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

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Fence posts: an appreciation

Ask any students studying an NVQ in Countryside Management and they'll confirm that sticking up a fence is a skill as fundamental to land managers as tractor driving, game bird husbandry, the setting of snares and raptor persecution. So this cyber notebook entry takes a look at the contribution this most basic of boundary feature offers to an upland landscape where natural vantage points are generally thin on the ground.

The disused Waunafon bog railway cutting is flanked by an  assortment of wooden and concrete posts linking a dogs breakfast of wire fencing and cheap and cheerful subsistence farming repairs. Chicken and barbed wire, rusty and new is patched with the odd pallet and corrugated sheet,  joining posts very few of which remain in their original upright position. The now decaying timber posts are attractively well adorned with various lichens and bryopyhtes with some supporting the remains of the odd raptor pellet but many with a crusty top of passerine guano. And once, given the extent to which this landscape was managed for red grouse, will have no doubt been ideal for an odd gin trap or two.

As you would expect at this time of year this mornings 'post posers'  were busily flitting between post and wire feeding fledglings and ticking off a naturalist who dared venture into their patch. But no surprises amongst the assemblage which  included many meadow pipit, the odd male blackbird, two separate family parties of stonechat, a reed bunting and a couple of swallow. However the most numerous bird to take advantage of the posts was a post (no pun intended) breeding flock of about 200 starling.

I like these features as there's something quaint and 'arty' about a gnarled and decaying timber post. It adds character and distinctiveness to a landscape that was obviously much more managed in previous generations than today. These undervalued landscape features often jostle for attention with remnant drystone walls and lost farmsteads.

In this landscape the meadows created by the erection of said post and wire are almost without exclusion semi-improved, rich in herbage and invertebrates. Several species of orchid, adders tongue fern, moonwort and other measures of quality grassland attract damselflies, moths, bees, butterflies etc. etc.

The most surprising find however was a patch of ten or more bee orchid north of Garn Lakes Local Nature Reserve. It wasn't too long ago that this botanical attractant was championed as a species restricted to middle class Conservative Monmouthshire, only occurring in Wye Valley areas. Thankfully, it's now crossed the floor to embrace the promised land of diluted socialism and is frequently encountered in the 'yucky' western coalfield of Gwent.

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