Countryside volunteering

I’m Hannah Banks and I am a full time volunteer ranger at Llanerchaeron and the coast of Ceredigion. I work with Gwen Potter the head ranger and another full time volunteer Iona Graham.

 My role involves countryside and coastal conservation and is very varied. One week in this role can involve, dolphin watches, checking wild ponies, clearing bracken, beach cleans, wildlife surveys and public activities! For the past few weeks we have done many of these tasks with the help of pupils from Swansea who are undertaking their Duke of Edinburgh Gold award, who have provided us with great help during their week residential stays.

dolphin watch with the volunteers at Mwnt

dolphin watch with the volunteers at Mwnt

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have had many firsts since I began volunteering at Llanerchaeron. Recently I took part in a first aid course which was very informative, interesting and great fun with a large number of volunteer rangers and some members of staff. A few days after this course, we spotted an ambulance at one of our sites site and felt that we could’ve taken charge! Not quite there yet though! However, it was very handy for our brushcutter and strimmer course last week. Fortunately there weren’t any accidents and it is safe to say we all passed.

A den built by visitors at a 50 things event

A den built by visitors at a 50 things event

During the school summer holidays there are 50 things events on Fridays and one afternoon with the help of Iona, I led my first event and the children that attended ticked off many activities from their 50 things list. These events are not just for children as I also ticked off some of the 50 things. This summer for the first time ever I have skimmed a stone and played a grass trumpet (who knew you could hold a piece of grass the wrong way)!

 

Additionally, I have been fortunate to attend various identification courses such as dragonflies, bumblebees and amphibian and reptiles and picked up knowledge from others on plants, butterflies, moths etc. It is great to be able to spot something new to the eye and be able to identify the species; it is such a satisfaction, especially as I spot different species almost every week. Now when I am outdoors, I am always noticing the fantastic wildlife of Ceredigion and have become camera snapping crazy.

Speckled yellow day moth

Speckled yellow day moth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My experience at Llanerchaeron with the National Trust has been great so far and I have gained so much knowledge and new skills! I hope this experience will allow me to gain a job in this field in the future.

Lastly, I have gained a crazy number of freckles, many bruises, scratches and some great friends (including a green veined butterfly)! 

Green veined butterfly

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Dolphin Watch at Mwnt beach

As a volunteer ranger based at Llanerchaeron you get to conduct interesting and informative surveys. The latest survey that is being carried out from June to September is the monitoring of the Bottle nosed Dolphins that reside in Cardigan Bay in West Wales. This survey is new for the volunteers this year and is one that is enjoyed by all. It’s also a few hours break from the general work that we do at Mwnt such as gorse and bracken clearing.

 The survey is carried out on behalf of Ceredigion County Council, who have been monitoring the dolphins in Cardigan Bay since the mid 90’s at various sites along the coast between Cardigan island and Aberystwyth. Very rarely do we have a blank survey day and at this time of year we have had the pleasure of watching small family pods of dolphins with young calves go through a variety of behavior, from hunting and feeding to playing and making spectacular leaps from the water. The younger dolphins prove to be the most energetic as they practise the skills that the adults are teaching them.

 For me, what makes the survey work even more special at Mwnt is the vast amount of wildlife that you encounter during the two hour watch. You get to see a wide range of sea birds such as Gannets, Fulmars and a variety of Gulls, as well as divers such as Guillemot and Razor bills. Another special bird that lives on the coast at Mwnt is the Chough. They are fascinating to watch as they group together and socialise throughout the day, either foraging for insects or providing spectacular displays such as barrel rolling when in flight. Also seen at Mwnt are birds of prey such as the Peregrine Falcon and Kestrel with the later observed raiding Skylark nests on the headland.

 There is also a lot of plant life to be seen both at the site of the watch and all along the head land at Mwnt, with the Heath Orchid being a personal favourite this time of year. There is another orchid that we will lookout for next month and that is Autumn Ladies Tresses which we didn’t manage to see last year but fingers crossed that we do this time round.

To find our more about volunteering with the Rangers at Llanerchaeron please email: gwen.potter@nationaltrust.org.uk

dolphin watch with the volunteers at Mwnt

dolphin watch with the volunteers at Mwnt

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Saving our Magnificent Meadows

Hello, my name is Vicky Squire and I am the new Project Officer for Save Our Magnificent Meadows here in Ceredigion.

