We’ve had two beaver study days this week hosted by the Bevis Trust and Alicia Leow-Dyke from Wildlife Trusts Wales. On Tuesday we had 11 staff from Natural Resources Wales, two from Welsh Government and ten from local councils. On Wednesday we had 20 representatives from a variety of NGOs and Universities. It was a chance for visitors to get a first hand view of the effects beavers have on habitats and the techniques used to manage them. They were able to find beaver trails and field signs, see different dams, how some trees are targeted for food, others for building materials, and others avoided. We also had PowerPoint presentations and discussion sessions followed by BBQs and an opportunity to spend the evenings beaver watching. The three beaver families on the farm all have young kits just emerging so visitors were able to enjoy seeing them emerge from their lodges. As beavers expand both in numbers and range in Britain it is urgent that a proper management strategy is developed, under-pinned by appropriate legislation, so that the species can regain its place amongst British fauna with a minimum of conflict with other land-uses.
Meanwhile we have been busy with the fencing and planting at Ricketts Mill. The predator fence will soon be complete. It is buried into the ground, and has one inch mesh to stop mink, with two electric strands to stop foxes. We are still planting reed beds and some of them are rooting well now. In a year or two they will start to provide habitat for a variety of species and it will be exciting to watch the gradual restoration process.
Sion has been busy camera trapping and has come across a species only seen here once before, many years ago – the water rail. We can only hope that the wetland habitats we are creating with the help of the beavers are bringing these shy and elusive birds to the farm.
It’s been manic on the farm recently. This prolonged wet and windy weather has made silage making a gamble and Eirian just got the last lot in at two in the morning before the heavens opened yet again. Many big tree branches, heavy with wet leaves, have been blown down in the strong winds. The swallows and martins, and many other species that require insects for feeding their broods, are really struggling. Let’s hope second clutches do better. The wagtails love to nest in the turf roofs of the buildings and are successful there away from ground predators. Cats are quick to mop up fledgelings making their first fluttering flights.
On Tuesday and Wednesday the Countryfile film crew were here filming and we managed to shoot all the falcon flying shots in good weather before the rain came in again and we got soaked filming beavers. Various visitors have been visiting and watching the beavers and everyone has managed to see them. The family of beavers down at Skinny Dipping Pond have been particularly active and have two new burrows, one of which we think contains this year’s kits. They’ve been building a dam above their pond and it is interesting to see how much water they can hold back. The other two beaver families are also taking food into their lodges so we will soon be keeping an eye out for emerging new kits.
We have had 15 students here over the weekend led by Alicia. They are from Bangor, Aberystwyth and Oxford universities and are studying the effects beavers are having on the habitats. They’ve been camping at Waunlas in pouring rain but the canteen has been a life saver for them and they have been able to get on with a lot of species identification work in the dry.
Meanwhile we have had at least one mink around and have failed to catch it in cage traps. These very agile little aliens can devastate the water voles and the water fowl and are very versatile predators. Especially in this wet weather they lay up in rabbit burrows but while you are busy searching soggy hedges they can just as easily be watching you from up some ivy covered tree.
Down at Ricketts Mill Drew and I have been planting reed beds and these are settling down well. We’ve managed to keep most of the geese away because these pull up the reeds as fast as we plant them. Once the reeds are rooted and the beds thicken up, some geese will be welcome. We have harvested most of the reeds from the Penllynin lake but Drew has been successful at growing phragmites from seeds. Ross and the fencers started last week. Modern fencing uses only very weak chemical preservatives and rot away quickly so Drew has been busy soaking them in creosote for extra protection before they go in. The fence is designed to stop mink, otters and foxes getting in and to prevent beavers getting out, and will enclose about nine acres including four ponds. But it will be another couple of years or so before the habitat has developed enough to support beavers. In restoring ecosystems one has to work from the bottom up, literally. So bringing the raw clay exposed lake bed to life is the first task, with suitable plants that can host increasing populations of invertebrates that in turn will become food for predators such as dragonflies and kingfishers. Beavers of course are strictly vegetarian. At the moment they are targeting lush herbage but spend a lot of time steadily eating bramble leaves.
With this wet weather, the ground has gone soft again so I have taken the opportunity to plant out a number of trees that we have pot grown, or self-sown birches growing on the tracks that would otherwise get topped off. I’m under-planting areas of woodland that are suffering from ash dieback. The dying ash trees are acting as nursery trees for the new small trees and by the time the ash is completely dead the new trees will be waist high and on their way. We are leaving most of the ash to rot where they stand, but one or two big hedgerow trees will need taking down in the winter. Others seem unaffected so let’s hope we have some resistant ones here able to re-colonise.