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.
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