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

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Three cheers for Charlie

Whatever your view of the Royal family Prince Charles is more than passionate about conserving our natural heritage. The most recent example of this is articulated in the foreward of Plantlife's 'The Ghost Orchid Declaration'. I therefore make no apologies for reproducing the foreward in this blog.

'It is not often I find myself writing a foreward to a publication with such a heavy heart. Once again, we have allowed another native species to disappear - appallingly, it is nearly certain that the Ghost Orchid is no more. While this loss is in itself a tragedy, it also demonstrates the extent of the threat to our native flora.

As Patron of Plantlife, it is almost inconceivable to me that neither we, nor our children, will see the pale face of the Ghost Orchid glimmering on the forest floor of our beech woodlands. Yet if we mourn its passing simply as a sad, but inevitable fact of life on this crowded island, we will have missed the dreadful significance this has for future generations...

The link between biodiversity and human health, for instance, was made very clear to me recently by Dr. Eric Chivian, the Nobel Peace Prize-winner from Harvard Medical School and one of the leading scientists looking at biodiversity. He has demonstrated conclusively that there is a direct relationship between the health of humans and levels of biodiversity in the world - whether it is the destruction of the world's rainforests, which provide the vital rainfall on which global agriculture depends, or the loss of natural organisms that has a direct effect on the sprea of infectious diseases.

We must rediscover an understanding of the essential role of wild plants in sustaining the wellbeing of life on this planet, both phyiscal and spiritual. Every now and then we need to look up from our computer terminals and laptops and recognize that we cannot survive in a virtual world alone, but that we are utterly dependent on the natural world and the vast complex ecosystems that sustain us on Earth. Without the infinite richness and diversity of Nature, of which we are an integral part and not just a dispassionate, objective observer, the point of life itself becomes spiritually meaningless. It is perhaps worth remembering this when the list of extinctions grows even longer and we find ourselves dangerously isolated as a species...

So, we cannot allow our exquisite wild plants aand flowers to become invisible to us. All too frequently, we can feel overwhelmed by the scale of the challenges facing the natural environment. This is why I particularly welcome the practical approach taken by Plantlife in this publication; seeking to engage all of us, collectively and as individuals, the battle to protect and conserve our wild flowers and plants. There is no time to lose and I hope and pray that the loss of the Ghost Orchid will be the wake-up call that we so urgently need.'  Enough said!

Finally, a phenology update: hawthorn in leaf in Cwmbran.

Sunday, 28 March 2010


Warmer lighter evenings and schools holidays is just the recipe for the all too common urban fringe wildfires. Fire of course can be a useful land management tool if in the hands of the right people, but as demonstrated by the extensive fire on Mynydd Garn y -fawr a few years ago can be damaging if done for the wrong reasons. A walk around The British heath today with its gorse, heather, dead bracken and molina grassland reminded me of one such incident at the same location about 15 year ago, wiping out most of the heath. Having surveyed the damage shortly afterwards it was had to believe anything could have survived. However, just a few months later as if to demonstate that fire is a useful tool the area produced its largest show ever of bog asphodel flowers. Many hundreds of plants dormant until the conditions were right.

Today's birds included my first spring wheatears seven in total, the odd meadow pipit, skylark, green woodpecker, a tree loving grey wagtail and grey heron.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Celebrating the common

Another stroll around my beloved post industrial landscape today delivered plenty of frog spawn. On the bird front I'm amazed by the number of skylark encountered on the upland fringe. I know this bird is having a tough time in lowland habitats but on the hillsides of Gwents valleys its seems as plentiful as ever. Calling stock dove were also noteworthy this morning along with a male stonechat.

After lunch walk along the Monmouthshire- Brecon Canal at Goytre produced another singing chiffchaff - soon I won't even bother to record them! Wild daffodils at the base of hedgerows in a couple of adjacent fields trumpted the arrival of Spring and a partly albino male blackbird was a welcome aberration.

The ebb and flow of a once great birding venue

Peterstone Great Wharf and associated gout was once where it was at for coastal birding in Gwent, now, apart for the odd hardy birder it seems to be largely forgotten as a birding venue, relegated to mid table by the magnetism of the Newport Wetlands. It would be an interesting exercise to assess changes, if any, in birding activity and count data post the creation of Newport Wetlands as I believe a few sites including Llandegfedd Reservoir have suffered. However, todays gloom and drizzle didn't prevent me from getting down to Peterstone in the hope I'd pick up the odd wheatear or even little ringed plover.

