Archives for May 2011

Springwatch Wales

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 09:00 UK time, Friday, 27 May 2011

I'm out walking again for Weatherman Walking currently so just wanted to remind everyone that Springwatch starts on Bank Holiday Monday at 8pm on BBC One.

I've added a few key species that I've heard from the team will be featured this year so have a look if you have time.

The fantastic 700 hectare Ynys-Hir nature reserve is set in a stunning location at the top of the Dyfi Estuary, flanked by the Cambrian Mountains.

The reserve is a true wildlife haven, offering a huge variety of different habitats for us to explore - Welsh oak woodland, wet grassland and salt marsh, reed beds, heathland, rivers and ponds.

From the wet meadows to the mountain tops, the reserve is absolutely bursting with wildlife. As well as managing all these habitats for a diversity of wildlife, the RSPB actively works to conserve a number of priority species, including breeding lapwings, redshanks, reed buntings, skylarks, curlews, Greenland white-fronted and barnacle geese, brown hares and otters.

For the first time, Springwatch are planning to broadcast live pictures from a heronry of nesting grey herons and little egrets.

In the woods, they're hoping to feature some of our most spectacular returning migrants, like redstarts and pied flycatchers, alongside resident song thrushes and blackbirds as well as some Springwatch firsts, like wood warblers, nuthatches and maybe even elusive bullfinches.

They will also be looking out for greater and lesser spotted woodpeckers, birds of prey like ospreys, hen harriers, merlins and goshawks and of course red kites - so they have cameras on them too.

The team also be staking out the rivers, waterfalls and freshwater ponds in and around Ynys-hir, hoping to follow dippers, kingfishers, sedge, reed and grasshopper warblers and the occasional bearded tit.

The bankside cameras will be poised and ready for river inhabitants like otters and grebes. But it's not just birds and mammals that the camera teams will be tracking down - Ynys Hir is home to 19 species of dragonfly, 26 species of butterflies and over 400 species of moths as well as reptiles like grass snakes.

Whatever happens, Chris, Kate and Martin will be keeping an eye on daily developments and bringing you all the day's news over the three week event.

For week two, wildlife expert Iolo Willams will be live from Skomer Island off the western tip of Pembrokeshire - home to thousands of sea birds, the Skomer vole - found no where else on Earth, one of Britain's most spectacular floral displays and rich marine life.

Designated as one of only three of Britain's marine nature reserves, it is unique, truly stunning, and beautifully magical.

Springwatch camera teams have been on the island since early April as the first puffins, razorbills and guillemots arrived back from their long winter at sea so expect some great footage.

Iolo will also go under the waves to reveal the rare sea fans, corals and inquisitive grey seals in Skomer's underwater world, as well as the sand eels that feed and power much of the breeding action back on shore.

The team will attempt to film the Skomer vole, find out why bluebells flourish on an island with no woods, calculate how many sand eels puffins can gobble down in a season and discover what manx shearwaters get up to at night!

North to South

Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 11:15 UK time, Monday, 23 May 2011

Derek, the crew and I were recently up in north Wales filming for the new series of Weatherman Walking.

These were the first two walks we've done so far - one on Holyhead and the other at Penmaen Mawr near Conwy.

The weather although windy at times was perfect for filming with blue skies and sunshine for much of it and only wet for our final morning of filming on Friday.

On Holyhead we teamed up with local coastal path officer - Rosie Frankland, who took us on a circular walk which began at the Breakwater Country Park, taking in North Stack, Holy Head Mountain and South Stack.

Rosie and Derek en route to Holyhead Mountain with South Stack in the background.

Rosie and Derek en route to Holyhead Mountain with South Stack in the background.

Between 1850-1856 there were 11 quarrying sites at the Breakwater Quarries and stone from here (7 million tonnes to be precise) was used to build the famous Holyhead Breakwater here in 1875 - the largest in Europe, so one to remember for your pub quiz.

We left the quarry and followed a rough, uneven stone track which hugs the coast here, moving in and out of the wind with every turn. I was constantly taking my jumper on and off as I was either too hot or too cold depending on where we stopped to film.

