Five new swallows

By The Curious Scribbler

Every year we have swallows, who build their nest just outside the kitchen door where their poo piles up inconveniently on the mat, a hazard for the unwary.  Their arrival is nonetheless eagerly welcomed, and their breeding success a matter of note.  Last year there was a tragedy.  The whole clutch died, fully fledged in the nest.  I believe this was because of two days, 25 to 26 August, in which we were continuously buffetted by ferocious gales.   I was reminded of this only yesterday when a news item about climate change included a scene of huge waves battering the seafront below Alexandra Hall.

The Aberystwyth storm of 25 August 2020

The sea breaking over Aberystwyth Jetty on 25 August 2020

Neither swallows nor insects could fly in that howling gale and I think the chicks simply perished unfed.  We wondered whether they had flown before the storm, but a couple of weeks later I inspected the nest to find four dead swallows, their tails still a little on the short side, but otherwise perfect.  The parents hung around on the electricity wires for some days, but then departed.

This spring was also unusual.  During the early spell of warm, fine weather one or two swallows appeared, scoping the house, even indulging in occasional aerial squabbles, but nothing came of it and and the nest remained unused.  They knew best perhaps,  for  that fine spell brought on all the shrubs in the garden, only to be scorched off by frost a few weeks later. There followed a May marked by its coldness and wetness, – not good conditions for feeding young. They were wise to wait.

I had pretty much given up hope when, in June, a swallow appeared, and sat singing its burbling chirrup on the wire, and before long was joined by a mate.  They patched up the old nest, and devoted their spare time to intimidating the cats by their dive bombing.   At first the chicks were pretty quiet, just a whisper of begging when the adult birds returned with beaks full of tiny insects, but over three weeks their cries become a loud cacophony breaking out almost ever minute as the parents swooped in with food.  The droppings began to pile up on the mat beneath.

The hungry swallow provides an irresistible target for its harassed parent.

And on the 23 July they flew at dawn.  I woke to find them balancing precariously on the wire outside my window, and fluttering effortfully back to the roof.  By 10 am they were all back in their nest.

The exercise programme for a young swallow seems carefully calibrated by the parents.  For the rest of the day the feeding continued unabated, but the next morning the chicks were out again, for longer, tackling more demanding routes under the car post and lining up on different perches to beg for food. After a week they were out all day, and nowhere to be seen,  but would suddenly swoop down in mid afternoon, a twittering gang of five, and return to their nest on the beam, where their parents continued to feed them till dusk.

The five Swallow chicks return to the nest at bedtime

It is now day 9 since they first flew, and every evening we look out the back door to check that the five youngsters, still sporting their yellow flanges to their gape, are lined up for the night.  It wont be long now before they leave us, and I wonder whether their parents will fit in another brood before Africa beckons once more.  They sometimes do.

 

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An Invasive Alien in Ceredigion

by The Curious Scribbler

This pejorative title is still acceptable when applied to a foreign plant!  An alien species which has more than found its feet in Ceredigion is the Large Leaved Avens Geranium macrophyllum.

Geum macrophyllum at Black Covert, Ceredigion

It is bigger and brighter than our native Wood Avens, with lemon yellow flowers, and a dense cluster of bright green foliage. Once it gets started it seems to flower constantly from June to October.  The flowers ripen to form soft burrs of hooked seeds which when ripe are readily dislodged.  I would speculate that its spread is correlated with the ability with which these seeds attach themselves to human socks and dogs’ faces.

Geum macrophyllum seedhead

I remember first noticing this unfamiliar plant by the roadside at Black Covert.  Arthur Chater, in his massive Flora of Cardiganshire recorded it there, and rapidly spreading, in 2006.  It was already widely distributed on roadsides in the Llangwyrfon/ Lledrod/ Bronant area, where it was first recorded in 1993, though local recollection has it that it had been there since the 1950s. It is native to North America and North-east Asia, and it has also been recorded as a garden plant since the 19th century.   I wonder whether it was by accident or design that it made its way to Cardiganshire, one of its main strongholds in the British Isles at present.

