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Common Lizard

Local Development

The Canyon Cut

The human 'race', ever seeking to exploit our natural resources and poor old Pontypool is no exception. We've fought for a lot over the years and the battle continues for the last bit of green space we have. A hidden gem of a location called 'The Canyon' has had profit seekers eyes twinkling for years to dig up and sell the remaining secondary aggregate, left over many years ago by former opencast. The industry left a huge scar on the land, thought to never heal again, but after many years, it finally started to heal up, but here they are again, banging at the door to destroy a beautiful nature haven. This site is unique. It's Torfaen's one and only, and to get something remotely similar, you'd have to travel abroad. It's not just some tourist attraction though! It's much much more! It's a place of solitude in a world filled with noise pollution. The Canyon, even on a windy day hits lows of just 28db's which is quiet by anyone's standards. It's the only place in Gwent, just 30 yards from the main road where you could experience near silence!. Many of you reading this wouldn't have experience silence in a very long time but it's a proven fact that these quiet conditions have massive mental health benefits. 

It's also a location where over 12 species of Dragonfly can be found in Summer, including Keeled Skimmer and Black Darter. It's home to many specialist invertebrates like Grayling Butterflies, Green Tiger Beetles and a great place for aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, and reptiles alike. The surrounding woodland is also home to an array of bird species. 

All this, however, is threatened by a 20+ year project that aims to literally flatten the site. Bringing up to 90 lorries a day across Hafodyrynys Road, of which leads to the second most polluted road in Britain! All the while, only opening up 12 Jobs... 12!!! Something doesn't add up here. Not only that, but the proposed access route to the Canyon is right thru the middle of an ancient woodland! Torfaen council did a great Job by turning down the application on the basis of the damage done to the ancient woodland as without that, Peakmans LTD would have probably already been working on the site. Peakmans did, however, challenge the objection, so while the council fight that corner, the rest is left in the hands of the public. I spoke with quite a few of the local supporters last week at one of the public meetings, and it was great to see so much enthusiasm shared to save The Canyon. Over 150 people turned up. While my part in this is limited, I hope to do all I can in supporting local enthusiasts that are leading this fight and just want to say, if you're one of them, you're doing a fantastic Job so far. Keep it up! 

Here are a few photographs taken in just a couple hours this week at the canyon. Seeing Keeled Skimmer is an annual highlight of mine here, what a beautiful Dragonfly. This week was my first time finding Common Lizard in the Canyon too, suspected to have been there for a while but I never actually managed to find one myself. This is because they have lots of places to hide and they will most certainly hear you coming in such a quiet spot as they rely on their hearing quite a bit. 

If you're interested in helping fight this planning application, it's getting late in the game now but if you're on Facebook, head over to This facebook group for more details. Hope is NOT lost. 

Tirpentwys Nature Reserve

If you're lucky to get a space in the now downsized car park, this Nature reserve is well worth a visit. When not used as a pick up point for downhill bikers - (who've created a huge downhill course on the north facing mountain side) - it's quite a peaceful site, rich in flora and fauna. The Common Lizards were showing really well in the closed section of the Car Park in the walls, but you do have to be slow approaching and patient, for they always see you before you see them. Further up the valley the Migrant, Southern and Common Hawkers were putting on a decent show, with lots of newly emerged Palmate Newts exploring their surroundings, possible eyeing up any winter hibernation spots as the colder weather is approaches. 

Despite the breeze, Butterflies were showing well also with Common Blue, Essex Skipper and about 30 Small Coppers (The most I've ever seen). So many that they were squabbling over available flowers. 

Something I wasn't so impressed with was the worrying amounts of Himalayan Balsam. An invasive plant that is spreading like wild fire through our countryside and isn't very easy to get rid of. Our native bees pollenate them rapidly which sounds good but this actually is a bad thing because it detracts the bees from pollenating our native flowers. Between that and the incredible seed dispersing mechanism that the plants have, I can see us having real issues in the future if this isn't dealt with soon. 

Blaenserchan - Black Redstart

Today I visited most of my local wild spaces and spent a fair few hours in the Blaenserchan Valley in search of Common Lizards. I did find some, 7 in-fact, but they were proving extremely difficult to find on this hot day. Usually you find them basking in the sun in the morning and evenings but it was so warm, they were disbursed all over the mountain in amongst the bracken.. Don't know if you've ever seen a Common Lizard in a mountain full of bracken but it literally is like finding a needle in a hay-stack. I came prepared for it however, even brought my chair along as I know, once you find one, you have to gain their trust by sitting and waiting until they realise you aren't going to hurt them. I got so close I could have reach out and touched a few. Blaenserchan was so good today, it brought me a 'lifer' in the form of a female Black Redstart! - Thanks to birding friend Tim Griffiths for that one as I surely would have missed it with my head stuck in the bracken looking for Lizards. I also found a Yellowhammer in the valley which I personally haven't seen there before. Insect life was great too with Bloody-nose Beetles, Green Tiger Beetles, a Stonefly, Brimstone Butterfly and many more. 