Derek kept accidentally referring to Holyhead as 'Hollywood' during one filming scene which had us all in stitches and is definitely worthy of an appearance on 'Aunties Bloomers' at some point.

After a scramble around the coast we caught our first glimpse of North Stack in the distance with it's strange tidal currents and rugged backdrop.

The views from North stack were absolutely staggering, surrounded by steep sea cliffs and waves with seals and porpoises below, sea birds above and rock climbers somewhere in between!

Local artist, Phillippa Jacobs lives and paints at the old Coastguard foghorn building situated right on top of North Stack and has a hair-raising 4x4 track to negotiate whenever she needs supplies from town.

Rosie, Derek and Phillippa on a blustery North Stack.

Rosie, Derek and Phillippa on a blustery North Stack.

Phillippa was also kind enough to invite us into her amazing house and laid on some much needed tea and cake and it was hard to leave and continue the walk after a slice of her Victoria sponge.

Sat in her lounge with views over nearby South Stack, you could see why an artist would want to live here as the views and light constantly change as each weather front passes through but I can only imagine the scene when a severe storm hits the stack.

A local resident grey seal, pops up to pose for my camera.

A local resident, pops up to pose for some photos.

From North Stack, we made our way inland heading up a steep incline towards Holyhead Mountain and the Iron Age hillfort of Caer Y Twr, with 360 degree views over Holyhead and the Snowdonia mountain range in the distance.

Along the way we bumped into a local group of ladies from nearby RAF Valley and had a quick chat with one of them who'd just completed a charity walk but you'll hopefully see more of that in the programme.

The wind was gale force on the top but well worth the effort - at the top someone had inscribed into a rock the words - "You out of breath yet?" which made me laugh as we were all panting by that point, especially the crew lugging tripods and cameras up there.

Views of Holyhead breakwater and the cruise ship.

Views of Holyhead breakwater and the cruise ship.

From the summit we could see a giant cruise ship down below which had docked at the harbour to unload American tourists for the day.

It was a bizarre sight as it was the kind of giant cruise ship you normally associate with exotic, Caribbean islands rather than Holyhead but I expect local businesses were pleased.

From the top we wandered down through a rock strewn landscape (which reminded me of Crete or Greece) and made our way towards South Stack and its famous Ellin's Tower - a Victorian folly, built as a summer house by the Lord Lieutenant of Anglesey for his wife, Ellin Williams in 1868.

Along the way we picked up head RSPB warden, Dave Bateson who gave us an insight into the habitat, local wild flowers and sea birds found along this stretch of the coast.

Dave, Derek and Rosie arrive at Ellin's Tower.

Dave, Derek and Rosie arrive at Ellin's Tower.

Ellin's Tower is so accessible that it's well worth a visit as you can literally park your car and only need to walk 100 yards to see guillemots, puffins, choughs, razorbills and more.

The staff on hand have scopes for you to use and a swanky remote controlled video camera to pin point those elusive puffins, so a big thank you to Kathy, Mark and everyone else who work the cameras there.

You can also get up close and personal to the chough nest tucked under the cliff - thanks to a video camera which streams live footage onto a giant plasma screen inside the tower.

The choughs also put in appearance whilst we filmed, so there could be some nice footage when the programme airs in 2012.

Sunlight over South Stack.

Late afternoon sunlight pouring through the clouds onto South Stack.

The sunlight was sensational as we descended down towards South Stack but time was against us and filming always takes longer than expected - particularly when there is so much to see in such a short space of time.

It was time to bid farewell to Rosie, our guide and head back to the hotel for a bite to eat before another early start and new location - Penmaen Mawr near Conwy for a linear walk to the village of Rowen.


No heat wave for Wales

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Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 16:25 UK time, Monday, 16 May 2011

You may have read that there's a heat wave on the way. It looks like the continent will be getting hot this weekend and into next week but here in Wales, a heat wave is very unlikely. The signs are however that it will get a little warmer over the weekend.

For the next few days, 'changeable' sums it up - with a little rain and drizzle at times. Most of the rain will be in the north west on Wednesday with Thursday being the sunniest day of the week.

