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

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Through the generations

Its walk number 23 in the Birdwatching Walks in Gwent (GOS 2013) book, but for me the Lasgarn Wood is more than just an ancient woodland with a characteristic community of woodland birds. Its part of my local patch, its where I cut my naturalist teeth and therefore part of my heritage. I remember with fond memories those outdoor activities that used to occupy the time of a youngster growing up within a bow and arrows distance of such a fine habitat. Losing yourself for half a day or more was easily done. Camp building, tree climbing, bird nesting and latterly girl kissing and cider drinking was boys own stuff but sadly is lost on today's Twitter generation. Stranger danger and the fear of accident from an unmanaged tree branch and other miscellaneous trip hazards conspire to rob the youth of natural play opportunities and the wonderment of exploration and discovery. Richard Louv's text Last Child in the Woods articulates this loss; a must read for those who understand the modern day disconnection from the wild.


To many the western valleys of Gwent are just about coal and the impact that industry had on both the natural and social landscape of the area. Yet its oft' forgotten that the south Wales coalfield is edged by a margin of carboniferous limestone akin to that in the Wye Valley and its this geological variety that provided the natural resources for the manufacturing of iron and steel. Now long gone its legacy adds to the rich current day ecology of this part of Gwent. 

Sitting on top of the limestone the Lasgarn Wood is pock marked with disused shallow workings, winnable stone that was transported during the Victorian era via tramroad across the valley to the ironworks at The British. Now reclaimed by secondary woodland the dingles of quarry workings take some tracking down. Once found however their tangled mass of dead wood, bryophytes, pteridophytes and ancient woodland indicator plants hide a world that few currently appreciate. 

Away from the features of economic exploitation, there are more subtle signs of the woodlands recreational value. I've talked before about tree carvings or culturally modernised trees. These etchings are widespread features of beech woodland in the valleys hinting at there accessibility and wider usage by past yet recent generations. Granted they're not as elaborate as those carved by prisoners of war on Salisbury Plain but nonetheless still culturally significant to valley communities, yet largerly ignored by local historians. They are ephemeral, lasting only as long as the tree stands with many becoming indecipherable by the actions of epidermic growth way before tree succomes.

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