Sunday, January 31, 2016

A Year in the LIFE of RSPB Cymru

At the 28 January 2016 meeting, Daniel Jenkins-Jones talked to members of Cardiff Nats about RSPB Cymru’s varied activities during 2015. He summarised developments on RSPB Cymru’s nature reserves, briefly outlined the organisation’s political lobbying work, noted its ‘off-reserve’ conservation work, and looked at the ‘Giving Nature a Home in Cardiff’ campaign.

The RSPB owns and manages around a dozen nature reserves in Wales, and manages a number of other sites. Daniel presented figures for breeding pairs of birds in 2015 at these sites. There was bad news, in the alarming decline seen in the UK for seabirds and other bird species, but good news in that conservation action on RSPB Cymru reserves is protecting and increasing bird populations.  

Landscape work to extend wetland areas (using machinery funded through landfill tax) at the RSPB Malltraeth Marsh nature reserve on Anglesey, for example, has increased the lapwing population, and also resulted in a pair of hen harrier nesting in the area (the last breeding pair here was seen in 1974). Ynys-hir, a wetland area on the Dyfi estuary in Ceredigion, also has breeding lapwing, and notable populations of, among others, redshank, pied flycatcher, wood warbler and Greenland white-fronted geese. At Lake Vyrnwy, the largest site managed by RSPB Cymru, habitat management is helping moorland-breeding birds such as hen harrier, black grouse and merlin (the latter species has suffered a crash in numbers in the UK).

On Ramsey Island, RSPB Cymru’s work is helping protect a number of seabirds whose numbers are generally in decline; breeding success has been recorded, for instance, for guillemot, razorbill, kittiwake, Manx shearwater, storm petrel and chough. Daniel described how eradicating rats on Ramsey Island, by employing a New Zealand company who used baited peanut butter, was a key action in reducing breeding bird mortality. At nearby Grassholm, part of the UK’s third largest gannet colony can be seen online thanks to RSPB Cymru (Google ‘gannet cam Grassholm’). The organisation does important work releasing gannets trapped by the plastic waste (mainly originating from the Marine fishing industry) that they bring back to their nests. In 2015, 50 gannets were freed (550 in total have been rescued in the last few years). With work on several other reserves noted, the scale and variety of RSPB Cymru’s conservation work during 2015 became apparent.

Political campaigning is an important part of RSPB Cymru’s work, and they have a regular presence at the Senedd - the home of the National Assembly for Wales. 2015 was an important year in this respect, with the drafting of the Environment (Wales) Bill, which will put into place legislation for planning and managing Wales’ natural resources in a more integrated and sustainable way. However, conservation organisations considered that, under the influence of Natural Resources Wales, it placed too much emphasis on business and not enough on nature; Daniel noted that the first draft did not even mention nature, though lobbying by RSPB Cymru and other NGOs has put nature into the Bill’s final wording. Last year, the RSPB was also very active in formulating and promoting the Nature and Wellbeing Act. In addition, RSPB Cymru were involved in advisory work with farmers, and around 100 case studies ranging from small-scale to large-scale projects such as the Swansea Tidal Lagoon.

Following a report that showed the low level of engagement with nature among Welsh school-age children, RSPB Cymru has been committed to more educational work. One new initiative in 2015 was the ‘Giving nature a home in Cardiff’, which involved hands-on practical visits to 90% of Cardiff’s schools. This was funded with the help of the plastic bag charge in Wales.  As part of the initiative, RSPB Cymru undertook the ‘Tape’ project in Bute Park, with the help of Arts Council Wales funding. This installation, which involved large amounts of non-sticky tape strung around trees to build a raised structure that could be entered, was visited by around 74,000 people (10,000 venturing inside). All the plastic is being recycled to make wild flower planters to put around Cardiff.

Daniel concluded his talk with a look at how people can help RSPB Cymru, through volunteering (not just habitat management, but also in administration roles). The easiest way to support the organisation’s work, however, is to join. Follow the link for further information:

Report by Stephen Nottingham

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cardiff Birdwatch

Report by Mike Dean

About 12 intrepid bird watchers met at the north end of Roath Park Lake on Sunday, January 10th 2016. Conditions were far from ideal as it was raining and very wet underfoot from the rain the night before. We first walked around the woods to the north of the lake and then around the lake itself but by the time we returned to the cars, heavy rain and hail commenced so it was decided not to move on to a second location but to return to the comfort of our homes.

However, we were able to see some notable birds, namely – a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Long Tailed Tits, Redwings together with the usual residents of the wood all to the accompaniment of a Song Thrush. On the lake we saw a Pochard, Little Grebes, Tufted Ducks together with the Mute Swans, Coots, Moorhens & Mallards.