Save Our Magnificent Meadows is a 3 year nationwide project being organised by Plantlife and funded by Heritage Lottery, to help preserve our hay meadows and species rich grasslands. The UK has lost 98% of its species-rich grasslands in the last 60 years due to changes in farming practices. These habitats are an intrinsic part of the UK’s natural and cultural heritage. It is one of the few habitats that has been created by man that is great for biodiversity and brimming with life – centuries of farming practices working with nature rather than against it.

There are nine sites involved in the project and at each site we are planning to carry out a range of work including fencing, to allow grazing over winter, scrub clearance and plant surveys. Working with tenants, we are hoping to improve the management of our species-rich grasslands, create new wildflower meadows and engage with the local community through a series of events and workshops. We aim to enhance, create and link species-rich grasslands and reconnect people with these places and their wildlife, history and heritage.

emperor dragonfly

emperor dragonfly

This year’s events started with a training day on Meadow Invertebrates and surveying techniques. A mixture of professionals and members of the public attended and it was hailed as a great success, mainly due to Gwen’s enthusiasm rather than sunny weather!!! We found a wide range of bugs, bees and creepy-crawlies from red-tailed bumblebee, shield bugs, soldier bugs, meadow grasshopper and meadow brown butterflies!

 

We have our Magnificent Meadows Weekend on the 19th & 20th July. The Meadow Arts Day will be on the 19th July and will see art exhibitions and an outdoor theatre here at Llanerchaeron as well as workshops in ceramics, photography, printmaking, lantern making and poetry & song writing!!! We will also be unveiling the winners of our Meadow Art Competition. All of the entries will also be on display throughout the summer.
Then on 20th July will be our Family Meadows Day, with lots of family friendly activities happening throughout the day including minibeast hunts, flower pressing, making meadow animals and bug hotels and hunting for the rainbow in the meadow!!

mag meadow

We will also be holding an event in September for anyone who would like to learn more about volunteering with us. Keep an eye on our website closer to the time.

 

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Ceredigion Conservation

I am Iona Graham, a volunteer ranger here at Llanerchaeron for 9 months as a part of my foundation degree Countryside Management and Conservation at Aberystwyth University.

My role is to help Gwen Potter, the head ranger, manage all the sites that she has to look after. I feel so lucky to be part of the team at Llanerchaeron, it is such a beautiful and vibrant place to work. I love arriving to the squawking of the geese and squealing of the pigs as they make sure Delyth knows it is their breakfast time.

My favorite days are Wednesdays and Thursdays when the other volunteers join us. There are sometimes up to 10 in all and we manage to get loads done. Gwen has a great gang of loyal volunteers that join us whatever the weather. I can only remember about two days since I began that we gave in to the horizontal rain and went home early.

Gwen has some fantastic conservation projects on the go; one is clearing large areas and swathes of bracken, bramble and gorse to encourage the Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly at a gorgeous valley near Cwm Tydu. We do this clearing using hand tools such as bow saws, loppers and slashers. I really like using these tools as opposed to noisy strimmers. It is so peaceful and great that we hardly disturb any wildlife whilst working, apart from the time a volunteer called John accidentally hooked and flung an adder with his slasher. Luckily our tools are pretty blunt so the snake remained intact and slithered off, probably quite confused.

Pearl bordered fritiallaryThe work we do near Cwm Tydu is to encourage the Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly which are quite rare. I have had the pleasure of seeing a couple this spring.

 

 

Another project is at Henllan; a stunning wood that was overcome with the invasive species Cherry Laurel. Over two winters Gwen and her volunteers have managed to clear nearly all of it which looks incredible and has opened up the wood allowing so much more light in, which will hopefully result in lots of ground flora.

Laurel chokes the banks and tree on both sides of the path

Laurel chokes the banks and tree on both sides of the path

Working at Henllan over the winter was fairly hilarious as we have to clamber up ridiculously steep and slippery slopes which provides good entertainment for anyone watching. Once at the top of the slope we saw away at the horrible Cherry Laurel which grows tall and twisted, entwining its branches so that we have to be incredibly careful when we saw, as the tension released can cause the branches to ping violently in unexpected directions. Once we have a big enough pile of cut cherry laurel our next mission is to get it all down the slope launching it as far as we can. This can be so satisfying when you pick up one of the whopping great logs that Gwen has cut with the chainsaw, and lob it with all your strength over the edge of the slope and watch it thump, bounce and bulldoze its way to the bottom. However, most of the time it just lands about a meter away from where you stand, stuck on another log or stump and you have to edge your way down and start again. This can be dangerous and communication is vital as you would not want to be in the way of someone else s attempt at hurtling a heavy log down the slope.

