A wildlife haven in the making

A pioneering conservation project is beginning to breathe new life into one of Pembrokeshire’s most precious wildlife areas and is attracting interest from nature enthusiasts from all over Wales. 

Wildlife enthusiasts visit Gupton Farm on a recent visit organised by Natur, the Welsh Association of Countryside and Conservation Management.

Wildlife enthusiasts visit Gupton Farm on a recent visit organised by Natur, the Welsh Association of Countryside and Conservation Management.
© National Trust / Moyrah Gall

The project is located at Gupton Farm, which has recently come back under our direct management after many years as a tenanted cattle-rearing farm. The holding lies next to Freshwater West, one of the county’s most famous beaches. It includes Castlemartin Corse, a relic of what was once a much larger area of coastal wetland, as well as an expanse of superb flower-rich dune grassland.

The area is vulnerable to the effects of climate change and this, coupled with the need to find a more wildlife-friendly form of farming, has led us to develop a far-reaching vision for the site.

As Operations Manager Rebecca Stock explains, the project comes with some interesting challenges.

“Large parts of the farm are only 5 centimetres above high tides, meaning that the water table is rising on the wetland and with sea levels predicted to rise by up to a metre in the next 100 years, these will be tidal by the end of the century.”

But Rebecca and her team see this as an opportunity to be embraced rather than a threat.

“As the meadows around the Corse get wetter we need to find livestock able to cope with these conditions; we’ve been looking into using Highland cattle or even water buffalo. By combining a range of beneficial wildlife management approaches with the sensitive provision of public access to hides, we hope that the farm will eventually become a nature-lover’s paradise.”

Advertisements

Meet a Countryside Ranger

Did you know that there are forty local countryside rangers looking after our outdoor sites in Wales? We asked Gwen Potter to reflect on a summer’s work looking after our beautiful Ceredigion coast.

Ceredigion Ranger, Gwen Potter, with local schoolchildren

Ceredigion Ranger, Gwen Potter, with local schoolchildren

The best thing about this summer was taking our team of local long-term volunteers to enjoy the fruits of last winter’s labour at Cwm Sodden, near Cwmtudu. Through one of the worst winters in living memory, this dedicated group worked incredibly hard to clear scrub from old woodland meadows and coastal heath. It was a real pleasure to see their amazement at how the wild flowers had returned to the meadows and the heathland plants were thriving – the whole place was buzzing with insects and birdlife.

We’ve also had a lot of help from visiting volunteer groups and individuals. These included student groups from Swansea, doing their Duke of Edinburgh Awards, and from as far afield as the Basque country. I’ve also been greatly helped by having a full time volunteer, Kristina, and our Passport To Your Future Apprentice, Richard, both of whom are better rangers than me by now!

We’ve been working hard at eradicating invasive Japanese knotweed and Himalayan balsam at several of our sites. The areas that were done last year needed very little work this year and because we managed to get rid of it all before it flowered, it should become less of a problem in the future.

It’s also been a fantastic for spotting wildlife as we went about our work.  As well as the usual seals, we saw dolphins galore and even a basking shark visiting Mwnt.  It was especially good for invertebrates. We saw far more silver washed fritillary, dingy skipper and pearl bordered fritillary butterflies than last year, as well as moss carder bees and elm feeding moths. Two highlights stand out: an unexpected marbled white butterfly and a migrant hawker dragonfly.

I’m really pleased with how our events went this summer. The bush-craft and beach fun day went well and I’m currently getting ready for a wild foraging walk on the 24th of September at Cwmtudu. I’m also working on a coastal wildlife tracker-pack which will be available for families to use next summer. All in all, it’s been a great summer; but now, as winter approaches, the real work starts.

Butterflies, bugs and bombs

Where’s all the bare sand gone? 

This is what older visitors will question when they visit sand dunes around our coast. The contrast between childhood memories of jumping off sand cliffs and running through acres of golden sand and today’s grassy dunes may set them thinking that something’s changed.

Wildlife in one of Gower’s finest nature reserves has received an unexpected boost from the Ministry of Defence during a search for unexploded bombs.

Wildlife in one of Gower’s finest nature reserves has received an unexpected boost from the Ministry of Defence during a search for unexploded bombs.

They’d be right. Over the past 20 years, areas of bare sand have been taken over by coarse grasses and scrub. Delicate rare plants are disappearing, along with the butterflies and insects that depend on them.

A novel solution to this problem has been found at a sand dune nature reserve on Gower. Our head ranger Alan Kearsley-Evans takes up the story:

“We usually prefer not to intervene and let nature take its course. But when we realised Whiteford Burrows was losing rare plants like the fen orchid, we decided it was time to do something to rejuvenate the dunes and get the wildlife back.”

Military excavators at Whiteford burrows on North Gower.

Military excavators at Whiteford burrows on North Gower.

Alan and his contacts at the Government’s wildlife agency, Natural Resources Wales asked Ministry of Defence contractors searching for unexploded bombs if they could lend a hand by digging up more of the dunes.

Danger unexploded ordnance

Danger unexploded ordnance

“It’s been a real win-win situation. Whiteford Burrows has been made a safer place and precious wildlife is already benefiting by having more areas of bare sand.”

Nature’s hairdryer, Worm’s Head, Rhossili

Worm’s Head at Rhossili is my favourite place on Gower to escape to for a ‘get-away-from-it-all walk’. On a weekend, when the tides are right (it’s accessible a couple of hours either side of low tide), I love to just pack up a picnic and head to Rhossili, across the rocky causeway and have lunch sitting on the outer head.

Walking on the Gower

Walking on the Gower

Out there the views over Rhossili Bay are the most amazing you’ll get anywhere on Gower. The first time I ‘walked the Worm’, my children were about six and ten. Even though the terrain is uneven and craggy in parts, my kids managed to scramble over the causeway much more easily than I did. The blow-hole on the outer head always fascinates the kids – nature’s own hairdryer as I like to call it.

If you are lucky, you’ll get to see grey seals basking on the rocks below, and there’s always a great selection of seabirds to be found – guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills, oystercatchers, and also the occasional puffin on the sea. Worm’s Head truly is magical – my special place! Kim Boland