In theory it’s lovely to have otters on the lake, like this one caught on camera last night. The reality is that they have cleaned out all the fish and if this one stays much longer it will kill all the young goslings, ducklings, moorhens and dabchicks. In years when an otter takes up residence we have a total clean out of all the young waterfowl. Our first families of greylags are on the lake now so I hope the otter will go elsewhere. It comes up underneath and pulls each bird down. I have even seen one take a herring gull down and, after drowning it, take it away over the dam and down the valley.
I did an interview with Jemima Childs last week for her university project. Jemima is the daughter of Ben who manages Caldey Island. Great news to hear that our Red Squirrel colony that we started two years ago has now reached about 30 individuals. Some of them are getting tame enough for visitors to see and can thus perform a role as ambassadors for the species and the issues involved in their conservation. Thanks to David Mills at the British Wildlife Centre for supplying the founder stock and to Simon Hart MP for facilitating the project.
Since we have cleared Caldey of rats the seabird colonies are thriving and even spreading up into the fields above the cliffs. A few puffins are now using the island and we hope they will start a nucleus of nesting birds soon.
After three years of answering increasingly silly questions from Natural Resources Wales about our Beaver re-introduction programme we have withdrawn the application. We spent £6,000 providing the veterinary Disease Risk Assessment which has been passed by the Chief Veterinary Officer but then NRW wanted us to undertake water quality surveys of the entire river catchment in order to answer any foreseeable objections. Any scientist will tell you that to do that you need to complete at least three years of baseline data before starting. Meanwhile the river continues to be polluted with farm slurry and the fish killed. Locals are complaining: https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/the-slow-death-slurry-rivers-16022019? htm_source=sharebar&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=sharebar
We worry not about the potentially beneficial effects of beavers on water quality but on the potentially toxic effects of the polluted water on the beavers. Therefore we have withdrawn the application in favour of another river system further north. The application is now in and we will provide beavers for it when the time comes. Meanwhile spring is round the corner and many people are coming to see our beavers and do evening watches from the beaver hides.
Bryony Coles, formerly Professor of Prehistory at the University of Exeter has just published an interesting book: Avanke, Bever, Castor: the story of Beavers in Wales. She examines the evidence for the presence of Beavers since the last Ice Age, as sub-fossil remains, in place names and myths, and in the written records since Geraldus Cambrensis at the end of the 12th century. She brings back to life how the beaver had a rightful place in the ecology and culture of Wales before humans killed it off – when? That is the question! Records of beavers into the 17th century become dim, but one is left wondering: just how long did the beavers hang on quietly in some of the secret boggy valleys of Wales? Beavers can be very obvious, and yet also, sometimes they can be completely over-looked.
On our farm, down below Cwmduhen, we have a big boggy stretch of the river now overgrown with alder and willow. In it are various ‘canals’ making a network totalling about 200m. They are irregular in direction but with parallel sides and the water in them is either very gently moving or static. These canals are visible in early spring and have remained unchanged certainly in the thirty years or so that I have known them. Are they old beaver canals? One of the pictures below is a real in-use beaver canal inside an enclosure in the same valley. The other pictures are of the old canals. Can you tell which one is definitely beavers’?
Intriguingly, Bryony documents beaver-chewed sticks carbon-dated from 1500 BC to 300BC at Newton Moor near Cowbridge, and at Caldicot. Beaver-gnawed wood with the trademark chisel teeth patterns have been found at many sites from the medieval periods. Our bog itself may be made up of sediments from a long-silted up beaver pond. Wouldn’t it be exciting if Bryony’s students could do a dig there and discover the original dams with signature teeth marks? That would be a little paw reaching out to us across history.
DEFRA has rescinded the General Licence to control a number of pest species such as crows, following a legal challenge by a pressure group ‘Wild Justice’. Now DEFRA are busy sorting out a new legal route which no doubt will entail more red tape and a wider disregard of the law in the countryside. Crows are in no danger of extinction and need no legal protection. This is what they can do to sheep. This ewe was cast trying to lamb and the crows pecked her eyes out, ripped out her udder and tore the tongue out of her half born lamb. I had to shoot her.
While people are busy protecting crows, the domestic cats are getting away with blue murder. At this time of year they are killing and maiming millions of vulnerable fledgling birds. Yesterday Jimmy and I passed a cat on the Meidrim road with a slow-worm in its mouth. We managed to grab the slow-worm (which had already lost its tail) and Kerry is nursing it. It has got several puncture wounds and it is touch and go for it. If it makes it, it can re-grow its tail and we can release it back to the wild.
This baby wren stands no chance with cats about.
We have had a manic year at the Bevis Trust. During the summer drought Steve managed to get the heavy digger into places that are normally too soft to support the machine. The ponds that he managed to open out need a lot of replanting and this work will continue for a season or two before they are optimal for wildlife. With the dry ground we also managed to haul out the oak and ash felled in the winter and stack it at Cwmduhen ready for milling. These trees sadly had either fallen or were leaning heavily and had to come down. Once they were removed I under-planted with young hardwood trees which we have grown on the farm from seed. These will take years to grow but that is the way with woodland. Some of our woodlands that we planted only 20-30 years ago are getting big, but ash die back has meant that we are losing about 75% of our ash trees. We are also trying to thin out the larch as much as we can but most of it is not economic to haul out in the steep terrain. Originally planted as a nursery crop, it is hard to thin without damaging the hardwoods.
It was lovely to collect in the wildlife cameras this morning and find that we had been visited over the weekend by a water rail. We have picked up one before on camera so hopefully it means we have a resident.
The cameras are currently set to find out which beavers are doing what. We need to catch up the yearlings at this time of year to move them on to other projects. This prevents too much aggression from the adults when it’s time for them to tell their teenagers that it’s time to move on. It also means that we can spread the genetic net so that UK beavers don’t become a genetic bottleneck.