Daytime temperatures will be around average, 15 Celsius, with west to south-westerly winds and cooler on the coast, nearer 13 Celsius, with a breeze off the sea.

You won't see me on the TV for the rest of the week as I'm off filming for a new series of Weatherman Walking. Gull is also coming along to take photos for the website, record GPS data for the walking maps we now do and write up the walks.

For the first batch of walks we're heading up to South Stack Lighthouse on Anglesey and Penmaenmawr near Conwy.

It looks like the waterproof jacket will come in handy with some rain on Wednesday morning but it should clear-up with some nice views for the camera man.


Skinny dippers wanted

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 11:46 UK time, Monday, 16 May 2011

To take part in a world record attempt at Rhossili Beach, Gower.

Wannabe record breakers (over 18's only) are being invited to take the plunge and strip off for charity as well as breaking the world skinny dipping record on a National Trust beach.

The midsummer skinny dip will take place at 7am on Sunday, 19 June on Rhossili beach on the Gower peninsula with brave bathers baring all as they dive into the waves.

The existing record, listed in the Guinness Book of Records, stands at 250 naked bathers and organiser Alison Powell is hoping for 300.

"There will be a 'warm up' to build enthusiasm and then a countdown before everyone strips and runs into the water" said Alison.

"What I'm hoping is that we will form a line and run into the sea together. The bathers have to be in up to their waists for 10 minutes to break the record."

Alison had the idea after inviting friends out for a skinny dip in November. Nobody took her up on the offer because of the cold but they were enthusiastic about a summer dip.

She chose Rhossili for the record-breaking swim because it is long and reasonably hidden, sparing the blushes of passers-by.

"It's also such a beautiful beach, she said. I know we will have lots of fun and this will be a once-in-a-lifetime event for most people taking part."

Fundraising from the event is set to benefit both the National Trust and Marie Curie and Alison has asked interested dippers not to be shy about taking part.

"We've had lots and lots of people pledging to take part through our Facebook group", said Alison, 35, an online publishing editor.

"We have raised £600 already from donations but it's crucial we sign up more than 250 before the day so that we know we will break the record."

Summer weather predictions

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Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 14:36 UK time, Friday, 13 May 2011

Rainfall was well below average in March and April - across Wales only 61mm fell, (2.5 inches). The average is 205mm (8 inches) making it the third driest on record.

By the end of April, river flows in several rivers including the Wye and Tawe were similar to, or even below, those seen during the 1976 drought.

In Wales, April was the hottest on record but for central England it was provisionally the warmest April for more than 350 years.

Despite some welcome rain this month, we could do with more to top up the rivers and streams and also replenish ground water levels.

People are already asking me what this summer is going to be like. I think it's likely to be an average summer but there are many examples of dry and warm weather in March and April followed by disappointing summers.

April 2007 was one of the driest Aprils on record in Wales but the month was followed by one the wettest summers on record.

The latest forecast for Europe from America is suggesting above average rainfall for Wales in August with average temperatures throughout the whole summer - June, July and August.

We shall have to wait and see but Terry Marsh from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology said:

"Historical rainfall figures indicate a tendency for dry spring periods to be followed by above-average summer rainfall. However, with evaporation rates increasing, even average summer rainfall would imply very low, late summer river flows."

This weekend will bring a few showers with some rain expected on Sunday afternoon. I can promise some dry weather and sunshine as well, however, it will remain on the cool side with west to north-westerly winds.

The Vale of Glamorgan Walking Festival starts today and continues over the weekend so pack a fleece and some waterproofs just in case, as there is a risk of showers.


Moulin rouge

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 10:49 UK time, Friday, 13 May 2011

The lesser redpoll (Carduelis cabaret) is a small, brown streaked finch with a distinctive red forehead, small black bib and, in breeding males - bright red chests.

In 2001, the species was split into two groups - giving us the lesser redpoll and mealy redpoll which are a larger, paler species with greyer plumage and head.

This website has very useful page with photos of both birds, explaining how to distinguish between the two species.