Its potential to exclude other native plants is well illustrated by the progress it has made in the last ten years at Nant Yr Arian.  On the circular path round the lake from the visitor centre it is flourishing.  At this time of year mature plants are mainly seeding,  growing to more than two foot tall in favoured spots.

Geum macropyllum growing tall by the water’s edge, Nant yr Arian

But the secret of its success is that the plant loves being strimmed, and soon regrows  faster than the grass and starts flowering all over again.  I found it forming an almost unbroken border on either side of the path.

Strimming promotes new growth and a further flowering.

I wonder whether it deserves some selective control before it joins the ranks of Himalayan balsam and Japanese Knotweed, both aliens which are pretty, but now designated enemies by British ecologists.

Geum macrophyllum smothers the competition with its dense foliage, and is still flowering in late October.

 

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The fright of the Bumblebee

by The Curious Scribbler

I have spent the last two Tuesdays being trained in bumblebee identification, and I have to say it was challenging.  The course, provided by the West Wales Biodiversity Information Centre ( popularly known as WWBIC) aspired to render us confident in identifying the eight commonest species of bumblebee and our homework after the first session was to send in our photos of bees.

Popping outside to the Cotoneaster horizontalis I found several candidates: gingery brown bees, black bees with red on the tail, and black bees striped like bar codes in yellow with whitish, buff or peachy rear ends.  Confusing enough, they do not keep still for long, and photographing them proved challenging.  Often I found I’d caught a perfectly focused leaf, but the bee had just droned out of the picture.  Memorizing the stripe patterns is also demanding.  To the superficial glance, quite a few bees have one or two yellow bars across the body, but some have three.  In this case there are adjoining stripes on the back of the thorax and the front of the abdomen as in the large and attractive Garden Bumblebee.  But bumble bees are noted for their rounded appearance so that the ‘waist’ between thorax and abdomen is far from obvious!  And distinguishing between white and buff on the tail of flying bee is also quite subjective.

A Buff Tailed bumblebee

Claire Flynn, project officer for Skills for Bees Cymru guided us through this minefield and we learnt that there were in all 24 different species of bumbles recorded  in the UK, and with the differing appearances of queens, drones and worker bees this adds to the variety.  The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has produced some helpful guides to sorting them all out. There is also an online chart.

Then there is the distinction between Cuckoo Bumblebees and the regular sort.  The Cuckoos do just what you would expect, zooming around looking for bees nests in which to deposit their own eggs and get a  free bee-rearing service.  They are seen eating nectar from flowers but they do not have pollen baskets on their hind legs, for they have no need to carry pollen home.  If they would keep still for long enough one might see that they have hairy thighs, rather than the smooth patch on which their more industrious relations scrape off the pollen.  In class we were introduced to  six species of cuckoo bee, each of which tends to bear an uncanny resemblance to the species which it parasitizes.  I find this particularly remarkable.  Does their disguise aid their  entry to the nest?  The cuckoo bird has no such deception, foisting an entirely different looking chick upon credulous warbler parents.

In all I photographed four species of bumblebees on my cotoneaster, the most abundant being the carder bees, medium sized furry ginger jobs which might be deemed among the easiest to identify.

A Carder Bee on my cotoneaster

However the experts are in doubt.  One of my bee portraits might, just possibly, be not the Common Carder bee Bombus pascuorum but the rarer Brown Banded Carder bee Bombus humilis.

How to be sure?   Apparently I need to look out for black hairs amongst the bee fuzz. B. pascuorum has some black hairs on the abdomen while B. humilis only has a few black hairs in the armpits (wing bases really).  And if I can lay my hands on a male bee I could inspect his genital capsule for additional clues.

An Early Bumblebee worker, unlike the queens and drones has one yellow stripe not two!

The Red tailed Bumblebee seems easier to identify, though there is also a cuckoo bee and a carder bee with the same colouring!

It is hoped that with further practice we may submit useful records of the bees we see on the WWBIC website or via the LERC app on our phones.  Bee recorders are in short supply, and can provide vital information on the fortunes of our bumblebee populations.

Postscript:  Having sent in a number of additional pictures of my Carder bees they have now been accepted by the experts as definitely the rarer Brown Banded Carder Bee!

