DEFRA has rescinded the General Licence to control a number of pest species such as crows, following a legal challenge by a pressure group ‘Wild Justice’.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.
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.
Callum certainly made his presence known over the weekend with many branches and trees down locally. At Ricketts Mill water was the issue. The rivers came up with alarming speed and flooded much of the area around the lakes. This of course put pressure on the fences but Neil and his team had built them strong and despite torrents of water pouring through they held up well.
The storks were marooned for a while on a bank backed with thick vegetation. I was able to toss food to them which they gobbled up gratefully and thankfully the waters receded before we needed to mount a rescue mission.
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 email@example.com 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.