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

Sunday, 26 April 2020

On the boundary

This is a sad sight indeed. Pentwyn cricket team has folded and with it the demise of their pitch. A pitch that holds fond memories for me as my father used to take me to watch games on a Sunday afternoon in the 1970s. I even played on the hallowed turf a few times myself armed with my trusted Gunn and Moore bat, which I still have! This bat, now with its rubber sleeve perished to fragments, still resides in my shed. If there's one thing this lockdown has taught me, and I hope many others, is to value your local natural green spaces. They are so important for well-being, not just as part our green infrastructure but in cases such as Pentwyn cricket pitch, of cultural value too.

On Easter Sunday I took off for a much need mental well-being walk. From my home in Abersychan I made my way towards Pentwyn following a lane that took me past the cricket club onto a footpath with Tir Gofal signage and past an area of reclaimed open cast working.

With the local authority suspending its grass cutting activities there were more wildflowers to see. The roadside grass verges were still intact, and those plants referred to by so many as weeds were in full flower. Dandelions and daisies were plentiful along with a good population of spring sedge. Other boundary features such as the hedge bank past the cricket club supported dogs mercury and dog violet. Taking the signposted footpath the landscape opened to give a panoramic view of Mynydd Garn Wen, Mynydd Garn Clochdy and the Blorenge in the distance. Here a reed bunting could be heard from the rush pasture of the reclaimed open cast site. To the west of the footpath the land was more scrubby and was alive with willow warbler song and the odd chiffchaff as well.

On my return I found the gate to the cricket pitch open. Nostalgia got the better of me and I entered. Walking around the boundary I noted the odd ashy mining bee. There was a a corner of the pitch that had more verdant vegetation including red campion and woodruff.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

In splendid isolation

I can just remember it, but remember it I can. As this old photograph illustrates, it was a barren landscape of coal tips and iron slag that once dominated the industrial town of Abersychan. Healed of its depressing overburden its now a pleasing expanse of dense ash and birch secondary woodland, topped by a popular cycle-way and walking route. But although very close to my home its never been on my list of 'this seasons places to visit'. That's until Covid-19 took hold and suddenly it's became a venue on my local exercise walk. 

From Lock Up Lane I pushed through the dense vegetation, much of which was a wall of bramble, until I found a pleasing glade. Here the scrub was patchy and less taxing underfoot. There was still evidence of its post industrial substrate, boulders of ironstone slag pushed their way through the yet to flourish ground flora. Among this woodland heather and gorse could still be found, but the most interesting was the diversity of non-native scrub species. Many I'm sure, will have become established before the woodland had taken over. Here holm oak could be found along with at least three species of cotoneaster, a couple of fairly mature rhododendren specimens; several single stemmed cherry laurel were also present. A distant chiffchaff sang and a peacock butterfly glided between the trees.

Cherry Laurel Prunus laurocerasus

Holm Oak Quercus ilex

Rhododendron spp.

Cotoneaster horizontalis

Cotoneaster bullatus

Cotoneaster simonsii

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Heather beetle outbreak in Blaenavon

Heather Beetle (Photo Samantha Williams)
My daughter, who now resides in Blaenavon, alerted me to the occurrence of hundreds of beetles congregating on and around properties in the town, including her own. Now I'm familiar with the heather beetle from walking the landscape, as its a common sight on the heather clad hillsides around south Wales. However, I was not aware of their ability to multiply in such numbers.

It seems these beetles can overwinter in the leaf litter of a heather moorland only to emerge in April and May when the temperature reaches 9 degrees. Populations respond to a food source i.e. heather, that is enhanced by atmospheric nitrogen and can become so numerous counts have been made of up to 2000 beetles per square metre. They generally have poor powers of dispersion, but are frequently blown around the landscape by prevailing winds.


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