 

 

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Freedom to Roam

by The Curious Scribbler

Yesterday we went to the Teifi Marshes – because we could!   Although it is hard to fault Pendinas, Tanybwlch  and the cycle path for its birds and flowers, the freedom to travel lured us to the south of the county, to the Cilgerran Gorge and to the Welsh Wildlife  reserve which is bisected by the former railway line to Cardigan.  The golden reed beds and the hides are spread out to view below  the ring road, but approached from the visitor parking, the traffic is too far away to be audible.

Teifi Marshes. A view from the hide

I heard my first chiffchaff of the year in the alders beside the path.    The first of the three hides has regrettably been destroyed by arson during lockdown.  Only the charred timbers of the frame remain.  But the birds on  the pool it overlooked were remarkably unperturbed by passing visitors.  A little egret stood on its silly yellow feet occasionally snapping up  small morsels in the water.  A couple of dozen teal sculled around, already paired off and thinking about the spring.  The drakes are so  beautiful with the iridescent  green comma on their chestnut heads, and their immaculate grey speckled flanks.  The ducks are plain  coloured for camouflage on their nests, but flash the same metallic green from the speculum,  the secondary flight feathers on the wing.

At the second hide we watched a curlew patiently probing the mud beside the now empty tidal channel.   There was very little else  to see, until  a sudden treat, the unmistakable long-tailed form and grey barred body of the first cuckoo flying low over the marshes.  We didn’t hear it call.   Perhaps it is as yet a little too early to start seeking out reed bunting nests.

As we approached the third hide were suddenly buzzed by a squadron of sand martins,  a flock of forty or more birds hawking low over the reeds almost skimming our heads.   These too are fresh arrivals, feeding as a flock, not yet involving themselves in the serious business of egg laying.  And amongst them there was one ( or possibly two – so fast did they swirl above us) swallow.   We all know that one swallow does not make a summer.  But it is certainly a start.  And I read that someone saw one at Mwnt yeterday as well.

Teifi Marshes. A new boardwalk

I strongly applause the Wildlife Trust for the management of this reserve.  Clearly over the winter they have been very busy replacing decaying boardwalks to the hides, and both of these were airy and safe with the windows all opened wide.  Walkers and birdwatchers, and many families with children and dogs were out enjoying the open space.  A contrast with my other planned destination, Cilgerran Castle, an outdoor location which is equally cold and well ventilated, but which the National Trust has seen fit to keep firmly closed to visitors.

As I write this, I find that during my absence yesterday my own chiff-chaff has also returned, and is flicking around between the lawn and the shrubs outside my window. So there will soon be be its relentless song from the tops of nearby trees declaring summer.

 

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The Palaeontologists of Llandrindod Wells

by The Curious Scribbler

The most remarkable people conceal themselves in the Welsh hills.  Today’s exhibit are Cambridge-educated palaeontologists Joe Botting and Lucy Muir whose home is in Llandrindod Wells.  As independent researchers they work all over the world, currently  in China, the Czech Republic and Morocco and are among the foremost experts on Cambrian fossil communities  – animals which lived at least 500 million years ago.

49457706_1594220289420963_r.jpeg

It was the Ordovician rocks of central Wales which brought them to Llandrindod Wells, and their research is putting their home town on the map.  To the untrained eye the local stone look pretty unexciting, grey and shaley, and there is absolutely no chance of spotting a dinosaur bone or a nice big ammonite for the mantelpiece.  Most amateurs would be proud enough to find a fossil trilobite, a segmented arthropod of a kind which became extinct 300 million years ago. This creature had a rigid carapace which formed a mould in the sediment and was thus more readily preserved as a fossil.

A trilobite from Llandrinod Wells    (Ogyginus corndensis)

But very close inspection in the right places has revealed an unguessed-at variety of tiny fossils whose soft bodies are preserved as little more that smears between the layers of flaking grey rock.

A tiny starfish just 2mm across.

A palaeoscolecid worm with  microscopically armoured skin that is exquisitely beautiful under high magnification.

