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

Monday, 30 December 2019

Heritage hawthorns

Heritage in the South Wales valleys is one dimensional. Ask any layperson what they understand by heritage and I wager their response will be framed around our industrial past. Yet heritage comes in many forms and whilst I understand peoples affection to coal mining and the valley towns that grow around the employment that the winning of natural resources brought, for me my heritage is rooted in nature. 

There are of course strong links between industrial heritage and nature. Some of the most biodiverse habitats occur on areas formerly despoiled by mineral working. Coal spoil tips, redundant reservoirs and quarries all conspire to create a landscape that can tell us much about the regenerative nature of the natural environment as it does about mans short sighted drive for a society based on carbon.

With such a focus on the industrial revolution it can be easy to oversee that there was a worked agricultural landscape that pre-dates heavy industry. To find evidence of this one needs to look at the landscape with a different eye. This can be done through the medium of trees. Therefore my recent, new found quest to record notable, mature, veteran and ancient trees had me searching the disused farmsteads and field patterns of Blaenavon for evidence. 

Along with dry stone walling, hawthorn field boundaries were common place in the uplands of South Wales. Whilst stone walls have fared better it can now be difficult to find extensive field margins of hawthorn - nowadays replaced by fencing. All that often remains are remnant features. But it is these natural artifacts that will often contain some of the more aged trees that I seek. And its these remaining features that I believe are as important to the story of Blaenavon as the Ironworks or Big Pit.

A couple of hours in the field towards Pwll Ddu provided enough evidence that notable hawthorns can still be found. The tree illustrated below measured approximately 2 metres in girth. All hawthorn trees over 1.5 metres girth are regarded as ancient trees.

Whilst I was able to measure the above tree, others that appear to be more aged proved to be just out of reach on private land. I was only, therefore, able to view and photograph from adjacent common land. Below are some of the images to whet the appetite.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Recording trees

Despite the advent of Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) and Felling Licences I feel trees have little effective protection. Any sense that a tree is a health and safety risk it will be dealt with in swift time, so any additional protection must be well received. A small step in the right direction came last year when the publication of Planning Policy Wales Edition 10 introduced a requirement for planning authorities to consider trees listed on the Ancient Tree Inventory when arriving at their decisions. However the inventory is only as good as the information it contains, so it came as no surprise to find that there are no trees at all listed for my local patch in the upper Afon Lwyd valley - nothing between Pontypool and Blaenavon. So in an effort to alter this I spent a hour walking around the Lasgarn Wood with tape measure and camera.

The good thing about recording trees at this time of year is that notable individuals can be easily picked out in a woodland landscape devoid of its foliage. Although the Lasgarn Wood is an ancient woodland it was worked for its limestone during the industrial heyday and thereby lost most of its mature trees. However, some remain on its margins and it was these I sort to record.

Measuring the girth of trees is easier said than done. Securing the tape measure at approximately 1.5 metres on uneven ground is an acquired skill. Nonetheless I measured two beech trees, I considered worthy of a closer examination.  The first measured around 5.28 metres with the second being 4.63 metres. These will be added to the inventory is soon as possible and will start me on a journey of recording notable, veteran and ancient trees on my patch.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

After a fallow period

A series of regular autumn visits to the River Usk in Newport Town Centre has produced next to nothing in terms of rarer gulls and birds carrying rings. In fact the numbers of larger gulls has been disappointingly low. This week has seen a bit of a turnaround in ring reading fortunes with a British ringed black-headed gull from Tintern and a couple of Canada goose from Cwmbran Boating Lake.

As is often the case with Canada geese the two birds at the boating lake were very confiding, following anyone who with a packed lunch. Although one bird had its ring on upside down - something I know ringers are keen to avoid -  I suspect both birds were ringed at Llangorse Lake. I will report all three birds to the BTO as soon as I can and report any interesting information here or on my @valleynature Twitter feed. 

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