Promoting observation, free range exploration, sense of place and citizen science, through the field notes of a naturalist.







Saturday, 6 July 2019

A churchyard in Caerleon




A couple of weeks ago I wandered through St Cadocs churchyard in Caerleon. A nice churchyard that fits the now characteristic model of mature trees, including some nice veteran beech trees, and closely mowed grass. There were however some interesting wild flowers but these were marginalised, largely restricted to the edges, where the mower cannot reach.



Some of the unweeded, aged graves were crammed with red valerian a few displaying the leaf roll gall of the now spreading valerian psyllid Trioza centranthus. Widespread around the graves and the bases of trees was stinking iris. I suggest this has been introduced to this churchyard and is now doing very well as a result. I don't record caper spurge that often so it was pleasing to see one tall individual that has escaped the parishioners mower. It was pleasing to see a colony of honey bees in residence in the church and were clearly being tolerated, when once the services of a pest control specialist would have been deployed.








Saturday, 29 June 2019

Important Pond Area?



My interest in ponds and other wetland features as part of the general landscape diversity of the South Wales valleys is evident from previous blog postings. A cluster of ponds around the Blaenavon landscape represents, in my opinion, the best example of wetland habitats outside of the Gwent Levels. Alas no one seems remotely interested about this apart from me.

However, a weeks leave from work enabled me to indulge my passion for the ponds that are the so much a product of mans careless use of the land. Many nestle between and betwixt the coal and sandstone spoil tips that in themselves support the most southerly population of alpine clubmoss in Wales. Furthermore a fingertip search of these dumpling tips can produce further finds such as adder's tongue fern and fir clubmoss. More time and more effort will no doubt reveal other notable species but until then bask in the glory of the attached landscape photos from the Blaen Pig area of Blaenavon.














Friday, 21 June 2019

In praise of weeds


There's a whole industry around the control of nature and in particular weeds. Just visit your local do-it-yourself store or garden centre for a host of tools and chemicals designed to cut, spray, strim, and pull weeds out of our lives. Some weed killing tools are even gun shaped, locked and loaded, marketed at men as a battle cry to deal with these rouge, pernicious, space invading plants. Local authorities even deploy resources to ensure peoples contact with weeds is minimised, for there own safety and to reduce townscape scruffiness. Society won't rest until they're all gone and everything is neat and tidy. Yet without weeds we have no pollinators, and in an urban environment that is so hostile to nature, weeds represent a challenge to the norm. They are a persistent annoyance, a wasp that won't go away on a summers day, yet resilient pioneers, they are urban ecology in action and we should view with a different perspective and embrace them!

Travelling around the urban conurbations of Gwent I've developed a keen eye for weeds. Whether it be a road verge, a forgotten corner of a car park or just the pavement/wall interface, looking for weeds is front and centre of an urban ecologist's modus operandi. With this in mind I spent an hour or so last weekend exploring an interesting brownfield site in Newport, looking for weeds.

This urban clearing was once a supermarket, now purged of its buildings its ready and awaiting for Newport's regeneration renaissance. As it waits, natural regeneration is well and truly underway. I did't expect rarity as these young habitats lack the maturity of an ancient woodland ground flora. Yet this site was brimming with species richness and biomass. Below are a few of the wildflowers that are colonising this concrete plateau.

Wall barley

White campion

Smooth tare

Scentless mayweed

Purple toadflax

Red clover

Prickly lettuce

Wild carrot

Foxglove

Cut-leaved cranesbill

Common poppy

Common vetch

Common mallow





Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Common Wintergreen


The objective of this visit to Garn Lakes Local Nature Reserve was to check on the fortunes of a  large stand of common wintergreen now thriving at the site.

At the Black Ranks I rambled around the fragments of species rich grassland that has filled the gaps and margins of this now demolished row of cottages. There were a few burnet companion moths and common blue butterflies on the wing as I made my way towards a large mound of fly-tipped material. A couple of south marsh orchid were flowering just on the edge of the rubble and a stonechat called in the distance. The mass of assorted plaster, brickwork and paint pots contained evidence that its origin was local to Blaenavon, demonstrating that some still have no respect for its status as a World Heritage Site and the impression this gives to visitors arriving along this highway gateway. 