An as yet unnamed creature which has tentacles

Joe and Lucy’s discoveries present a picture of an ocean teaming with life 450 million years ago.  Hours and hours of collecting, inspecting shards of rock for any tell tale sign of a fossil must be followed by days of microscopic study, to identify and photograph these tiny traces.  Important publications will follow.  It is for this reason that they have launched a crowdfunding page  to buy a high quality binocular microscope and digital camera set-up to be installed at their home in Llandrindod Wells.

Life is precarious for independent researchers: Joe busks in the summer and Lucy does part time editing to support their modest life needs.  They welcome amateur enthusiasts and have already been pivotal in launching at least one Penglais pupil on his geological career.  In Llandrindod, they run a local amateur fossil group, provide public talks and workshops, visit local primary schools, and run field trips. They are involved in the community orchard, the repair shop, and the Transition Towns Group.  As they say “We even offer our personal space, time and equipment to anyone who has need of it, simply to encourage a love of the natural sciences.”

At the Sign of the Trilobite

The high quality photo microscope would be installed at their premises and will be of equal benefit to other scientists, especially in fields such as  botany, insects, or archaeology, who will be able to use it  free by appointment.  Donations in the first week of the appeal have exceeded £5000 but there is more to go for a first rate piece of kit.  Go to their web page and read all about it!

https://www.gofundme.com/f/a-microscope-for-amateur-science-in-wales

 

 

 

 

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Life on Lockdown

by The Curious Scribbler

My dog and I have enjoyed some splendid walks in the last two weeks, happily all within my authorized orbit, accessible from my own front door.

The spring has been heartbreakingly beautiful and every day brings new delights.  A fortnight ago, the first chiff chaff appeared at Tanybwlch and within days the landscape became alive with them, belting out their monotonous song from tree tops and gorse bushes everywhere I walk.  The wheatears are back in the stones below Alltwen, and stonechats and dunnocks everywhere in the scrub on the flanks of Pendinas.  Woodpeckers drum in the alder trees by the cycle path and on several days there were no less than 35 choughs probing the sloping meadow on the foot on Pendidnas.  I’ve seen kestrel, buzzard and kite overhead and a heron stalking the incipient salt marsh behind Tanybwlch beach. Today I also noticed that two Canada geese have taken up residence in the small pond below Tanybwlch mansion, and look as if they are planning on goslings.  This pond has an island which will protect them from foxes.  It is a historic feature in the landscape, formerly a public watering point on Tanybwlch flats, immortalized in old maps and a watercolour from the early 19th century.

The watering hole below Tanybwlch mansion, now home to a pair of Canada Geese

The wildflowers are equally delightful, carpets of wood anemones in shady patches on the drive, celandines in the roadside banks opening their reflective golden petals in the sun, and a great  drift of primroses on the bank facing the sea near where Lord Ystwyth built his tea cottage at the foot of Alltwen.

Only very occasionally does a jet aeroplane cross the blue vault of the sky, where formerly four of five could be seen simultaneously on any clear day.  At night the consequences are obvious, the stars sharper and brighter, and venus gleaming like an unexpected streetlight over the hill. These are, as people often say to one another,  strange times, but they are not short of natural beauty.

Also strange are the consequences of ‘social distancing’, the regime to which we must all strictly adhere and which has been interpreted fiercely since the new law was hastily put in place.  First, I noticed that people became less inclined to the usual pleasantries, least they be thought to be socializing.  Dog walkers usually say good day to one another, but now other walkers often pass silently, and on a few occasions even turn around to avoid passing me.  Many familiar faces don’t seem to come along these paths at all, perhaps because they formerly drove to commence their walk.  Tanybwlch beach has always been a prime spot for dog walkers but it is now rare to see more than a couple of dogs on the whole length of the strand.

Their place has been taken by cyclists and runners, many clad in bright bespoke costumes signifying their virtuous activity.  Never before has there been such a succession of fit young men pounding along the strand and doing  stretches, squats and press ups near the primrose patch, before pounding back towards the town.  More worryingly though where are all the children?  One day I saw a mother with her three children and a dog walking beside the Ystwyth, and another day I spied a father and his two small daughters with bikes on the cycle path.  These though were rare sightings: far less than one might expect to see when all children are at home.