Dave Hill recently spotted this one at the Rhydymwyn Reserve and tempted it out with some Nyger seeds when he restocked a bird feeder. They are sociable little birds though and often found in small flocks on the ground and in trees.

Lesser redpoll by Dave Hill

A Lesser redpoll by Dave Hill

Here in the UK these birds are in decline and on the red list which is probably why I've never see one...

They tend to winter in the south where it's warmer but could turn up anywhere these days as our climate becomes milder.

This one photographed by Jeff Cohen in the same reserve in January shows what they look like in full breeding plumage - with a bright red chest and crown.

Lesser redpoll in full plumage by Jeff Cohen.

Lesser redpoll in full plumage by Jeff Cohen.

The butterfly effect

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 14:06 UK time, Thursday, 12 May 2011

We've had some good weather for butterflies recently which has been reflected by the number of stunning photos we've had submitted to our nature Flickr group.

In some cases butterfly numbers are directly affected by the type of weather we have. More traditional, seasonal weather i.e. colder winters and warmer summers rather than just wet and mild winters will suit certain species.

The rare heath fritillary butterfly is one such species benefiting from the recent weather changes - with a cold and snowy winter and initially warm and mild start to the summer.

If you're not a member of our Flickr group yet - then give it a go. It's free and a simple way of sharing your Welsh nature pics with everyone else.

Here's a slideshow of our latest butterfly photos on Flickr.


Butterfly news from the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales.

South Wales branch of Butterfly Conservation - newsletter

North Wales branch of Butterfly Conservation.

Butterflies & moths on BBC Wildlife Finder

Osprey chicks hatch

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 10:10 UK time, Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The earliest osprey chick in the UK has recently hatched at Glaslyn, near Porthmadog in North West Wales and a second chick hatched at 3:15am today!

If you have a Facebook account you can log in and watch a video of the chick hatching.

The birds laid three eggs in total and have been busy lately - carrying fresh bedding into the nest in preparation for the new arivals.

Fairly regular updates can be found in the RSPB Osprey diary and you can also watch the BBC Local osprey webcam we have in place there.

Lightning strikes

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Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 15:27 UK time, Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Parts of Wales were hit by heavy thunderstorms yesterday including Merthyr Tydfil where a young girl was hit by lightning. Erin Moran had a lucky escape but the chances of being struck by lightning are very low, about 1 in a half a million.

Some thunder and lightning facts:

  • An estimated two thousand thunderstorms are going on in the world at any one time.
  • About 30 to 60 people are struck by lightning each year in Britain
  • The diameter of a lightning bolt is about a half-inch to an inch wide, but can be up to five inches wide.
  • The average length of a lightning bolt from a cloud to the ground is three to four miles long.
  • Lightning can occur not only in thunderstorms, but also in snow storms, sand storms, above erupting volcanoes and from nuclear explosions.
  • A bolt of lightning can travel at up to 136,000mph and reach temperatures of 30,000 Celsius - hotter than the surface of the Sun!
  • The sound of thunder is made by lightning heating the air around it. The air expands very rapidly and causes sound waves.
  • What we see as a single flash of lightning may actually be three or four different strokes in exactly the same place, one right after another - that's why lightning seems to flicker.
  • If you count the gap between the lighting and thunder, you can tell how far away the storm is. For every kilometre count 3 seconds, for every mile count 5 seconds. So if you count 15 seconds, the storm is 5 km or 3 miles away from where you are.
  • There are many different types of lightning including sheet, fork, ribbon, bead and ball lightning.

Thunderstorms can happen at any time of year but they are most common during the summer months when there is more heat in the atmosphere.

Thunderstorms in this country can form in three ways - they can be home grown, imported from Spain or France or brought to us by a cold front or trough.

Yesterday had all the right ingredients for thunderstorms i.e very unstable air, moisture and wind shear, producing large, towering, cumulonimbus clouds.

John Goodger who runs a weather station at Velindre near Glasbury recorded almost an inch of rain, 24mm, in a few hours - the wettest day there since 2 October last year!

