April 2018 - spring has sprung, time to survey

Jess Whitehead, a ranger with the Brecon Beacons National Trust, working in a meadow carrying out a wildflower survey

As we approach the beginning of summer it feels as though wildlife has well and truly sprung into action and now is a great time of year to be out and about. Conservation Ranger Jess talks about a season of surveys that have kick started our monitoring work and things to look out for...

Keep an eye out...

Across the UK, hedgerows are bright with fresh green leaves and woodlands are covered in swathes of garlic and wood anemones. Butterflies and bees are busy filling up on nectar, nestlings will be preparing to fledge and if you are lucky you may see the first badger cubs emerging from their setts. As the weather starts to improve and you venture out to explore our countryside, here are a few things to look out for:

  • Bluebells. A carpet of colour is one of the best spring wildlife displays that can transform a woodland into a place of magic and wonder. In April and early May bluebells are usually at their best so make sure you don’t miss this amazing spectacle. If you are looking for somewhere to enjoy them one of our best sites is Coed y Bwnydd near the river Usk in Monmouthshire.
  • Last of the migratory birds. By now you have probably heard the repetitive sound of the chiffchaff, one of the first migratory birds to arrive in March. Keep an eye out for cuckoos, swallows, nightingales and swifts who usually arrive in April and May.
  • May blossom. Watch the buds of hawthorn burst and fresh green leaves appear followed by creamy white flowers in late April or May. The blossom was once known as May blossom but in many places flowers now appear in April, perhaps an indication that climate change is making spring come earlier.

Lots of surveys

We have also been busy little bees this spring starting off our survey season with some butterfly transects at different sites in Cardiff and Abergavenny, red grouse surveys in the central Brecon Beacons as well as riverfly monitoring and soil sampling in the Tarell Valley.

The butterfly surveys are one of the first of the season, starting on 1 April. Butterflies and moths have been recognised by the Government as indicators of biodiversity and widely used by ecologists to study the impact of habitat loss, fragmentation and climate change. Their fragility makes them quick to react to change so their struggle to survive (three-quarters of our species are declining) is a serious warning about our environment. What happens to butterflies and moths today will happen to the rest of our environment tomorrow so monitoring how they are doing is incredibly helpful in assessing the health of a particular environment or ecosystem and will aid our decision making on the best management for our sites.

Tarnya, one of our assistant ranger volunteers has taken on a project at the Skirrid, near Abergavenny to monitor the butterfly population. Following some woodland management which included widening the rides to allow more sunlight to help improve vegetation, we wanted to gather data that could show how our work was affecting the woodland and in turn use it to feed into future management decisions. Our data also feeds into the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (UKBMS) which is used to assess how butterflies are doing on a nationwide scale.

Another exciting project being undertaken this year by Corrinne, a fellow colleague from the Gower team, is the assessment of two farms located in the Tarell Valley looking at soil structure and fertility, water quality, land condition, boundaries and vegetation. All the information gathered will directly help us make more space for nature in our farmland, connecting wildlife corridors and protecting and expanding some truly special habitats. These include gnarled ancient hedgerows and magical sunken lanes, pockets of Celtic rainforest (yes-really!) and wildly beautiful Ffridd habitat - the crossover between the farmland and the mountain and home to iconic species of upland bird, such as ring ouzel and whinchat.

Ffridd habitat in the Tarell Valley, crossover between farmland and the mountain
Ffridd habitat in the Tarell Valley in the Brecon Beacons, Wales
Ffridd habitat in the Tarell Valley, crossover between farmland and the mountain

From butterflies to rivers

The riverfly surveys are also located in the Tarell Valley and will be useful to feed into the monitoring work on the farms. This involves monitoring invertebrates in the river; some species are tolerant of pollution and others are sensitive and depending on what species you find allows us to determine how good the water quality is.

The aim of monitoring our sites is to enable us to create bigger, better and more joined up habitats for nature to thrive. There’s lots of exciting projects in and around Brecon with the National Trust this summer so if you would like to join us and contribute some of your time to a worthwhile cause get in touch.

Surveying helps us understand what is going on but the practical work is equally important. Come back next month for an insight into the diversity of our sites and how Simon our Estate Ranger cares for them all.