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Llandegfedd Development

Llandegfedd / Welsh Water / SSSI Status / Business

I've tried my best to not talk about this for a while as if I'm honest, it's getting me down. To see a site that I love dearly go to ruins is heart breaking. Having fort really hard for wildlife protection and conservation plans for many years, frankly, opening the north side to the public has been the worse thing to happen since Llandegfedd's birth. 

Recently I had to shout down two idiots who thought it was a good idea to rip up the Wild Flower Meadows on a Quadbike. I've got no shame what so ever posting his picture on here because he knew he shouldn't have been doing it because he waited for me to get out of site before opening a non-vehicle access gate while my back was turned. This isn't the first time I've heard this vehicle, in-fact just the day before I heard it riding around the Island but couldn't get back to the water in time to get a photo. 

Theres always a select few that spoil it for everyone but in my opinion, the site should have been kept to permit holders only to rule this problem out entirely. 

After fighting for so long for improvements to be made for the wildlife at Llandegfedd, hides are continuable neglected, no conservation management is done what so ever other than the odd winter grazing which didn't happen last winter. There hasn't been any maintenance for the SSSI status for Wintering Wildfowl in years and yet it's ok for Welsh Water to use this SSSI status for advertised tourism? I can't help be feel angry about this, especially as our 'Wintering Wildfowl' is already turning up.. Clearly the 'wintering' wildfowl didn't read the site closing time memo, perhaps they should fly back to Scandinavia and wait a little longer for the Quadbikes to go home. 

Early Teal 

To top all this off, naturally, with Dog Walkers you get? I never thought in a millions years that I would see this at the North end of Llandegfedd. It was my place of sanctuary and solitude where Foxes, Badgers and wildlife would roam freely in the day and now you'll be lucky to see a Rabbit.

If any rangers are reading this from Llandegfedd, I do apologise, it's not a direct punt at you, you're only doing your Job and what you're being told to do from above. It's the people sat behind the desk that make these decisions for the sake of money, money, money that I have a problem with. Greed as a lot to answer for. 

Take a hint from this Kingfisher, do what is right, a balance needs to be struck, don't forget the wildlife. We need to cherish it all and embrace what makes Wales such a special place. 


Llandeg Meadow #Pictured Path

North meadows have had a slight change in management this year. For some reason, during the winter the meadow was cut in a mosaic fashion (probably to encourage walkers to explore or for the sheep to get into the meadow for better grazing). Either way, you can clearly see that the cut (or lack of) has made a huge difference in what was has grown. The cut areas are looking so much better, with less towering grasses and more biodiversity. More Orchids are showing as a result on these areas despite them still being widespread. I'm not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing just yet but it's interesting to see the physical effects of two very difference techniques. I'm not referring to the picture above by the way, that was cut for the running event in May this year. A topic for another blog I think...

Large Skipper

Things aren't looking so great at Llandegfedd, I have to admit. There's only so much I can do as a volunteer with health and safety regulations but I do wonder sometimes if my efforts are wasted. Below is a picture of the old wildlife learning hut that has had a leaking roof for quite some time. This was just a matter of time. What will happen to the future of this hut is pretty clear the way things are going. 


Also the view from most of the hides have got to that point in the year where the only thing that they are good for is Reed Warblers. Not that I don't like Reed Warblers but that isn't what they were built for and this area does need attention.  


The way I see it is, if we don't make it easier for people to watch nature, how can we expect people to appreciate it?  

Llandegfedd, good and bad news

Looks like a Bee but is in-fact a fly, hence the name 'Beefly'. They are fairly common in early spring and frequent visitors to Gardens so well worth looking out for these as they perch themselves on warm plantation late in the evening to warm up. They like to hover and may even hover long enough for you to get a photograph in flight which I have managed in the past. This species is called a 'Dark-edged Beefly' which is easily identifiable by the dark edges on the outer wings. As you can see, they are great pollinators with this subject below covered in pollen. 