I think we've seen the worst of the thunderstorms in Wales for a while but showers over the next few days could be heavy in places with a risk of hail and thunder.

Sadly there's no sign of the warm and settled weather we had earlier this month, returning. It will turn cooler this week as the wind shifts more into the north west and ground frosts are still possible in rural parts of the country this weekend.


Rainbow over Llanberis

Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 12:11 UK time, Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Rainbow over Llanberis by Brian Wakeham

A rainbow over Llanberis yesterday by Brian Wakeham.

Much needed rain

Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 16:50 UK time, Monday, 9 May 2011

We had some much needed rain over the weekend. At RAF Valley 35mm (almost 1.5 inches) of rain fell in 48 hours - more rain than throughout the whole of April!

There's been some more heavy downpours today with gusty winds, hail and thunder but not everywhere was wet as the Pembrokeshire coast became bright and sunny.

The outlook for the rest of this week is mixed with low pressure bringing a risk of further showers but who gets the showers will vary from day to day.

Temperatures around average 14 to 17 Celsius but turning cooler later in the week and I wouldn't rule out some ground frost in some rural spots next weekend. 


Springwatch moves to Wales

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 14:45 UK time, Monday, 9 May 2011

After three years at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve in Norfolk, Springwatch is moving its base and coming to Wales. The team will be based at the fascinating RSPB Ynys-hir nature reserve, set in a stunning location at the top of the Dyfi Estuary with the Cambrian Mountains as a backdrop.

This year the team are hoping to film herons nesting as well as little egrets which visit the reserve in large numbers. Other birds on the list include great and lesser spotted woodpeckers, birds of prey like hen harriers, ospreys, goshawks and red kites.

There will also be otters, dragonflies, butterflies, reptiles and a variety of habitats to look at, ranging from marshland to classic Welsh oak woodlands and streams.

There's a new couch on order and an old barn is being transformed into the new TV studio. The crew have been busy laying over 40 miles of fibre optic cables, ready to capture all the action on more than 50 mini cameras.

This shed will be transformed into the new studio

This shed will be magically transformed into the new Springwatch studio!

Keep an eye out on Skomer Island for Wales' very own Iolo Williams who will be based on the island for a week and sending back regular reports. Puffin season is well under way so we should see some nice shots of these colourful auks.

Keep a eye out for the Skomer vole and short eared owls too and I wouldn't be too surprised if Iolo donned his wetsuit and explored some of the marine reserve too. You can get a taster of what is down there in our Skomer marine nature reserve gallery.

Springwatch starts on Bank Holiday Monday, 30 May at 8pm on BBC Two.

Springwatch blog

Dyfi Osprey Project

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 10:12 UK time, Monday, 9 May 2011

For the first time in over 400 years, ospreys are breeding in the Dyfi valley!

After many close calls during the last two years, the male osprey known as 'Monty' has finally managed to attract a female - no mean feat in this day and age!

The female osprey nicknamed 'Nora' has a ring on her right leg and apparently is a 2008 bird from Rutland Water Nature Reserve.

After 16 days of frantic courtship behaviour the pair laid their first ever egg on Easter Monday. The second came three days later on 28 April with a third and final egg appearing on 1 May.

Nora sitting on her three eggs. Image courtesy of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust.

'Nora' sitting on her three eggs. Image courtesy of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust.

If you'd like to see the osprey for yourselves then pop along to the Cors Dyfi Reserve, which is open daily from 10am-6pm. You can watch the birds on plasma screens in the visitor centre which show footage from the nest or view them with scopes from a bird hide.

RSPB - Osprey

BBC Wildlife Finder - Osprey

Weekend weather

Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 14:40 UK time, Friday, 6 May 2011

Yesterday brought a welcome drop of rain and there's more heavy rain and showers to come over the weekend with some heavy downpours likely and a risk of thunderstorms.

It won't be a total washout though, as I can also promise some dry weather and with a bit of luck, most of the rain will come overnight.

Saturday will be the warmest day but it will be breezy with a moderate to fresh south to south-easterly wind. Top temperatures between 18 and 22 Celsius, 64 to 72 Fahrenheit.