I do wonder whether we have gone too far with the virtue-signalling around reasons to be out of doors.  Today the police posted a picture of South Beach, Aberysytwyth on Facebook. Taken at 2.20pm it was completely deserted,  not a lone walker, not a dog, nobody at all.  The post congratulates the people of Aberystwyth  on not being there. This, apparently, is how our open spaces should look. Not social distancing but total absence is required.

Heddlu DPPolice photo posted on Facebook

I’m glad I don’t live in the town.  The promenade and the beaches are good places to walk and get some fresh air.  Doing so, once a day, is not in fact a crime, yet possibly those who most need a walk and a breath of air now feel intimidated to do so.

 

 

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By the Wind Sailors on Tanybwlch beach

by The Curious Scribbler

Velella velella on Tanybwlch beach

I walked Tanybwlch beach today in search of velellas, having noticed Chloe Griffith’s post on Facebook last night.  Velella velella, or By the Wind Sailor is an oceanic ‘jellyfish’, but not your usual jellyfish:  instead it belongs to a class called the Hydrozoans, and is a colonial animal made up of several different types of polyps doing different jobs (feeding, defence, or reproduction) .  Under a transparent float hang many tiny stinging polyps, which catch the plankton of the open ocean.  The diagonally placed sail projecting above the water should ensure that the float moves across the wind, and the velellas remain at sea.  It is a unique species,  there is just one kind, and they circulate in all world’s warm or temperate oceans.

Stranded By the Wind Sailors amongst the wrack

I found them, amongst the rolls of wrack and kelp on the lower strand line, but how tiny they were!  Every one I found was just two centimeters long, shorter than a single joint of my finger. Velellas can be 7 cm long, and I have seen them this size in the open ocean, bobbing past at sea.  Our stranding of velellas are mere babies, and judging by the uniformity all started life from the same hatching. Drying in the winter sunshine they look and feel to the touch like fragments of stiff cellophane, with a hint of blue around the underside.

Velella velella on Tanybwlch beach

Velella velella on Tanybwlch beach, showing the projecting sail to catch the wind

It was a lovely morning, and I noted that my friend the dragon log has moved once more along the beach, and, after a period on its side and looking less dragon-like has again righted itself with head aloft.  It remains a pleasure, as I remarked last autumn, to note how very few items of domestic plastic rubbish are to be found among the driftwood and seaweed.

Wrack and kelp on Tanybwlch beach

There is though, a still abundant category of man-made waste,  and that is plastic rope and string.  What is it about fishermen and little bits of string?  Especially common are short pieces about 6 inches in length of green or blue plastic string with frayed cut ends.  In a short distance one can gather a pocketful, either here or at Borth or Ynyslas.

Velella velella on Tanybwlch beach

There must be an explanation.  Do fishermen tie closed their lobster pots and cut the string each time they open them? If this is the explanation why cannot they use biodegradable hemp which would decay after its single use rather than surviving in the ocean, breaking into tinier pieces for ever, and clogging the stomachs of filter feeding marine life?  Or they could take their pieces of string home and put them in the bin?

Our West Wales beaches are far closer to pristine than they were 20 years ago.  If we can identify the reason for the remaining offenders perhaps a small change in behaviour would do the trick.

 

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Dragon on the move

by the Curious Scribbler

The Tanybwlch Dragon has moved several hundred yards along the beach during last Saturday’s high seas.  Once again it has beached itself gazing out to sea, its lower jaw a little more abraded, but its eager expression is now almost as convincing from the left flank as from the right.

Right cheek

Left cheek

Seas have been breaking over the stony strand which separates the beach from the low lying Tanybwlch flats, the location of summer trotting races, and formerly, of the Aberystwyth Show.   Once more a huge pool has formed below Alltwen, beloved of gulls and waders.

The brackish pool on Tanybwlch flats

Over the years there have been a number of efforts to drain this area and return it to pasture, but this seems to be a losing battle and each winter the lake forms again, and as it drains away rushes prosper at the expense of grass.  It is highly likely that we will see the day when the sea breaks through the pebble bar and our walks along this wild beach will be curtailed part way along.

