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