The best of the sunshine will be on Sunday after a wet start and it will turn cooler and fresher with a south to south-westerly wind.

Cnicht (the Welsh Matterhorn) by Rob Davies

"Cnicht (the Welsh Matterhorn) taken today just before the rain started. If I remember correctly the weather was rather changeable when you walked in the area." Rob Davies, Llanrwst.

The wind will be strong on exposed coasts in the west with 40mph gusts on the Pembrokeshire coast, Anglesey and the Llyn Peninsula. Highs between 15 and 20 Celsius.

So, it's changeable weather this weekend with some useful rain for gardens and allotments.

The rain will also help top up the streams and rivers but if you're lucky, you may be able to squeeze in a picnic in between the downpours.

A couple of events happening this weekend:

The Bala Challenge Charity Walk is on Saturday 7 May to raise funds for the Air Ambulance, Mountain Rescue Service and good local causes. It will be warm with a southeasterly breeze. Expect a little hazy sunshine with a 60% chance of a shower or thunderstorm with highs around 19 or 20 Celsius.

The 24th Annual Trap Fun Run will be held at 11am on Sunday 8 May at Trap near Llandeilo and rugby legend Shane Williams will be there to start the race. Early rain will clear to sunshine and scattered showers. It will be breezy with a high of 17 Celsius.

Stinking Jenny

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 10:43 UK time, Friday, 6 May 2011

If you've been for a walk in the woods lately, you'll no doubt have noticed the amazing waft of wild garlic in the air.

The smell always reminds me of my childhood - running amok in the woods of Pembrokeshire; building dens, climbing trees and having mud fights with my friends, completely unaware of what we were running through.

These days however people are catching on to its culinary uses and you'll often find it on the menu in swanky restaurants where it's also known as 'ramsons'.

Unlike common cultivated garlic, it's the leaves that are eaten rather than the bulbs. The taste is more delicate too and fantastic when lightly sauteed.

Wild garlic in the woods by Gale Foley.

Wild garlic flowering in the woods by Gale.

In the UK, wild garlic has many peculiar names including - 'bear's garlic', 'devil's garlic', 'gypsy's onions' and 'stinking Jenny'.

If you fancy trying some, it's best picked in April or May before the flowers appear but don't worry too much if it's already flowering - you'll just lose some of the flavour.

The shape of the leaves are similar to some inedible plants, so make sure you correctly identify them by crushing some of the leaves in your hand. The tell-tale smell of garlic should ensure you pick the right leaves and not the bluebells!

The leaves can be eaten raw or lightly cooked but give them a good wash first. Wild garlic can be stirred into risottos or omelettes, added to soups and sauces or spread onto toast so give it a go.

Just remember to leave the bulbs in place as you only need a few of the leaves for cooking.

Guardian piece on wild foraging for wild garlic

Some BBC Food recipes featuring wild garlic for you to try.


Brecon Beacons burn

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 12:23 UK time, Thursday, 5 May 2011

Grass fires burning in the Brecon Beacons National Park are described as the worst seen in 30 years.

Park managers said they could not have come at a worst time, affecting nesting birds and wildlife.

Meanwhile, a number of new fires broke out overnight, including four hectares of land at Llwynypia in Rhondda Valley.

Brecon Beacons gorse fires


Around 35 firefighters are dealing with a gorse fire at Moel y Gest, near Morfa Bychan, Porthmadog, Gwynedd stretching across a quarter of mile.

Firefighters in Wales say they hope to see prosecutions after tackling about 300 grass and gorse fires since 1 May, many started deliberately.

Brecon Beacons gorse fires


"Burning at this time of year is particularly damaging," said Brecon Beacons National Park area manager Judith Harvey.

"Not only have we lost the vegetation but we have lost a wealth of bird nests."

Brecon Beacons gorse fires


For three days, nearly 2,000 acres of upland common and peat bog has been burning in a "catastrophic fire" in the Brecon Beacons between Trapp, Brynamman and Llandeilo.

"We're all really very upset to see this and on such a scale as well," said Mrs Harvey, referring to the fire in the Brecon Beacons. I would say it is the worst in 20 years if not 30 years - it's really bad."

