With the help of Steve and his digger we have made a couple of new ponds this summer and they are now starting to fill. It will be some time before they are naturalised and it’s a fascinating process to watch. To speed nature along a little we have sown some pond-edge wildflower mixes and will be transplanting some reeds in when the weather is a little wetter. We have given the larger of these some gently sloping banks to allow water fowl easy access and to provide good feeding for the dabblers.
Some of the old hazel stools have been moved into a new conservation strip at the bottom of the field and we will supplement this with some other planting over the winter.
It has been manic on the farm for weeks. The tree planting was completed in time, with 18,000 mixed hardwoods gone in. We cut a new track across this north bank and while it is raw is a good time to get new plants established. So we have transplanted bluebells, primroses and snowdrops from other parts of the farm and put in bulbs here and there, together with other woodland species. They will get established and gradually build up over the years to make it a pleasant walk for anyone passing by. We’ve seeded all the tracks with grasses which will consolidate them.
The storks have settled in at the ponds at Rickets Mill but are quite shy and wary. All of them have had significant injuries, mainly wings amputated, so no doubt feel very vulnerable. One was also very lame and it was clear it would need two toes amputating so reluctantly we put it down. But one of the pairs have been using one of the four nest platforms so maybe they will manage despite their handicaps. As the grasses grow taller we will mow some areas for them so that they have open ground to forage in.
We have a lot of timber to haul out from along the river track but it is too wet to get heavy machines in there. We will move the sawmill and cut up a lot, but we will need contractors to do most of the work. Some of the trunks are a metre diameter.
After long negotiations we have purchased a six acre field adjacent to the top beaver pen. We will lease 4 acres of this out to continue in silage, but fence off the lower area and develop it with ponds to enlarge the beaver pen. This means that we are felling some trees on our side to make space for a pond. We have a lot of ash dieback there so all of those young trees are coming down, together with a number of 20 year old larches that are shading the south facing wood. We are cutting it all for cordwood which will go for firewood but it is too wet to cart it at the moment. Then we are underplanting it with birch and oak from other parts of the farm. We have an old shaley track at Blaencwm that grows lots of small birches which are doomed when I mow the track. So every year I scoop off the latest crop and plant them out. When we were clearing back some blackthorn we were delighted to discover several elm trees. They are only young, about 5 metres or so, and they have grown since the Dutch elm disease. Maybe they are resistant, or maybe just lucky. We will wrap their trunks and dig out their root balls with a tracked excavator and move them away up the bank to new sites where they can flourish. It’s been too wet to get any heavy machinery onto the land or to do the fencing but we hope to start soon. This cold wet spring cannot go on for ever.
We have been over-hauling all the fencing at the top two pens ready for new beavers. To increase the genetic diversity of the British population, Derek Gow has imported 12 new beavers from Bavaria and they have just completed their six months quarantine. Now we have put a male and a female in each pen so that they can get to know each other for a few days before we open the gate between the pens and run them together to make a new pair. After six months shut indoors in concrete pens it must have been a great treat for them to shuffle down to real water with all the fresh spring herbs growing profusely. Thanks to Ben Goldsmith for funding the import and Derek and his team for doing all the donkey work.
Down at the lake it is a hive of activity. There are three generations of beavers there and they are taking willow sprays to the lodge so it looks like a fourth generation have been born. They have got some impressive ponds dammed up all through the ‘Tongue’ wood and visitors will be able to see the progress they have made. At the moment they are mainly feeding on bramble leaves which they seem to love. Down at the hide an adult male goshawk passed a few metres by the window and a yellow wagtail has chicks above the doorframe inside the hide. I think the snipe have finally gone but a water rail fluttered into the reeds and a water vole crossed from the island. A sandpiper was on the beach along the dam. There are two broods of greylags out and about and at least two more to come. The male geese hang around near the nests for a month, like husbands waiting outside the maternity ward. The Canadas have just hatched one brood, with another to come, and so have the moorhens. The dabchicks are very quiet at the moment, nesting in one of the bays. The swallows and martins are having a hard time; a few have come back but there are very few insects for them yet. The bats are quite busy and I was pleased to see some big bats using the lake, either Noctules or Greater Horseshoes. We are getting a bat detector to try to identify them.
