation of the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves (SPNR). In 1915 the fledgling Society published a map of ‘sites worthy of preservation’, 182 in all. Eighteen of these were in Wales, but there were some notable omissions such as Skomer, which had been a private nature reserve since about 1900.

The 199 page history section is followed by 391 pages devoted to the forty-seven Trusts, from Alderney to Yorkshire. The individual accounts vary slightly in length; in Wales between six pages for Gwent and ten for South and West Wales. Each begins with a full-page illustration and includes a map showing the location of the Trust nature reserves. Text and photographs follow the same broad theme: a brief description of the Trust area and its establishment and history, and including appropriate tributes to the many honorary officers and other volunteers who pioneered the way before paid staff became the norm.

Some amazing highlights are revealed like the £1 million legacy from Bermuda to the Brecknock Trust. Montgomeryshire, one of the youngest, having been formed in 1981 when it declared independence from the North Wales Trust, was blessed with a similar amount from a hardly known member. Radnorshire, which split off from Hereford in 1987, is the smallest Trust in Wales and shortly after its independence purchased the 383 acre Gilfach Farm. The success of West Wales in raising funds to purchase Skomer in 1958 and Skokholm, which it had leased since 1948, in 2006 continued its long history of involvement with islands, for it leased Cardigan Island in 1944, subsequently purchasing it in 1963.

The third part of the book, some 161 pages long, is a reference section. Of trust personalities and pioneers, sadly, Ronald Lockley, who was so involved in West Wales for over 30 years, has slipped through the net. This section covers campaigns, medals and mergers and much else. A photograph of the Kite Committee in 1964 has William Condry incorrectly described as the founder of the West Wales Trust.

The author and all those who have played a part in bringing this vast book to fruition are to be congratulated, but is there not a sense of over-kill? I fear few readers in Wales will wish to read about, say, the Derbyshire Trust or that in Hertfordshire and Middlesex, any more than readers in those counties will wish to read about Radnor or South and West Wales. Might not a book using the first and third sections and leaving out the individual trusts have a wider appeal? The price would be that much less, not forgetting the weight.

This review written by David Saunders was published in the winter edition of Natur Cymru.

Space Jelly with Caviar

I love my wildlife, sometimes even more when I don’t know what it is. On New Year’s Day, walking across a low lying field in the Vale of Ffestiniog, I came across what has been described by others as space jelly but this blob had something like caviar in it. Could someone please confirm whether this is an aspect of Welsh wildlife? If yes, I could paint it and submit it as an obscure entry into the Natur Cymru wildlife art competition. If you could go a step further and tell me what it is, I’d be even more grateful.

Well, a couple of days later and I've had some interesting comments including this photo by Mandy Marsh which she took at Orielton in April. She was told: 'raptors squeeze out the spawn from frogs and toads before they eat them as they don't like the taste.'

But that looks a lot different from my caviar in January!