Sunday, September 7, 2014

Wenvoe orchards: Sat 6 September 2014

Bruce McDonald led this fascinating walk in the Wenvoe area, attended by around ten CNS members, which took in four newly-planted orchards, a community nature reserve, two churchyards and an ancient burial chamber.

Orchards are a priority habitat and relatively easy to create, so the Wenvoe Wildlife Group is currently focusing on them to promote local biodiversity. The trees in commercial orchards are regularly replaced, often within a decade of planting, and are subject to numerous agrochemical sprays every year; so they have become a very poor habitat for wildlife. The Wenvoe group planted traditional tree varieties in four diverse locations last year that should provide a haven for wildlife for many years to come. These orchards are being primarily managed for wildlife biodiversity and not intensive fruit production; although they should eventually yield abundant fruit for community picking.

The first stop was the Community Orchard, on the edge of the playing field to the east of Wenvoe. A mixture of trees has been planted here, including traditional varieties of apples (e.g. Bardsley Grenadier, Ribston Pippin, and also crab apples), pears and plums (including greengage), along with medlar, quince, mulberry and hazel. The orchard has an impressive bee hotel, with a noticeboard on the back. Bruce mentioned that it would make a good research project for someone, investigating the species using it. Bumble bee nests are also being created, using buried flower pots, and Bruce is on the lookout for mouse droppings (so they can better mimic the abandoned mouse nests favoured by bumble bees). A pond has been dug, which in its second year is supporting a range of aquatic flora and fauna.

Taking the underpass, the next stop was St Mary’s churchyard in Wenvoe. Here we saw the old yew tree and a Balm-of-Gilead.

The tour continued along Pound Lane and through Wenvoe Woods to the farmland beyond, where the Elizabethan Orchard is located, in a fenced-off corner of a field. This was part-funded through the Glastir programme, whereby farmers get paid to increase biodiversity on farms. Using a National Trust listing of fruit trees in an Elizabethan orchard, the Wenvoe Wildlife Group planted medlar, quince, and apple and pear varieties that would have been familiar to the Elizabethans. Trees are widely spaced, up to 10m apart, based on old orchard records. The group is also constructing a Shakespearean garden here, with herbs that are mentioned in the Bard’s plays. A log pile and a pond are among the other habitats being created.

The walk continued along the golf course, through more woods and up to the St Lythans burial chamber - an ideal spot for a picnic lunch. This megalithic dolmen was built around 6,000 years ago, as part of a chambered long barrow (so it’s significantly older than Stonehenge). Current thinking suggests that corpses where put into a cave in nearby Goldsland Wood, and the skeletons moved to the St Lythans burial chamber (and the nearby and larger Tinkinswood burial chamber that is of a similar age).

The third orchard – the Welsh Orchard – is just around the corner from here on a triangular area surrounded by farmland. All the 28 trees planted in this area last year have Welsh connections, either having their origins in Wales or being varieties popular over long periods in Wales. They include the Nant Gwrtheryn Golden Russet variety, which has just been put on the market after its rediscovery on the Llŷn Peninsula. Two flower beds are being created here with medicinal herbs described by the Physicians of Myddfai, who were influential herbalists who lived in the twelfth century in the Carmarthenshire settlement of Myddfai. At least 40 plants they used were noted in the literature; and a selection is being planted here, including wormwood, tansy, angelica, marsh mallow, agrimony, henbane and others that you won’t find in the Cowbridge Physic Garden because of Health and Safety concerns! Beehives are also present in the Welsh Orchard and a new pond will be put in place this winter. The numerous insects (including grasshoppers and crickets of note), birds (e.g. willow warbler) and scuttling small mammals seen attest to the site’s value to wildlife.

A walk along the road took us to St Lythans village and its churchyard. From here it’s a short walk to the fourth and final orchard: the linear Wild Orchard. Here, trees have been planted along a field edge to enhance the existing trees and shrubs, which includes crab apples and other wild-type fruits. Among the trees planted last year were hazel, wild cherry, bird cherry and plum.