Lizard Magic

Magical moments, I live for them! Walking in the thick bracken with the smell of my childhood and to all of a sudden be greeted with the blinking eyes of a Lizard who's clearing running through the next moments of his life through its tiny brain... Do I stay put in the hope he doesn't see me, or do I run for cover? I clearly wasn't a threat, after-all I'm not on a motorbike, I don't have dogs and I'm walking through the cover much like if I were a deer, quietly going about my own business. Lizards clearly know the difference and it's that reason that I have a lot of appreciation for reptiles. They are highly intelligent and go about their business, sometimes without ever being seen. #respectforthelizard

Common Lizards and where to find them

People honestly believe that we don't have Lizards in the Uk... they believe this because they often never get to see one! You find that to be the case for much of the wildlife in Wales. You need to know where to look because more than often, wildlife manages to stay hidden from the world. For a Lizard, the ability to hide can be a matter of life and death.. Sometimes however, these Lizards can be really easy to spot once you know what you're looking for and todays trip to my old patch up the Tranch only took five minutes of searching before spotting at-least four Lizards sunning themselves in the evening sun. I did take more photo's but I'll leave you with the one that gives you an understanding of why they can be sometimes hard to spot. 

Meeting old friends

Today I set out to venture on my old patch in the hope that I bumped into a couple of old friends. Things have changed slightly on the patch since my last visit though! which made it slightly harder to find them but it didn't take too long before me and my Brother found them basking in the sun in the ferns. I am of course talking about my old friends the Common Lizards of the Tranch. I grew up in the Tranch and this mountain was my closest access to green space and despite it being small, it holds so much wildlife!. The 'Table Top' is a section of the mountain that we used to camp on as kids but it was only 3 years ago that I realised just how great this section of the mountain was for Lizards including Slow Worms. The site has history of heathland and you can still see lots of Bilberry and Heather along the edges where the bracken hasn't taken over yet. This site has history of producing Red Grouse but those days seem long gone. Bracken is so hard to manage and we've lost a lot of heathland to the stuff. Despite it being a pain for heathland, the Common Lizards seem to like them. Managed to get a real close shot of the re-gen of the tail of one of the Lizards too which looks incredible! 

Heather Monitoring @ Coity Mountain

Heather Monitoring @ Coity Mountain

Had such a great time on a beautiful day up the Coity Mountain conducting an annual survey on the status of our Heathland. Though our Red Grouse survey won't be conducted till later in the year, the Heathland status up there seems fairly typical in that, while the majority of the mature heather seems in great condition and covering a large area, most of the outskirts have already been taken over by spreading bracken and on the steeper hills there is hardly any heather present at all. Bracken rolling has already taken place on some of the problematic area's but pockets of bracken inside the heathland itself still pose a threat. We actually saw 4 Red Grouse on this trip that bursted out of the heather in their typical fashion but this wasn't the main focus on the trip. Nice to see some Wheatear still onsite and also Kestrels were abundant. 

Here are a few images from my Heather Monitoring day out with Gwent Wildlife Trust 

Great Grey Shrike, Blaenserchan

Couldn't pass by the opportunity to see a Great Grey Shrike today between plans and boy, was I rewarded! Having listened to the stories of other Birders spending hours up their and not spotting it, I was greeted upon arrival by a singing Great Grey Shrike about 40 ft away from the path. 40ft away isn't too bad considering how big the mountain is! lol. I just about managed to get a photo between the dense branches good enough for an ID photo but the closer you got to the Bird the harder it got for photography as the Sun was on the opposite side. I'm happy either way though as it was my first sighting of a GGS and to have it on my patch meant a lot more. 

In other news! The trip brought some other firsts in the form of a Green Tiger Beetle. Having done a little read up on them, it would seem that it is fairly early in the year to be seeing them in March. Typically between May - July for Green Tiger Beetles and though described as common, I've never seen one... Something else described as 'common' is the Common Lizard of which I saw several in various places on the South facing walls. If you look carefully, You'll also notice that the Lizard has what appears to be a double tail... Perhaps a regrowth gone wrong?