I’m banned from the log cabin at the moment. A wagtail is nesting in a swallow’s nest in the beams and a moorhen is nesting in the reeds right in front of the deck. She does it every year. No doubt as soon as they have finished the swallows will start and I will be banished again. And I cannot even collect my towel that I hung up on a hook after swimming last summer because a bat roosts in it…
The beavers down at Skinny Dipping pond are doing well and have felled a lot of willows. Now they have terraced ponds all down their valley and there is often a heron there. A pair of grey geese have been haunting their island which is really half beaver lodge, but maybe the beaver activities at night disturb them. The kits from last year are getting big but you can still see the size difference when they swim alongside an adult.
We have changed the clocks and now the evenings are much lighter. This means that we can again see beavers in the evenings. It’s still a little early yet but in the next week or so visitors should be able to get a good hour or more of sightings. The hide is ready to go so bring your flask and binoculars and come to see proper Welsh beavers. We charge £20 for an evening’s watching. This includes a guided walk through beaver habitat and as long as you like in the hide. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org to book an evening.
The Beavers have had a very busy winter building dams and extending lodges. The lake lodge particularly has grown enormously. By now there may well be some kits inside, they are born fully-furred and their eyes open soon after birth. Within a few weeks they will begin to venture outside. It’s always wonderful to see the first young with their shaving brush fur taking their first few swims.
Although the white stork is doing pretty well in Europe (but it’s part of a very small group doing well, many more are in dire straights) it has been absent from Britain since 1416. Moves are now afoot to get the white stork breeding in Britain again and we have been lucky enough to be included in this new white stork breeding programme. A group of storks were brought over from a rehabilitation centre in Poland and distributed to various centres around the UK. These storks have all been injured through collisions with power lines and many are wing amputees. It makes them a little ungainly on the ground but other than that they manage to cope very well.
We kept them in a holding pen through the worst of the weather and last week when it started to warm a little we took them down to Ricketts Mill and gave them their new home. The lakes, ponds and boggy bits encourage huge amounts of food for them but we are also buffer feeding them to reduce impact on the pen.
On release they gave themselves a bit of a shake down, looked around and stomped off as if they had been here all the time. Pete has built them some starter homes – platforms low enough for them to get up on to and build their nests. We will start to put a few sticks on the platforms in the coming days and hopefully they will join in. They probably won’t breed this year but you never know.
It’s truly rewarding to be involved in a project such as this and we hope to be able to contribute chicks towards the reestablishment programme when the storks breed.
Here in West Wales we were late getting the snow and quick to lose it. No so good for sledging and making snowmen but it has been great for bird spotting. Over the past few weeks the farm has become a haven for many species we see either rarely or fleetingly. Redwings and fieldfares have been making their presence known in the fields and spinneys. The sound of the Fieldfare is truly one of winter. Starlings, whilst in decline, have been visiting in huge numbers. Neighboring dairy farms have streams of starlings in and out of their cattle sheds feeding on the crumbs of cake and blend left by the cows. This in itself can cause a problem with huge amounts of droppings left on the silage making it unpalatable for the cows. But the sight of a huge murmuration of starlings at dusk…well, who can fail to be stirred by the sight.
There have been good numbers of bullfinches too. They seem to like the long shelter belts along side the farm drives. That gorgeous pink breast brightens the dullest day. Lovely birds but look to your fruit buds when they are about!
The jewels of this chilly period are without doubt the goldcrests and the lapwings. There seems to be a goldcrest flitting around in every bramble patch and the sight of around 50 lapwings in amongst the ewes has me hoping that this species is holding its own.
We are currently plating about 16 acres of deciduous woodland as part of the carbon woodland creation scheme. We were very keen for the woodland to be planted in a random pattern rather than in lines or waves. Random planting makes it much harder for the planters to achieve the correct stocking rate but the effect, especially a few years down the line, will be worth it.
We are planting a mix of sessile oak, wych elm and downy birch with a few willows and aspen on the lower edges plus a good number of more shrubby species.
Over the next few years the canes and tree guards will degrade, the growing trees will shade out the bracken and we will see an increase in biodiversity. At the moment it’s all wheel marks, piles of bags and boxes and sweat and toil but soon the wheel marks
will grass over, the boxes and bags will all have been removed and nature will be allowed to take over. I just wish I could see it in 150 year’s time.