Brecon Beacons on BBC Nature

A snake in the grass

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 09:27 UK time, Thursday, 5 May 2011

Budding wildlife photographer Pete Struthers from Bridgend has been in touch with this amazing shot of a grass snake he took a few weeks ago in the Montgomery Canal near Welshpool.

Grass snake by Pete Struthers from Bridgend.

Grass snake by Pete Struthers from Bridgend

Rain on the way

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Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 16:05 UK time, Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Based on the latest figures from the Met Office it looks like last month in Wales was the driest and sunniest April since 2007.

It was also the warmest April on record (records go back to 1910) with a mean temperature of 10.9 Celsius, which is 3.7 degrees above the long term average.

There was also plenty of sunshine last month, around 211 hours which is 140% of the long term average.

River Usk near Brecon by Laura Williams.

River Usk near Brecon by Laura Williams.

There was only 28.3mm rainfall across Wales (just over an inch) which is about a third of the long term average although some places had less than this - Monmouthshire had just 8.1mm.

River flows across much of Wales are very low for this time of year with rivers in south east Wales being the worst affected. The rivers Wye, Usk and Taff have experienced some of their lowest recorded April flows for over 40 years.

May has got off to a dry start this year but there is a change on the way and the dry spell is on its last legs. The next few days will be warmer with the wind turning more into the south but more unsettled.

Met Office chart for Thursday 5 May at 12 Noon.

Met Office chart for Thursday 5 May at 12 Noon.

Low pressure in the Atlantic looks set to bring us some rain and thundery showers. Not everyone will be pleased but it's good news for the gardeners and farmers.


Dousing the flames

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Derek Brockway Derek Brockway | 15:04 UK time, Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Most of Wales enjoyed a fine Bank Holiday weekend but the combination of a brisk and gusty easterly wind, and very dry conditions unfortunately led to more grass and forest fires.

Retired firefighter, Gerwyn Gibbs took this amazing photo of a forest fire from his garden in Mountain Ash yesterday.

Retired firefighter, Gerwyn Gibbs took this amazing photo of a forest fire from his garden in Mountain Ash yesterday.

The ground is now parched and some people are crying out for rain including a colleague who has recently sown a new lawn!

Retired firefighter, Gerwyn Gibbs took this amazing photo of a helicopter dousing the fire near Mountain Ash with water yesterday.

Retired firefighter, Gerwyn Gibbs took this amazing photo of a helicopter dousing the fire near Mountain Ash with water yesterday.

In Radnorshire in Powys, only 32mm of rain fell in March and April. Well below the average of 172mm (nearly 7 inches).

While Neville Dunn from Mold in Flintshire has recorded even less, only 7mm of rainfall in the past two months, making it the driest spell since he started taking rainfall records in 1983.

The last time he recorded any 'measureable' rain was on 11 April 2011, making it the longest drought he has known since 1989.

The reason for the current dry spell of weather is high pressure to the north and east of Britain. It's called an Omega block, a bit like we had last November and December 2010.

Forecasting exactly when the block will break down can be difficult. At the moment, it looks like the high will give way later this week allowing low pressure in the Atlantic to move closer towards Britain.

This means cloudier conditions over the next few days but with the wind turning more into the south temperatures will rise by a few degrees. However, there is still a risk of ground frost tonight, mainly in rural parts of mid, north and east Wales.

The odd shower is likely on Thursday and Friday but we may have to wait until the weekend before we see any useful rain.

Even then the rain may be thundery in nature so some places may end up with a soaking, while others get very little rain.


Squelching around Kenfig

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 11:44 UK time, Tuesday, 3 May 2011

I hope you're all still enjoying the sunshine and aren't finding it too hard being back in work...

I've had a great eleven days off and the weather has been outstanding in South and West Wales and we even had some surf thrown in over the Easter bank holiday. Other than that I've been keeping myself busy in the garden.

I recently undertook a mammoth 'ground force' style makeover of my back garden and as a result have been tied to my hose pipe everyday - giving the new turf a good drink each night.

