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Heather Monitoring

Red Grouse Conservation @ BBNP

I know, it's been a while since I've blogged...and what have I brought you after all this time? Pictures of poo.

Apologies for that. As you probably guessed I've been extremely busy. I haven't picked up the camera in weeks! As sad as that is, these last two months have been pretty amazing. I'm loving my new Job and thought I would share with you the areas which I enjoy the most. The BBNP take conservation quite seriously, with a great ecology team ever pushing the standards. Red Grouse are one species that are of particular concern as they are a good indicator species for the health and well-being of our heathland. The BBNP participate in annual Grouse Counts to monitor the species but they also do everything they can do improve the Grouse' chances of breeding. Below you'll see pictures of Grouse Poo.. quite easy to identify once you've got your eye in.

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We also like to supplement the grouse with piles of grit to help them digest their food. Grit can be found naturally on the mountain but by purposefully placing the grit in areas that are more secluded, the Grouse don't have to venture out into the open areas to find it which gives them a better survival rating. 

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Heather restoration is also very important and a massive Job to maintain thanks to climate change. The mountains are getting warmer and Heather being an upland species, actually prefers the colder altitudes (which is why you usually only see these species of plant on the top). Heather is also victim to encroaching species like Bracken that is actually moving up the mountain due to warmer temperatures. There are other factors of course like heather beetle that actually damages the heather. 

So how do we tackle these issues? Well the BBNP take two approaches; 

  • Bracken Bashing is a simplistic, but effective way of killing the bracken, giving the heather a better chance of growing and reclaiming the outer edges.  
  • Heather Seed Harvesting is another way of ensuring the future of the heather and can be either stored ready for future restoration, or it can be dried and sown the next year in the areas that need it the most. 

Below is a picture of the first bag of seed we gathered this week. This bag will be filtered through a finer mesh back at the depot to filter out the leaves/twigs from the seeds. Eventually we'll end up with just the pale round seeds ready for sowing in the future. 

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I've really enjoyed this activity. Red Grouse are really incredible upland species and a Joy to have on the hill. If you haven't seen one, get up at the crack of dawn to your local heathland and you may just get lucky. They are most active in the morning I have found and can be heard and seen, moving into the open areas of young heather to feed. 

Below is a beautiful picture of a Red Grouse, taken locally by superb photographer and friend Mike Warburton. Click the picture for a link directly to his Flickr page. 

Heather Monitoring with Surprise Bird!

Todays heather monitoring went really well! Only had little showers but for the most part it remained really warm and sunny. Only a few grasshoppers on the uplands now though and plenty of movement with the Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Swallows so 'term has ended' for this years summer birds. On that note though, a typically 'winter bird' was flushed on our travels and we were shocked to find out it was a Short-eared Owl! This was a first for me so at that point my excitement levels hit the roof. The bird remained on topic for the rest of our trip but we had work todo so couldn't get too distracted. We covered a very large distance today but I won't give away location incase this particular owl was on breeding territory. It's not impossible though that it was just an early winter visitor. 

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 


Heathland Training @ Blaenavon

Today after work I attended the second meeting of the heather training course lead by Gwent Wildlife Trust and Chris Hatch in the hope to educate a group of volunteers to conduct surveys that will hopefully give us a better understanding of the health of our heathland. On our first visit we learned how to identify several upland species of plant that are of particular interest/concern and sporting some new equipment we are now setting off on our own to conduct these surveys within given areas separated into 'polygons'. I'm not sure what area i'll be working in yet but I hope that I find enough time to get as much done as possible. The idea of all this is to collate data so that the area can be properly managed accordingly so that we can maintain/improve our heathland for its inhabitants. Red Grouse are the key species that we have in mind but also Birds of Prey like Short Eared Owl and Hen Harriers that use Heather to nest in. There are lots of factors that make a good healthy heathland but age diversity seems to be the key with old mature heather for nesting and young heather for food. Bracken management is also key so we will be documenting the area's that need management so that we can tackle the problem accordingly.