Winter work at Dinefwr

Sarah Jones, Engagement Ranger Sarah Jones Engagement Ranger
Ranger work at Dinefwr

Here she describes why winter is a magical time to be outdoors and how she inspires others to return to experience the rest of the year’s seasonal highlights.

Winter for me is a time for reflection and preparation for the year ahead. We need to make sure that our livestock have what they need to survive until the spring and that our visitors are kept safe from falling trees and slippery footpaths. It can be a busy time for a countryside Ranger, but the excitement and adventure that winter brings to Dinefwr more than makes up for it. 

Looking after our famous cattle

Right now, our famous White Park Cattle are wintering in the agricultural sheds on the estate. Though it’s always a welcome sight to see them in the field as you arrive at Dinefwr, for me it’s great to be able to spend time with them in close quarters. 

They can be a rowdy bunch but the cattle shed is a tranquil and serene place for a National Trust Ranger. There’s nothing quite like the sight of the low winter sun catching their breath or the unmistakeable smell of straw and manure, it’s a real feast for the senses; - well, for me at least.

The Dinefwr White Park Cattle are a hardy ancient breed so the cold weather doesn’t bother them too much, but the designed landscape that they graze needs a rest from the constant footfall of cattle to prevent it from getting muddy and damaged in the winter. By keeping them in the cattle shed and feeding them the hay that’s is grown on the estate, the grass on our special designed landscape will have a chance to recover and the field will be fit for grazing when the cattle return in the springtime.

Feeding our fallow deer

We also have a herd of fallow deer at Dinefwr. One of my favourite winter jobs is to feed the herd so that they get the nutrients they need. It’s quite a spectacle for our visitors to see me spread the food on the ground behind Newton House and to suddenly see 120 fallow deer gallop from the hills towards me for their share. It’s a great opportunity for us Rangers to chat to visitors about the work we do to conserve the special things about Dinefwr.

At this time of year the Fallow Deer males, or Bucks, shed their antlers so it’s not uncommon to come across them whilst walking on the estate. We ask that our visitors leave the antlers on the ground, after having a good look at of course, but the deer will actually chew on the antlers for extra nourishment so it’s important to leave them where you found them. 

Path conservation work

One of my favourite walks on the Dinefwr estate has to be the Capability Brown Trail, which snakes through the deer park and joined onto the Bogwood Boardwalk. So-called because the famous landscape designer, Lancelot Capability Brown, visited Dinefwr in the 17th century to give his ideas and advice to George and Cecil Rice who lived at Newton House on the estate. 

Although the landscape you see at Dinefwr today is the vision of George and Cecil, they were certainly influenced by Brown and one of the best examples of this is the natural viewpoint on the Capability Brown Trail which showcases Newton House through a frame of deciduous trees. 

As you stroll through the newly weather-proofed path, you could catch glimpses of some of Britain’s most elusive mammals and birds. From Otters to Woodpeckers, Butterflies to Newts; Dinefwr is a microcosm for biodiversity and it’s our aim to conserve it so wildlife an continue to thrive. Part of my role is to engage with visitors of all ages so they too are champions for wildlife conservation. It’s so rewarding to see young people getting excited about nature and learning how to attract and protect wildlife in their own gardens. 

Early signs of spring

It’s been one of the mildest winters on record and that’s certainly had an affect of the flowering plants at Dinefwr. We saw Snowdrops carpeting the woodland floor as early as November last year, and we have Primroses and Daffodils in flower on the banks. Even the Bluebells have started spouting at the foot of our veteran oak trees. They’re in a race against time to absorb the sun’s rays before the leaves grow back on the towering canopy, blocking the sunlight once more. With these spring-like temperatures we’re sure to have an earlier Bluebell display this year