Access to the Great Wharf was easy via a footpath past Peterstone Church where impressive numbers of shelduck were taking advantage of a retreating tide, probably over 100. Other birds on offer included, 30 curlew, 2 oystercatcher, 1 cormorant, 2 wigeon, 30 pintail, 3 little egret, 1 reed bunting, 4 teal. Didn't manage to get to the Gout as several frisky horses barred my way - this area does seem to have its fair share of nags!

Decided to move on to Tredegar House Lake en route to see how the population of breeding wildfowl was shaping up for the coming Springtime action. Nothing unsual apart for a pair of great crested grebe which I don't recall having been here before during the breeding season. Others included a pair of mute swan, 4 pair of coot, several moorhen and numerous mallard, several goldcrest were on offer as well.

The final venue before base was Ponthir Reservoir. Here only 3 mallard and 2 female goosander were on the reservoir, but my first summer migrant in the form of a singing chiffchaff made up for the lack of waterbirds. A touch of stone turning around the reservoir side did however produced a good variety of small molluscs and my first Armadillidium pulchellum a rather small pill woodlouse.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Things are looking up.

Another fine Spring day in uptown Pontypool and things are looking up. A quick hour around the local quarry and bingo my first free flying butterflies of the year in terms of a peacock and small tortoiseshell. A couple of kestrel in the quarry were very vocal and a roosting tawny owl posed for some photography. This owl has roosted in the same tree for at least the last three years!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Fishermans fiend

To hell with the rugby international the suns shining and I'm off to Llandegfedd for some birding and maybe an odd sand martin. But first I had to cough up six quid for the privilege, kerching! Should have asked for a refund as wildfowl were a little bit thin on the ground (or water). Green pool was home to the odd little grebe, wigeon and 40 teal.  A couple snipe were flushed from The Island and a Cormorant kitted out full in breeding plumage took up residence on the osprey platform. Paranchus albipes was welcomed as the first ground beetle record of the Spring.

Friday, 12 March 2010

For your eyes only.

A snatched visit to my regular watering holes around Brynmawr this morning hoping for something passing through - I've had Bewicks swan in March at Beaufort Ponds before now you know! Seems that coot and great crested grebe are pairing up and the five mute swan at the aforementioned Beaufort Ponds was, to the best of my knowledge, the first for this water. However pick of the bunch was a a female goldeneye on Machine Pond.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

In search of a LEO

Not a lion or a birth sign (what rubbish!) but a long eared owl. Thanks to the work of Chris Hatch over recent years it appears LEOs are not such a rare breeding bird in Gwentland after all. Matureing post war  moorland edge forestry plantations have provided just the right environment for successful breeding - I knew all that tree planting on molina, heathland and acid grassland would be worth it in the end, such vision! A dusk jolly to Blaenavon Communtiy Woodland in the hope I would pick up a LEO was nonetheless fruitless. Redpoll and a couple of crossbill filled the gap.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Local patching, helping to reverse the decline of biodiversity by 2010 .Oops! it is 2010.

Forget the great white egret, the lesser scaup or the black kite treading the boards on one's local patch is the bread and butter of a jobbing naturalist and the grassroots of biological recording today. Without local patching where's that much needed raw data for those commoner  more familiar species on which the UK Government can base its half baked nature conservation policy and legislation? That reminds me reversing the decline in biodiversity by 2010, thats this year isn't it? Never mind call a conference, write a report, set another date and hope it goes away.  


Cefn garn yr erw near Blaenavon was at its best today, not because it was teeming with early spring migrants and rare raptors but just  for the vital role this large expanse of molina grassland, spoil tips, ponds and reservoirs plays in supporting the 'quality of life' wildlife that is the perfect antidote to modern day living. A count of over 30 skylark many in full song puncuated by the odd meadow pipit and reed bunting was just so uplifting why was it I was the only one walking this landscape?

Where the calluna heath fades into molina grassland I found a sign. My recent Seymour butt.....see less grouse blog entry was a bit of dig at a landscape that once valued the red grouse but now sadly doesn't seem to care too much. Whilst the bird has declined alarmingly since its heyday in Victorian times its still possible to see birds if you put in the time and effort - but you won't see them by sitting in a hide! No birds today but I'm getting that little bit closer with every visit, hence the above grouse pellet picture.
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