With temperatures rising this Spring we're starting to see lots of emerging insects, including several species of lepidoptera. Llandegfedd is a good spot for Butterflies in spring and summer due to its ancient mature meadows that provide a good variety of plant life to support them right up as far as October/November and as early as February/March. If you know anything about Butterflies though, some require very specific plants to survive and only emerge during the periods of which those plants exist. 1 species comes to mind which can be found in small numbers already at Llandegfedd and that is the Orange-tip Butterfly. Below is a picture of a Comma Butterfly which was posing rather well for me but below that is the food plant of the Orange-tip Butterfly, the plant is called 'Ladies Smock' but also known as the Cuckoo Flower. 

More of these plants are starting to flower so we should start to see clouds of Orang-tips for the next couple weeks before they start dying off. 

There is another plant that grows on the banks of Llandegfedd that is a very specialist plant and only grows in ancient diverse meadows and particularly likes sandy soil and that is the Adders-tongue Fern. Till today, I'd never actually managed to find these plants but now I've found one, I'm starting to see them everywhere at Llandegfedd. They are beautifully delicate looking and so easy to mistake for a random leaf in a field. Having these present shows that we have good healthy numbers of Spotted-Orchids in the northern meadows of Llandegfedd and in a few weeks, you'll see that for your own eyes. It's a shame however that Welsh Water and the people sat behind their desk jotting down numbers don't see the importance of these Wild Flower Meadows because they've recently signed up for a running and biking event which includes churning up these priceless meadows that won't recover once overly-disturbed. Signs of 'buffering' are already prevalent since the opening of the site in April 2015 which has seen many of the paths expanding into the meadows getting wider and wider as time goes on and thousands more people walk thru an un-marked, un-protected  Wild Flower Meadow. 

Some good news after that depressing last chapter.. This Reed Warbler has been coming back for as many years as I've been visiting Llandegfedd. How do I know this? well, despite it having a leg ring, I can actually tell by its song. Reed Warblers are known for their ability to Mimic and the way in which they use this mimicry is very individualistic, to the point where you can learn an individuals phrasing. Even with a song as complicated as a Reed Warbler (fast and trilly) you can pick out key features with a musically trained ear (which I'm lucky to have). The same can be said about my local Blackbird which I know has been present for many years because he has learned to mimic the sound of my next-door neighbours whistling and using this tune regularly in his song phrasing. 

This Reed Warbler however does have a Ring so it will be interesting to find out whether my theory is true. Confirmation of this will be to find out if this Bird was ringed at Llandegfedd. I'll keep you up to date if I find out any news on this. 

I'll leave you with something a little cuter but slightly sad in story. A mother Mallard abandoned her 7 chicks after being flushed in the car park while leading her chicks to the water. In doing so she then got pestered by 3 male Mallards that chased her far away from her chicks and rather than staying together they all split up into the woods. Theres no guaranty that any of them will survive but I did manage to catch 3 and bring them back to the waters edge where Mum will have a better chance of finding them. I know Mallards are common but I hope they did survive. They were very tempting to take home... but this is nature and sometimes it's better to just let things unfold, despite the bad outcome for the chicks. 

'Tit' Survey Results & Marsh Tit Feature

These survey results so far are pretty decisive. Marsh Tits are not doing so well at all, which is not really new information as they are currently a Red Status species. My question is, why? Especially considering the location of Llandegfedd and its prime surrounding woodland: that for the most part is currently undisturbed habitat (in a loose sense). I guess there is a fine line between 'undisturbed and under-managed' so it could be that even though its prime habitat, nest locations could be inaccessible?. Usually these results show a lack of breeding or a failure in breeding activity. It could be that Marsh Tits are sensitive (much like our Pied Flycatchers) and are more prone to failing in bad weather conditions. (It certainly can get quite wet and windy at Llandegfedd). It could also be a lack of food source throughout spring or even winter. Marsh Tits actually change their diet during winter and I have noticed a big difference in the way that Marsh Tits present themselves to the feeders, and even in what they choose to eat. 

