May 2019 - Surrounded by nature at the Skirrid

A survey sighting of a Speckled Wood Butterfly at the Skirrid near Abergavenny

Wildlife surveys make up a significant amount of the work we do in monitoring and caring for our sites and butterflies act as great indicators, as they are sensitive to environmental changes. By monitoring our sites, this enables us to create diverse habitats for nature to thrive.

A flutter of butterflies

This season I started the weekly butterfly survey in Skirrid woodland as part of the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. This is the third year of the survey and we’ve had a fantastic start thanks to the warm, sunny weather, with peacocks galore. as well as our first brimstone to ever be recorded on site. I carry out these surveys with the help of Volunteer Ranger Tarnya, who has taken fantastic photos this year of a few butterflies kind enough to stay still for her.

Red and Black Froghoppers
A buzz of red and black froghoppers at the Skirrid near Abergavenny
Red and Black Froghoppers

A treat for the senses

Our survey work also gives us the opportunity to note down other wildlife that we see and hear. So far, every week we walk the transects the cuckoo, buzzards and woodpecker have been heard. The rides are always alive with wildlife such as bees, caterpillars and moths and a whole host of insects including shield bugs, ladybirds and beetles. There is always something new and this week we were inundated with these Red and Black Froghoppers.

Surveying and the seasonal changes

Although we are primarily looking out for butterflies, these surveys give us a chance to see the seasonal changes to our special places.  In March the bluebells were flowering throughout Skirrid, with an impressive swatch being seen along the western side of the hill.  There were also patches of fragrant wild garlic.  Now red campion, yellow archangel and bugles are taking over in the woodland whereas out in the open on the flanks of the Skirrid the bracken is growing taller by the day.

Bluebells at the Skirrid near Abergavenny
A swath of bluebells with views of the Sugar Loaf in the distance
Bluebells at the Skirrid near Abergavenny

During the winter months, the woodland rangers thinned out another section of the woodland, allowing more light to reach the floor. This will encourage a greater diversity of ground flora which, we hope, will provide more food sources for butterflies and other insects. 

Carrying out the survey each year means we’ll be able to track changes and I look forward to looking back over our records and sightings to see how the habitat develops.

In addition to the day to day tasks carried out by the ranger team we sometimes get involved with bigger projects such as the Welsh Peatlands Sustainable Management Scheme (SMS). To find out more, come back for our next blog from our Welsh Peatlands SMS Project Officer (South), who will be giving an insight into what the project is doing to help bring Wales' peatlands into sustainable management by 2020.