The Dragon has migrated along Tanybwlch beach

The strand line was not as free from human debris as when I commented two weeks ago, but as with the comments from my reader about the Gower, fragments of netting and other fisherman’s waste were far more abundant than household plastic.  The white lumps on the strand line were not polystyrene but cuttlefish bone, and the fluffy froth just natural sea spume.

Cuttlefish on the strandline at Tanybwlch beach

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Frying the field bindweed

by The Curious Scribbler

The convolvulus family includes several choice and garden-worthy species, such as the silver-foliaged shrub  Convolvulus cneorum, and the sky blue Convolvulus mauritanicus of the hanging basket, but it also includes the gardener’s foe Calystegia sepium, the field bindweed.  Who has not engaged in an unending struggle with this plant!

Emerging from the ground as the frosts have passed its fine tendrils twist their way up the young stems of our newest seedlings or the woody stems of established shrubs.  Romping to the top, the new growth soon expands to form a heavy leafy mass which all too soon entirely swamps the substrate.  We pluck it, unwind it, dig up the white wandering roots and still it comes, for the brittle roots go deep and readily break when removed.  A tiny half inch of root will soon sprout a new plant, initially an innocent miniature tendril, but left unnoticed soon expanding to its gorgon like best.

Field Bindweed Calystegia sepium smothering a hedge

Field Bindweed Calystegia sepium

In hedgerows it is unassailable, and by this time of year may largely cover the hedge beneath.  But it redeems itself in the wild by the beauty of its flowers, great luminous white trumpet blooms opening freshly every day.  As a flower it puts Morning Glory in the shade, and would be much prized if only like Morning Glory it discreetly died each winter.  Instead, the roots burrow onward and a fresh supply of seeds ensure its rapid  introduction far and wide.

Field Bindweed Calystegia sepium

The very best gardens suffer from Bindweed.  I recently heard a talk by Debs Goodenough, Royal Gardener at Highgrove for the Prince of Wales, who was addressing the AGM of the Welsh Historic Gardens Trust. The Prince is conscientiously organic, so chemicals are not in the arsenal.  It was fascinating to learn that in the last few years they have been trialling a new method of  attack – by electrocution!   5000 volts is applied to the stem.  It is satisfying, she said, to see a puff of smoke emerge from the ground.

I’ve just been watching a YouTube film by the company Rootwave introducing the Rootwave Pro.  Rather than crouching with a widger the gardener strolls around with an electrocution wand attached to a small generator,  poking it into selected dandelions, hogweed, thistles and so on.  As the publicity puts it – the plants boil from the inside, die and return their goodness to the soil.  This is new technology and Debs was not yet ready to vouch for its effectiveness.  I do wonder whether, with the long roots of bindweed said to penetrate as much as 20 feet into the ground, the boiling plant near the surface will leave a healthy root fragment  deep below, capable of sprouting a new plant to re-invade.

I wonder also how the 5000 volt affects the nearby soil invertebrates, there must be a fair number of worms which, if not cooked, get the fright of their lives. I’m feeling rather respectful of worms just now having spent an hour watching the progress of a mole through the surface of a meadow.  Excavating with its powerful claws under the root mat of the grass the mole generates audible scrunching vibrations as it creates a run just below the surface.  And don’t the worms know!  In its immediate vicinity I watched worms of all sizes hurriedly emerging onto the surface of the grass and hastening 10 centimetres or more across the surface in braod daylight before disappearing once more below ground.  I don’t suppose that evolution has equipped worms with a similar sixth sense when the approach of the Rootwave operator is nigh.

It is good to know that HRH is experimenting with the latest in organic techniques.  We also learnt that his magnificent delphiniums receive their slug protection through garlands of seaweed mulched around each plant, and that he is keen to obtain  disabled hedgehogs from hedgehog hospitals.  A fully able hedgehog requires a substantial range and the breeding opportunities which that affords.  A troupe of disabled yet hungry hedgehogs could just hang around the Highgrove borders eating their fill of slugs and snails.

