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.
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.
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.