Tit Survey

Feeding Station Tit Survey Results upto - 16/12/15

Marsh Tit Feeding Patterns 

In my time monitoring the Marsh Tit, I've noticed that (like many species) they seem to have a favourite type of seed. In this case, it's actually the shelled 'Black Sunflower Seeds'. Why is this? and why would a bird purposely go for the hardest seed to eat? 

You would think that the Marsh Tit would prefer Sunflower Hearts out of everything because the shells have been taken off for them which means quicker and easier access to the fat they need. This is clearly not the case so why? Well, I've also noticed that this fussy eater isn't actually eating the Black Sunflower Seeds at all... or at-least not straight away. It is cashing them in the woodland, much like Jays, Squirrels and Nuthatches, this Bird is taking all the Shelled seeds because they last much longer when stored with the shell on. Nature always lives in the moment and if a food source is found, it is taken advantage of in the most officiant way possible. Storing these seeds in their shells means that this Marsh Tit can rely on a steady food source throughout the winter and it is only taking the energy it needs in small amounts at a time. This winter is quite mild so it may have access to a stable amount of natural food as-well. 

I've bigged this bird up to be very intelligent, and it is! so why aren't they doing so well? It could be that the Marsh Tit doesn't successfully find all the cashed seeds. Harsh Winters may cover the seeds over in snow or get washed away? Who knows! They may have a bad memory and may not actually find the seeds at all.. While all these factors play a part, it has to come back to habitat. So what it is about Llandegfedds habitat that is only supporting a small population of Marsh Tits? As you can see in the results above, Blue tits, Coal Tits and Great Tits are all doing really well, this is actually a problem for the Marsh Tit considering all 3 species compete for the same type of nest locations (Small holes in trees). Marsh Tits also take a long time to populate 1 area and are prone to having only 1 brood of chicks every year. By far the biggest flaw for the Marsh Tit is its loyalty to broadleaf woodland. By Loyalty I mean, they will often settle on a hospitable woodland but rarely ever leave that woodland, this means that their population isn't spreading, especially considering that most of our woodlands are staggered. This is certainly the case at Llandegfedd as connections between woodlands have been lost. This puts pressure on the Marsh Tit specifically and means that their population is stunted leaving birds like Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Great Tits to have an over-all advantage as they aren't so dependant on broadleaf woodland. 

You may be looking at a mountain side in Wales and think, what is he talking about? There are trees everywhere! but I specifically mentioned Broadleaf woodlands. Having a couple acres of Coniferous woodland fragments deciduous (broadleaf) woodlands and we loose vital connections that results in suppression of specialist species. 

Possible Solution?

We need to re-built connections between deciduous woodlands by either replanting or allowing areas to self seed naturally or we need to plan ahead and replant a general mixture of trees in replace of our coniferous woodlands . A mixed woodland may be all it takes to re-bridge gapes. We can also help by planting more of a mixture in our hedgerows. Not only will this create a more hospitable environment for our wildlife but it may be the only way to regain connections between woodlands. I think this is the way to go at Llandegfedd specifically and it is perfectly possible to connect the 3 of our main woodlands around the lake as we have plenty of hedgerows. Something worth thinking about and certainly something I'll be pushing for at Llandegfedd for feature restoration projects.

Thanks for reading my write up on the Marsh Tit, I'll leave you with a picture of the Black Sunflower Lover. 

Llandegfedd Nestbox Survey Results

While I cannot share sensitive information, the basis of todays survey was pretty defining in that 50% of the boxes onsite needed repairing. A figure that may increase upon checking inside the boxes which is on the agenda for our next visit with a group of volunteers. 