Being a full time volunteer I am lucky enough to get accommodation. I arrived not knowing a lot about the digs I was moving into and was pleasantly surprised with the lovely house, Gilfach, which is about a 20 minute walk from Llanerchaeron. It has an incredible view and once I had got used to living there on my own I really appreciated it. I now have another full time volunteer living with me which is lovely and great having someone to compare bruises and scratches from our work. Now we are in spring and the scrub work has finished so we don’t disturb any nesting birds. Instead we get to see what our hard work has produced. I have learnt the names of so many flowers, butterflies, bees and insects that are thriving in the meadows at Caerllan. We are also trying to keep on top of the unwanted non native species such as Himalayan Balsam which we pull out along the rivers. Now that it’s June, i’m looking forward to surveying more flowers, mini-beasts and Dolphins in Mwnt.

As part of her placement Iona is organising a woodland activities event for children on the 29th July. For more information about this and all our other events please visit the events page on our website.

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Learning to grow your own

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We’ve recently been running adult education courses in collaboration with Dysgu Bro Ceredigion. The first 2 of these have been numeracy based “Gardening by Numbers “ Where participants have learnt to measure out various shaped plots, calculate the are on those plots and then work out how much seed to sow. Their reward for undertaking all of this is to then prepare the area for sowing and actually sow the seed. Last autumn this was a green manure in the polytunnel and this spring the seed sown was a shade tolerant wildflower mix in part of the Dutch Garden. Following on from these courses we are running an adult literacy course, “Apples by the Book”, where participants will have to research how to plant trees and different styles of training fruit trees before planting out apple trees on the walls in the Dutch Garden. Much of this week has been spent preparing the walls for planting of these trees which will eventually form a spectacular wall of fruit running the entire length of the Dutch Garden, overlooking a beautiful woodland glade with Llanerchaerons open pasture beyond.

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If that was not enough we are also looking forward to next Thursdays “Grow your Own” day. The day will be a garden activities bonanza kicking off at 11:00 with a garden tour which will give everyone an opportunity to get their bearings and see what will be going on where throughout the day. Exactly what will be going on throughout the day may be influenced by the weather but morning sessions will include seed sowing (both under glass, and if possible out in the garden) and planting out of young plants (here are some we sowed earlier!). There will be an opportunity to delve into the engine room of the garden (our compost heaps), and learn more about our herb garden. For children there will be seed sowing in paper pots in the morning; amongst the seeds to be sown will be pumpkins. Entrants will be encouraged to return with their pumpkins at the end of October for a special Halloween prize. In the afternoon we will be making mini wormeries for children; whilst adults can here Kevin O’Donnel talk about the work he’s been doing at Cardigan Castle since handing over the reins at Llanerchaeron to yours truly.

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Produce sales have started the year fantastically well. The surprise star of the season has been the poached egg plant Limnanthes Douglasii. This hardy annual is native to California. Its bright white and yellow flowers are attractive to insects, particularly hoverfly which will also eat aphids and pollinate other plants, so it is useful for companion planting in the vegetable garden. It self seeds readily so a poached egg plant is the gift that keeps on giving!

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Tim

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Spring into Summer

Hello, my name is Hilary and i work with Delyth on the farm.

Spring is well on the way with new young stock, new grass growth and hedges and trees in full leaf.

We had cause for celebration at the beginning of the month as Delyth married Deian Williams here at Llanerchaeron on the Saturday of the May Bank holiday weekend. It was a beautiful (and dry!) may day and Delyth looked stunning.

Meanwhile, back on the farm the last of the Llanwennog ewes has lambed with twins. Fortunately three of our volunteers were on hand to assist as one of the lambs chose to make its debut backwards! At the same time, one of the Welsh blacks had a healthy heifer calf, so it was a full day all round. Nearly all of our cows have now calved and its heartening to see cows and calves as part of the parkland after their winter away.

Two litters of piglets have now been weaned from their mothers. They are fine but their mums thought they would attempt a great escape from their paddocks to go and find them!

Sadly the pet lamb feeding has come to an end as the lambs were getting a bit too big and boisterous. Only two of our incubated ducklings hatched successfully, but they are doing very well and growing rapidly and will soon need a bigger paddling pool. We hope to hatch some more eggs later in the summer. The geese have been laying eggs but as yet have not decided when to sit on them in order to hatch.