We continued towards Twyn-yr-Odyn. By the quarry monument we took a path, which had only been opened a few weeks previously, and soon found ourselves in the Upper Orchid Field. This 5-acre Community Nature Reserve is, like the new orchards, managed by Wenvoe Wildlife Group. The sloping meadow contains over 300 species of flowers, grasses, insects and birds. The seven orchid species recorded here are best viewed in June. There is one annual mowing to encourage meadow wildflowers. This is a habitat type fast disappearing in the UK. The field is surrounded by woodlands and hedgerows. Here you can explore and find Molluscopolis, a secluded area with information boards, where snails and slugs are positively encouraged.

The path at the bottom of the field continues down into Wenvoe.

Text and photos: Stephen Nottingham

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


The Cardiff Naturalists’ Society indoor meeting programme for 2014/2015 was recently announced. Click on the ‘Programme’ tab above to see the full programme.

Here, Indoors Meeting Secretary Hilary Wicks gives further information about the Autumn 2014 series of evening lectures. These all start at 7.30pm in Room 023 (ground floor) of the Cardiff School of Management (Metropolitan University, Llandaff Campus, Western Ave, Llandaff, Cardiff), unless otherwise stated. If lost, members can ask at the Main Building reception where a notice and signs to the lecture theatre will be placed.

The meetings start on Monday 22nd September with the AGM, followed with a talk by Linda and Rob Nottage on ‘Wildlife of the Dolomites’. Expect photos of snow-capped peaks, flower-filled meadows, and interesting insects, as they present highlights of their recent wildlife holiday in Italy.

The next lecture on Monday 13th October is by Sally Snow: ‘The world’s largest fish: an introduction to the whale sharks of the Philippines’. She will introduce us to the whale shark, the world’s largest fish, with fascinating insights into its biology, distribution and migration in the Philippines, with a look at the potential impacts of developing whale shark tourism initiatives both in the Philippines and worldwide. This lecture centres around the work of the NGO Physalus and its Large Marine Vertebrate Project, which has been studying whale sharks in the Philippines since 2011.

The following meeting on Wednesday October 22nd will be a talk by Paul E Bowden: ‘Birds and Mammals of Southern India (Bangalore to Kochi)’. He found Southern India a great place to visit in January, with favourable weather - a little rainfall and the temperature not too hot. Also at that time of year there was very little insect activity, so no malaria tablets were needed. He covered about 1,000 km (630 miles) in a three-week journey that took in Bangalore (Karnataka), Valparai (Tamil Nadu), and Thrissur and Kochi (Kerala), visiting five Nature Reserves. He recorded a total of 181 species of birds, including 14 endemics, and captured 113 species on HD video and 83 species as stills; while also photographing leopard, tiger, Asian Elephant, mongoose, spotted deer and numerous other mammals. Tea and rubber plantations were visited, and the journey included a drive across the Western Ghats. The whole trip was done by taxi, which he suggests is the best way to travel in India. By the end of the trip, the taxi driver was well trained in bird and mammal recognition!

In contrast, the next lecture by Adrian Lloyd Jones on Monday 6th November is entitled ‘Return of the Beaver’. This will be an illustrated presentation on Eurasian Beaver (Castor fiber) and how they create and manage wetland ecosystems for the benefit of many other species. The presentation will also cover the Welsh Beaver Project and its proposal for a reintroduction of the beaver to Wales.

The meeting on Thursday 13th November is a lecture by Kate Mortimer-Jones called ‘Seabed Life around Wales’. This is a combined meeting with Cardiff Group South and West Wales Wildlife Trust and Cardiff University student Wildlife Society, and will be held in the Wallace Lecture Theatre (Ground floor), Cardiff University, Park Place, Cardiff.

The last meeting in 2014 is the XMAS BASH on Monday 15 December, with Adam and Dave’s Biodiversity Quiz. They will test your (often obscure) knowledge of the plants and animals found in South Wales and the (crazy?) people who record them.


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