Thanks must be given to Linda & Rob Nottage for organising the event in spite of the inclement conditions.

Friday, November 27, 2015


text and photos by Bruce McDonald

A few snippets from some recent rambles.

Beetles on a Gower beach
First Whiteford on Gower, which Cardiff Naturalists' last visited to look at beetles a few years back with Steve Bolchover. A fine day in mid-June this year and the same stretch of sand on the edge of the dunes around SS 4428/9517 was productively revealing. The key appears to be to find a larger plank of wood or branch or tree trunk that is just above the recent high-tide mark but below the dunes. Lift slowly and see what lies beneath. The black beetle, Broscus cephalotes, was found quite easily. They either stayed put or went scuttling off across the beach.

Broscus cephalotes

Not so common but also in evidence was Nebria complanata, sufficiently rare to warrant its own Species Action Plan. It feeds on sandhoppers at night and is variously referred to as the Strandline Beetle (as is Broscus cephalotes!) or Beachcomber Beetle. Have your camera ready if you find one under timber as they often burrow down into the sand.

Nebria complanata

Running around on the surface of the beach in the same area was the Dune Tiger Beetle, Cicindella hybrida, and helping to procreate the species were the two below. They can travel at speed so are not always easy to photograph but these two had other things on their minds.
Dune Tiger Beetle (Cicindella hybrid)

Galls on Gower and at Culverhouse Cross
Whilst on Gower another gall to add to the existing 'collection'. This I take to be Aulacidea hieracii described as having ovoid or elongate swelling of the stem, green at first then hard and brown. This was on several Hawkweed plants in the car park at Oxwich Bay.

Gall on Hawkweed

The Copthorne Hotel at Culverhouse Cross roundabout, Cardiff, has the usual common shrubs and trees but the Hawthorn was showing examples of the gall shown below. It has been a struggle to identify this one and any expert views would be most welcome. Photographic comparison with web images suggests Gymnosporangium as a possibility - caused by a fungus. Whereas clavariiforme is usually associated with Juniper which does not seem to apply here, this could be confusum.
Gall on Hawthorn

... and not far away some Holm Oaks, Quercus ilex, with the gall shown below. Again, information on galls affecting this oak is limited, the main reference being to Aceria ilicis. caused by a mite.

Gall on Holm Oak

The next challenge is the gall causing these swellings on the leaves of Hop Trefoil, Trifolium campestre, on which I have again drawn a blank. There is little enough on possible galls for this plant, one candidate being the mite Dasineura trifolii but the description of this refers to folding of the leaves along the mid-rib which is not that evident here. Again, any insights from readers would be helpful. 

Gall on Hop Trefoil

Orchids and Pearly Everlasting
A walk near Treorchy in late June was something of a revelation. A forestry track which starts just north of Cwmparc SS 9472 9617 by a metal barrier is worth trying because of the profusion of Southern Marsh orchids. Up to this point we had been walking through heavily sheep-grazed turf and the only plant you tend to find is Tormentil, Potentilla erecta, although it was interesting to note that Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla sp., was growing in clumps suggesting it is unpalatable even to the voracious sheep. Once into the sheep-free area the botany was a revelation. One of the usual suspects was Pearly Everlasting. The following extract is from a field trip in 1994 to Kenfig by The Wildflower Society:
'Then we came to a first record for Britain, Anaphalis margaritacea, Pearly Everlasting, which was recorded in the South Wales valleys in the seventeenth century and is now spreading over Wales.'
It is certainly quite common in the Valleys, is visible on the edge of the M4 around the Pyle turn-off and turned up on Coppet Hill near Goodrich growing under bracken. Despite its local ubiquity it is almost completely ignored by wildflower books. Wouldn't it be nice to know more about this plant?

Pearly Everlasting

A smattering of Common Spotted Orchids, Dactylorhiza fuchsii, was eclipsed by the Southern Marsh Orchids Dactylorhiza praetermissa which appeared to favour the damper runnels alongside the forestry track and stretched for a mile or more giving one of the best displays you are likely to come across in this part of the world.

Southern March Orchid

Bruce McDonald

Photos by Bruce McDonald

Friday, October 23, 2015

Lichens - short course in Wenvoe

Wenvoe Wildlife Group have organised a short course on Lichens on Saturday 14th November.

It is just two hours: from 10.30am to 12.30pm.

It will start with an indoor introduction to Lichens, before we go out to see which ones we can find in Wenvoe.

No experience necessary - this is ideal for anyone wanting to find out about these fascinating life forms.

It will be led by Barbara Brown of the Natural History Museum's OPAL project.

Anyone can come and the course is free, but places must be booked.