As the farming season moves on, we are planning ahead for grass conservation and shutting up fields for hay and silage. We are proud to be a part of the Saving Our Magnificent Meadows Project which will work to improve the management of our species rich grasslands. Click the link for further information about the project.

The next event on the farming calender is shearing on the 26th of May. We hope to make a day of it with a shearing demonstration as well as a visit from the Ceredigion spinners and weavers who will be showing some of the ways wool can be used. I will also be giving butter demonstrations in the dairy from 12pm until 4pm on the 24th, 28th and 31st of May. So come along and join in!

As we move into summer the Jersey cows Soffi, Freida and Gloria will be back again for their holiday and milk will be produced in Llanerchaeron again, if only to feed a fresh crop of calves rather than the inhabitants of the Villa.

If you have any questions about the farm or anything mentioned in this post, please come and visit us in Llanerchaeron, we’re always more than happy to have a chat!

our ducklings will soon need a larger paddling pool!

our ducklings will soon need a larger paddling pool!

our piglets enjoying a hearty breakfast

our piglets enjoying a hearty breakfast

the last of our twin lambs born

the last of our twin lambs born

calf getting a good clean from mum!

one of our calves getting a good clean from mum!

 

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Fungi, flies, moths and beetles

I’m Gwen and I’m the ranger for Llanerchaeron and Ceredigion. We have eleven separate bits of land dotted around Ceredigion, and a huge variety of habitats from upland to beach, woodland to heath to explore. Each have to be looked after in a specific way and have responded to the extreme recent weather in different ways. Since I began working for the National Trust in 2012, I have been amazed at the weather’s changes as the seasons turn. With a seemingly endless winter in 2013 and near-drowning looking likely for a time this year, the changes have been even more extreme.

As a ranger it can be difficult being at the forefront of this – either myself or my fab volunteers are out in it every day, and sad times come with bad weather. This year’s exceptional weather has resulted in the loss of almost all the sand dunes at Penbryn and their associated species. Losing virtually a whole habitat inevitably has a large effect. Occasionally we’ve had a guillemot washed up on the coast, no doubt buffeted by the storms. The effects of the weather aren’t always immediately obvious, however – lose one species and its loss in the delicate web of life could affect many other species over time.

When oaks fall as they have been in the woods at Llanerchaeron, it’s another sign that something extreme is happening. Oaks have a very long taproot and even with a bit of rot they tend to hold their branches and live a very long time. You remember those stories of thousand year-old trees, under which the Henry VIIIs and Anne Boleyns of history (perhaps not the most romantic example!) would meet and fall in love? Always an oak. One of the saddest losses has been a beautiful 400 year old ash tree, which is becoming a rarer sight in the landscape as ash dieback takes hold. These trees could have been home to a bat, a red kite’s nest site, or full of thousands of species of fungi, flies, moths and beetles. The one silver lining is that different fungi and beetles need the dead wood.

The extreme weather and climate can surprise us in positive ways. Last year’s storms brought storm petrels to Mwnt (thankfully alive), and ocean currents brought jellyfish, inevitably followed by a leatherback turtle at Ynys Lochtyn. Summer 2013 was like those long hot summers of childhood, spring appearing in a riot of colour in a day, with birds shouting ‘YAY! IT’S NOT COLD ANY MORE!’ and even the increasingly rare cuckoo getting a look in. A couple of weeks ago, I went to one of our most open sites and experienced the windswept coast in all its glory. My face was numb yet I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day. Sometimes it saddens me the most when I know it’s our fault – that we could do more to help wildlife. Children don’t get those long hot summers we had, a cuckoo is a sound from a retro clock, an ‘animal’ is something in a cage to be gawped at.

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Mwnt (top) and Penbryn (bottom), the two Ceredigion beaches we look after

The effects of this weather, both positive and negative, have shown that we can’t fight nature – each of us has to work with it and for it. Turn off the lights; use trees of local provenance; work with rivers rather than against them; work for healthy ecosystems, which means healthy wildlife. In a couple of weeks the swallows will arrive back in our barn at Llanerchaeron, the wood anemones are already out in full force at Cwm Tydu and the chiffchaff has started chiff-chaffing away. I can see our visitors, especially the children, outside with their families and it is all worth it.

Gwen Potter, Ceredigion National Trust Ranger

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