 

 

 

 

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Veteran tree in danger at Hafod

by The Curious Scribbler

There is much disquiet at Hafod at the impending loss of another of its veteran beech trees, one which stands beside the little stone bridge on the drive just below the spur path up to the Bedford Monument and Mariamne’s Garden.

The veteran beech tree stands below the drive through the Hafod Estate

This is probably the tallest of Hafod’s surviving ancient beech trees, drawn upwards  in a fairly sheltered position in the lea of the steeply rising hillside.  It is also one the best known, because only two of the big beeches are easily visible from the road through the estate.

Unfortunately it drew attention to itself last September by dropping a large branch, which fell harmlessly into the stream valley below.   As a result, a much earlier bough loss became visible to the passer by and was noticed by Jim Ralph the NRW Local Area  Manager responsible for Hafod.   Higher up the tree, well above the recently-lost branch, an old tear is visible which is flanked by the curved buttresses of wound-healing wood on either side.  I would guess this injury is several decades old.

The veteran beech below Mariamne’s garden

However its potential to shed further branches came to mind, and when Health and Safety collides with Conservation the the latter is seldom the winner.  Expert opinion of an arboriculturist identified the tree as a ‘moderate’ threat, further branch fall could occur, the branch could fall onto the road, there could be a passerby on that road at the moment when it falls.  The recommendation was that it should be felled to a tall stump.

Hafod residents are so upset at the prospect of loosing this lovely tree that a few weeks ago a petition was launched on Change.org which has already attracted more than 200 signatories.  I attended a meeting recently at which an articulate group expressed their views to NRW.  Tellingly, all were willing to see the road closed through the estate if such a course of action would save the tree by reducing public access to its vicinity.

In a wide ranging discussion it was asserted by the residents and confirmed by Dave Newnham, the Hafod Estate Manager, that a greater risk of being struck by a falling tree is posed by the large Douglas firs and other conifers adjoining the road and paths on Hafod. The Local Area Manager did not disagree with this opinion, but explained that the conifers are not subject to similar levels of inspection and risk assessment.  As anyone who has walked through a conifer plantation after a storm knows, perfectly healthy trees may blow over, their root plate lifted clean out of the ground.  Which trees may fall is unpredictable, so the crop is not inspected.  Wind-blow is an accepted risk.

It seems that the collapse of a piece off a veteran tree cannot be an accepted risk in terms of NRW management,  so any veteran beech faces a similar fate.  Just such a scenario was played out at Hafod ten years ago when the then Forestry Commission Local Manager’s eye fell upon a beautiful tree in a group below Pant Melyn, not far from the footpath to the Cascade Cavern, (locally known as the Robber’s cave).

The hollow beech at Pant Melyn, Hafod, in 2009

The tree was huge and  healthy, but had at its base a hollow trunk into which it was possible for a small person to squeeze. A specialist report employing sonic tomography confirmed the obvious, that the tree was hollow on one side, and despite an inconclusive debate as to the relative strength of a rod and a cylinder of wood, the tree was duly felled to a high stump.  The Hafod Trust argued passionately for its retention, but to no avail. The case for its destruction was enhanced by the fact that the route to the Cavern Cascade is a public footpath, and families often paused to rest and enjoy that very tree.

The hollow beech at Cae Melyn, Hafod, in 2009 was deemed unsafe, and was cut down

There are  probably a score of  other fine beeches, dating from Thomas Johnes’s time on the Hafod Estate, and fortunately most of them are further from a road.  For the time being this is their salvation, for NRW are unlikely to send out specialist arboriculturalists to inspect them all.  But if they did, probably none would be given a clean bill of health for the 21st century.

Current interpretation by NRW of the risk of litigation appears to be that the further from the car park you are when felled by a tree, the less responsible they, (the landowner), are likely to be considered!  Across the UK about 4 people per year are killed by a falling tree, a minute contribution to overall human mortality.  But for this reason, the veteran trees which draw people to Hafod will all be, sooner or later, at risk.

A change of policy at a high level would be needed to overturn the current thinking. The petition to National Resources Wales  is at https://www.change.org/p/nastural-resource-wales-to-support-local-veteran-trees-of-hafod

 

 

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