Crossing the busy, 'I'm not slowing down for anyone' road I arrived at a super little meadow of marshy grassland with a couple of ponds to boot. Here ragged robin and southern marsh orchid were dominant, but the most numerous flowering plant was grass vetchling. Moving on towards the edge of the upper conservation lake the peace and tranquility of this nature reserve was punctuated by the raucous sounds of laughter (mainly male) emanating from a large marquee in the grounds of the nearby Whistle Inn pub. The lake itself supported 17 adult Canada Goose with 10 youngsters in tow, a pair of nesting coot, a male tufted duck and a single little grebe

The margins of this lake are now becoming densely scrub covered, the open aspect that was formerly  home to water ladybird and eyebright spp. is disappearing under a sea of willow. Nevertheless patches of eyebright remain and the monkey flower still prevail. It was a challenge to push through this scrub but rewarding at the same time, I sometimes wonder way I never encounter anyone else doing the same thing! Am I the only naturalist that explores beyond ones comfort zone?

I eventually found the common wintergreen, some spikes were in full flower others not, and there are hundreds on non flowering rosettes. Here too were heath and common spotted orchids.










Sunday, 16 June 2019

Toad in the hole


In my characteristic haphazard way I've been trying help record plants, and in a small way make a contribution to the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) field work for their next atlas. In reality I don't record everything just those that I consider to be notable. So last weekend I was out skirting the fringes of the Brecon Beacons National Park in the Blaen Pig area of the Blaenavon industrial landscape.

Parking close to the Lamb and Fox pub I set off northwards following a watercourse with its swollen water after recent rain. The distraction of a calling stonechat saw me divert from the stream to transverse the deep heather and bilberry that is now a feature of the colliery spoil in this area. In places the actions of water run off has created boggy features of sphagnum mosses where the distinctive common cotton grass bends to the angle of the prevailing wind. By contrast the shorter hares's tail cotton grass is more resilient.

Pressing on, the curvature of the hillside took me to a spot where the Sugar Loaf mountain and Clydach Gorge could be could be comfortably viewed. To my surprise, and more closely than the distant landscape features was a pond, a pond that I had not seen before and a pond that was clearly of an industrial origin. It's linear nature was emphasised by steep banks of dwarf shrub heath. At the pond I sheltered from a sporadic shower with a cold wind. Toad tadpoles swam between the floating leaves of broad leaved and bog pondweed. A movement in the sphagnum moss caught my eye, and an adult toad was seen cowering in a makeshift hole in the moss; close by were a number of delicate plants of bog stitchwort. To my glee another albeit smaller pond was located close by filled with water horsetail. I will revisit on a warmer day in search of dragonflies.













Saturday, 8 June 2019

The quarry over the road.


There's a disused limestone quarry that I can see from my back garden. I remember. albeit vaguely, the same quarry being worked when I visited my Grandparents house during the summer holidays. in the 1960s. Now this site is reclaimed by nature, the once open flower rich quarry floor is replaced by rapidly developing scrub. Nevertheless patches of openness still remain, dominated by birds foot trefoil and eybright spp. that attract the now widespread tree bumblebee and the red-tailed bumblebee.


The scrub has its own value. Many of the young trees are of a non-native origin, including holm oak. The wider landscape of Companies Wood is ancient, dominated by beech and ash, complete with its die back. Here the male yellow barred longhorn moth with its extensive antennae is commonly encountered. Under the scrub there is a small yet thriving stand of round-leaved wintergreen. I found this colony some 15 years ago, and whilst holding its own has never increased significantly, until now that is The population has expanded around the quarry with a total of upwards of 100 plants, some in full flower. I intend to spend some more biological recording at this site over the coming months as it never fails to produce interesting records.




Sunday, 2 June 2019

The tufa spring of Coity Tip



I've been aware of these little features for a while but not taken the time to dig that little bit deeper. Tufa springs are calcium rich seepages, often, as you would expect, present where calcareous rock predominate, but they can also be found leaching at the base of colliery spoil tips. An article in Field Bryology (No 112 Nov 14) suggest a habitat that is dominated by mosses. 

This particular seepage can be found, if you are willing to take a detour from the well worn footpaths, behind Coity Tip, Blaenavon. The calcium rich deposits are distributed over an area of little over 10 square metres, eventually disappearing into a small patch of willow scrub terminating in a base of tip drainage ditch.

I am certainly no bryologist, although I would like to build more of a knowledge around those found on post industrial sites, so I've not been able to compile a list of mosses associated with this seepage beyond just a couple of species. Where the leachate disperses under a stand of willow there is a large patch of the common woodland type moss common smoothcap (Atrichum undulatum) surrounded by flourishing hemlock water dropwort. Here to is a southern marsh orchid pushing its way through the crusty hard baked surface. A rusty dipping tube, presumably in place to monitor coal tip related hydrology, supported a young brood of great tit.

I know there are more of these water based chemical anomalies in the landscape I frequent. I will ensure they are brought to you in future postings. 










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