Nestbox Survey

Below is something I knocked up as part of a PDF that I've forwarded to all involved. Sensitive information isn't included and positioning of nest boxes are by no means accurate and to be used only as a guide for our volunteer workforce who will be conducting the work. 5

News Update (The Hills are Alive) (Llandegfedd Meeting)

 have good news! Last week I had a meeting with Veronika Brannovic from the Gwent Wildlife Trust regarding plans for a new project starting this year. The project will be called 'The Hills are Alive' (With the sound of Music!).. Those that know my background will at this point be quite excited for me as this project is pretty much tailer made! On that note, the outcome of the meeting was in fact a Job! Finally a Job that I can put all my knowledge with sound to good use. The Hills are Alive project has the aim to banish the idea that our upland habitats are baron land and bereft of wildlife and we will be approaching this from 2 different perspectives; Sound & Photography. My Job will be to teach people (mostly the younger generation) how to record the wildlife of our uplands. This is a huge task because the reason why people have this perception that the uplands is empty, is because the wildlife for the most part is very good at hiding. Not only that, the weather on the uplands can be quite extreme and even at the best of times, wind noise always plays a factor with sound recording. So, we have to approach it professionally and with the right equipment so the next step will be to gear up and prepare for everything. I'm very excited for this project to start! It will only be 1-2 days a week but that also means I can carry on with my current Job so win win. 

In other news, next week I have an important meeting with Welsh Water regarding Llandegfedd. The meeting came about after I expressed my concerns via email about the health and safety of both people and the wildlife onsite. In this email I offered a solution to solve all these problems and that involves bringing a Trust like the Wildlife Trust onboard to manage the ecological requirements at the North side. On that note, I saw the opportunity to invite Veronika Brannovic from GWT to the meeting also so that she could give factual information as to what the WT could offer if such a partnership commenced. I am super excited about this meeting and really hope that the outcome is beneficial for all and not just the narrow slopped path that Llandegfedd is currently taking. 

Llandegfedd Reservoir Concerns?

Throughout the years of development 2013/14 of the new Visitors Centre, I've had my worries about the future of Llandegfedd and the general direction it is inevitably going in. I worry because the North end of the Res has always been shut off from the general public resulting in it being a major hotspot for wildlife. This includes many Red Listed species of Bird and even plants that require a rich secluded spot like Llandegfedd to thrive. I also worry because over 200+ walkers with their Dogs have since visited Llandegfedd venturing out to explore their new pathways but the problem is, there are no bins what so ever, no dog bins, no signs and no fencing to prevent people from straying away from the path. There are sections of the North end that were meant to be totally cut off and out of bounds but currently there are no barriers to prevent Dogs or people walking straight into them. Owners of Llandegfedd really haven't thought things through! They just wanted to open it up by the deadline. This isn't acceptable. 

As you can see in the photos below, it also looks like they are going to build a dock at the north end for the boats. Though the dock itself may make for better birding, the activity is another worry. As you can see in the pictures below, there are no fences in the meadows what so ever and soon, these fields will be covered in wild flowers. 

Llandegfedd Nature Awareness

A lot has gone on behind the scenes at Llandegfedd this winter. All raved to be great pre-planning but things are starting to become clearer as to the vision of Llandegfedd created by Welsh Water. A new Visitors Centre once to be described as an all round centre with a dedicated wildlife section has turned out to be nothing but a café and the Water Sports Centre will simply improve on the activities on the water but perhaps with less boundaries than previously set out. 

I'm in discussion with all the right people currently to help shine some light on this situation because the wildlife has been till this day, an after thought. Anybody in conservation would know that just isn't how it works and measures should be made prior planning to prevent any issues like the ones that have come up regarding a new pathway to the North End of Llandegfedd from the new visitors centre. 

I've pointed out where the path is going to go on the map below and as you will see, it ventures right through the wild meadows to the Fishermans car park which is currently for fisherman and permit holders only (Birders/Photographers mainly). 
Of course, it isn't fair to let some in and not others but opening it up to everybody including Dog walkers would be an absolute nightmare for the wildlife there. This location is home to many protected species of plant, insects, reptiles and mammals and to get thousands of people walking through there every day in the spring/summer would be catastrophic to the breeding activities. 

We have enough places to take our Dogs for a walk and ruining this wildlife sanctuary is just one more step closer to ruining everything great about Torfaen. Every inch of this site needs to be protected and I hope my pictures below do it justice.