To book and for further details e-mail:

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hedgehog Rescue and Conservation


We had an absolutely wonderful talk last Monday on Hedgehog rescue and conservation by Erica Dixon from 

She was helped in the talk by Poppy the hedgehog who is an unfortunate victim of an accident and has been blinded though a bad head injury, but is otherwise healthy. You can see Poppy being posed for in the pictures below (of course with her injury she was not aware she was being photographed)

The work that the helpline do is wonderful and we had some facts about them and how they were born with spines, and some fascinating information on how you care for an animal that is only days old. It takes a lot of dedication !

We were all then very sad to hear just how much they were needed to be called on given how rare hedgehogs are getting.  Hedgehogs were abundant throughout Britain, with an estimated population of perhaps 30 million in the 1950s. By 1995, the population was estimated to be only about  1.5 million and declining again since then

We were shown some awful pictures of injured animals and we had a very apt reminder of the need to check bonfires before being cheered up with some pictures of success stories and happy hogs being released.

Poppy as has been said is not able to be released so she is being kept to entertain people like us on an occasional basis and spends most of her time in a nice secure garden. She was happy to be awake because with no eyes she has lost perception of the time of day.

All in all a fascinating talk and I know a number of our members exchanged information about being a release site or becoming a helper. if you want more information then take a look at their website

Monday, October 12, 2015

Zoe Melvin wins Bioscience Prize 2015

Bioscience Prize 2015

The Bioscience Prize is awarded annually by Cardiff Naturalists' Society in the memory of former member Prof Ursula Henriques, for the best 2nd-year fieldwork project in the Bioscience Department at Cardiff University. Andy Kendall presented Zoe Melvin with the 2015 award (below) at the CNS meeting on Monday 28 Sept, during which Zoe gave a talk about her project on mosquitoes in Borneo. Zoe has written an article, based on her talk, which will feature in the next CNS newsletter.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Curious Case of the Shrinking Violet

by Bruce McDonald

Vaguely familiar? You know how it is, you see something that rings a bell but you can't quite put a finger on it. In amongst the dunes between Rhossili and Broughton beaches on Gower were some low patches of a plant shown in the photo. Some individual plants, some clumps with trailing stems. Not much to go on so take a photo and consult the books. Nothing obvious in the books so have a look at the photos. A few pieces (small - just 2 millimetres) of something withered and rust-coloured. Close-up on these - just shrivelled, well, could be anything. Hang on - alongside these a flower! Tiny - I could not even see them when looking at the plants in the dunes. Quite distinctive but odd. Back to the books - nothing.

Call in the experts. A quick response from Julian Woodman - some sort of Violet. Of course; no wonder the leaves were familiar. Also a little way back along the flower stem a couple of very small bracteoles - another Viola clue. More research - possibly a hybrid? There are tables of hybrids on the Wildflowerfinder website. But nothing really fits the bill. And the odd puzzle - if they were hybrids would one not expect to see some parent plants around? Find an Oxlip (the hybrid) and you are bound to see some Primroses and Cowslips in the vicinity. But here - nothing. The only Violas were Wild Pansies and they bore few resemblances to our specimens. So, back to the dunes for some further observations.

Another observation. On one plant a seed pod - suggests viability.

A rough count. About 30 plants in an area of 20 square metres - they seem to be prospering. Another look at the stems - runners! But are they rooting?

Take a small plant and tease it out of the sand - possible rhizome?

All the plants seem to be like this - are they all connected? Short of digging up a couple of sand dunes we will not know.

Hmmm! Where now? More Google delving and then, Eureka! A website image of a flower looking very similar to ours and the magic word 'Cleistogamous'. Wikipedia is on hand to clarify - 'Cleistogamy or automatic self-pollination describes the trait of certain plants to propagate by using non-opening self-pollinating flowers. Especially well known in peanuts, peas and beans this behavior is most widespread in the grass family. However, the largest genus of cleistogamous plants is actually Viola' - voila! The opposite is Chasmogamy with open flowers, nectar and pollen but this is relatively expensive in terms of energy.

Wiki goes on to comment that Cleistogamy often occurs in unfavourable sites or adverse conditions. Heavy grazing by livestock or deer or shortage of light may bring on a bout of self-pollination. So the probability is that these violets have become Cleistogamous  because they are growing in nutrient-poor sand-dunes.

Where next? Take a specimen and grow it on in a more nutritious loam - if 'normal' violets appear that will tend to support the argument as well as helping to clarify which variety this is. Also check earlier in the year to see if they do produce conventional flowers in the dunes before reverting to Cleistogamy late Summer. 

Text and Photos by Bruce McDonald
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