It's amazing how quickly grass takes root and grows especially in sunny weather but we're in need of a good downpour now and it looks like we might have some rain later this week.

So, one evening last week (having completed my gardening duties) I decided to explore my local reserve - Kenfig Nature Reserve. I often wander through it on my way to the beach but rarely take time to visit the rest of the 70 acre site, so I grabbed my binoculars, put on an old pair of trainers and headed off.

Old trainers and a pair of shorts was my first mistake. The first leg of the reserve is boardwalk and there's a great little bird hide on the edge of the lake but as you walk further in, you quickly encounter marshy areas and bog - ideal habitat for swarms of hungry mosquitoes and midges.

Wearing shorts, I was an easy target and try as I might to avoid the swarms, they still managed to have their feed. After a quick detour through a wooded area (gnat dodging), I came out onto the dunes skirting the large pool here and caught my first glimpse of a reed bunting perched high in a nearby tree.

The next section was squelchy under foot. I could see glimpses of water but dry land either side, so took a run up and jumped across onto what I thought was solid wasn't and my old trainers quickly sank into the quagmire.

On the plus side, I landed near a rather unusual pale, looking spider on the reeds which turned out to be a grass spider. I don't think I've ever seen one before and have a photo of it which I'll post up tomorrow.

As I trudged on, access to the lake became a problem as impenetrable overgrown wooded areas, reeds and brambles blocked my path but the birds kept coming.

I decided to sit still for 20 minutes (remembering my training!) and see what flew my way. In a low lying marshy area I spotted something moving, so trained my binoculars towards the bright green iris jungle below me.

There in amongst the yellow flowers sat a lone female gadwall. I'm not sure if she was nesting or just having a nap but she remained almost motionless - aware of me watching her but completely unperturbed. Not unlike a female mallard but larger with a prettier plumage and more exotic looking bill.

A singing whitethroat at Kenfig Reserve by Mike McCarthy in April 2011.

A singing whitethroat at Kenfig Reserve by Mike McCarthy in April 2011.

I then heard a bird call I was unfamiliar with. I'm quite good at the more common species but this shy little bird was definitely playing mind games with me, as it skulked about in the trees about six feet away. Try as I might, I just couldn't catch a proper glimpse of it, so eventually gave up as the mosquitoes were getting hungrier.

As I walked away it began to follow me, making a low almost 'duck like' sound but always staying out of sight. Eventually it ran out of cover and darted across open ground to another bush which is when I finally got to ID it as a whitethroat!

A female wheatear was also close by and skylarks flitted up into the air. I was hoping to see some owls out hunting in the early evening light but was rewarded instead by a kestrel hovering overhead and an amazing carpet of orchids below, in one of the few open areas in the reserve.

A field of orchids

A field of orchids

Whilst crouching down trying to get a nice shot of the orchids I noticed an aerial battle taking place to my right. One was undoubtedly a crow but I was surprised to see the other bird was a lapwing.

Aerial combat went on for a good 20 minutes with the lapwing soaring high up into the sky before plummeting down like a bird of prey, straight into the crow, which seemed fearless.

There must have been a nest with either eggs or chicks in the vicinity as the lapwing was determined to see off this would be predator at all costs. Eventually the crow lost interest and gingerly flapped its way off in an alternative direction.

Walking back to the car park, I encountered a variety of warblers in the reed beds but again, found them difficult to spot and ID. The only two obvious ones (to me) were chiffchaff and a family of sedge warblers which were busily feeding and making a racket.

I also saw a perching cormorant, swans, coots, swallows, various tits and gulls, a mistle thrush and plenty of common garden bird species - and all in the space of an hour and a half. Amazing really, when you consider how close it is to suburbia and the nearby steel industry of Port Talbot.

I didn't manage to walk around the whole lake, uncover the old buried castle keep of Kenfig or spot the rare fen orchid which grows here but will definitely keep trying and might ask a warden for some pointers next time.

I did however come away feeling incredibly relaxed and can definitely recommend a quiet walk, somewhere wild on your own to recharge the batteries.


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