Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Biosciences Prize 2017

Last night (27 March), Eve Treadaway was presented with the Biosciences Prize for 2017, awarded in memory of Prof Ursula Henriques and Dr Mary Gillham, at the last indoor meeting of the CNS winter season.

Eve flew back from Copenhagen where she is currently an Erasmus scholar, to talk to the Society about “Project Noise” - her Cardiff University Biosciences Department student project conducted at the Danau Girang Field Centre in Sabah, Borneo. See the previous post for more about the project, which concerns rainforest bioacoustics.

The evening was completed with a talk by Andy Kendall on the volcanic landscapes and wildlife above and below ground in Lanzarote.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Bioscience Prize winner 2017

We congratulate Eve Treadaway for winning this year's Biosciences Prize. This is our annual student bursary, awarded in memory of past member Ursula Henriques, for the best second-year fieldwork project in the Biosciences faculty at Cardiff University.

She will receive the award at the Cardiff Naturalists' Society meeting on Monday 27 March, when she will also give a presentation of her work entitled "The biological and environmental factors that govern the ‘soundtrack’ of the secondary lowland tropical rainforest surrounding Danau Girang Field Centre", or, for short, 'Project Noise'.

Eve Treadaway writes: 

Project Noise set out to develop a new approach to rainforest bioacoustics, using the extensively described botanic plots of Danau Girang Field Centre, Sabah, Borneo as recording sites. Instead of training bioacoustic work on a particular species or taxonomic group, as is standard practice, this project attempted to record and analyse the bioacoustic product of the ecosystem as a whole, termed here ‘ambient rainforest sound’ (ARS). 

There are numerous interrelated factors that, summed together, result in observed ARS. These can be broadly divided into two groups; biological (i.e. the animal species present at a site) and environmental (i.e. weather, botanic diversity*, time). The aim was to investigate potential relationships both between factors of different groups and of factors within the same group. 

Project Noise was a small first step on the road toward assessing rainforest ecosystem biodiversity and functioning, simply by ‘listening’ to the sound produced. The findings were promising, and more extensive application of the methods employed would enable more powerful statistical analysis and preliminary algorithm design (estimating functioning/biodiversity from acoustic data).

I look forward to sharing Project Noise with the Cardiff Naturalists Society on the 27th of March 2017.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Members Evening 2017

We had a fascinating evening of talks last night 

Al Reeve started the evening talking on the Dr Mary Gillham Archive Project which sEWBREC are running on behalf of all of us who knew Mary

After an introduction to Mary and her career he gave us a full update on where the project has got to working through the approximately 150,000 records that she captured during her life.

he outlined the work as

  • 150000 wildlife records to mine out of 20 boxes of assorted papers,
  • 14000 slides to digitise (and recover records from),
  • 2 unpublished manuscripts to make available digitally,
  • an oral record of Mary’s life to create,
  • a website, social media presence and blog to create,
  • plus biodiversity events, school/community group visits and led walks to organise and run…

As part of the talk and very much after the talk we were able to share our memories of Mary with Al and Pat and they explained how they want to meet with us again and capture this on tape for use in the archive

Further details can be found in a plethora of online services


Paul Bowden went next with some excellent pictures of the Birds he had spotted during a trip to California and Arizona. Clearly these are excellent places to visit and Paul has I am sure inspired a few holiday ideas

Eirian Edwards came next with an intriguing talk entitled "Mainly Orchids" where she showed us the range of Orchids that she has been able to see at home in Wales, in the wider UK and around the world. As the title suggested that wasn't all of it as we were treated to a selection of other plants and animals from the places she explored, especially her favourite place Kenfig Burrows

I brought up the rear with a rapid run through some of the places I have been visiting with work over the last few years. On some of those trips I found a brief time to take a walk and see some wildlife like the wonderful Koishikawa Korakuen which is a beautiful landscape garden from the early Edo Period in Tokyo.

Surrounded by buildings such as the Tokyo Dome in the background, it is a real haven

The Moon Bridge

A few other things to note .. the cafe is now open at the university before the meetings take place and we would very much recommend to people that coming early and sharing a coffee etc and having a chat with your friends is a great way to enhance the evening meetings,

It is possible that the sEWBREC team will make use of these times to record some of your memories of Mary Gillham they will let us know

The other speaker for the night that the Cardiff Naturalists Bioscience Prize which we give in honour of Dr Mary Gillham and Professor Ursula Henriques will be myself giving a talk about exploring Lanzarote both above and underground. For those who know me there will be a lot of pictures to hopefully enjoy. The programme is updated with that information

Andy Kendall

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Cardiff Birdwatch 2017

Richard Cowie
The traditional New Year Cardiff Birdwatch took place on 8th January this year.  It got off to a great start compared to last year: for one thing it wasn’t pouring with rain, and for another Rob and Linda had chosen to start in Cardiff Bay which was full of interesting birds. 

Twenty three members of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society and Cardiff Wildlife Trust Group set out from Channel View Leisure Centre and immediately had great views of three male and two female goosander, some of which were out of the water resting on a concrete plinth. 

We walked anti-clockwise round the bay heading towards Penarth Marina.  We picked up a few common passerines such as blue tit, great tit, robin and blackbird on the vegetation beside the barrage or in the trees of surrounding gardens.  Under the Taff Viaduct we found little grebe and displaying great-crested grebes, as well as some of the commoner gulls. 

Our final destination on this part of the walk was the bay by Prospect Place, and here we found some of the more notable ducks such as a long-tailed duck, and seven scaup, alongside a flock of c50 tufted duck.  The long-tailed duck was very confiding and everyone got good views.  It appeared to be an immature male, beginning to moult into adult plumage. 

After spending quite some time admiring the ducks we began heading back towards the Leisure Centre, when a couple walking in the other direction stopped us with a message from David Rich who had gone on ahead.  He had picked up a glaucous gull in the middle of the bay.  We hurried to join him and again got good views of a 1st winter juvenile swimming around with assorted herring gulls and lesser black-backs.  It was a large gull with an impressive two-tone bill with a black tip, and no dark markings on either the wings or tail. 

After spending 30 mins watching the gull, we ambled back to the Leisure Centre, very pleased with a good morning’s birding.  At this stage some of the group departed, but the rest of us had lunch in the car park, then had a vote on where to go next.  The two options were to go to Penarth Marina to look for black redstarts, or to head round to the Cardiff Bay Wetland where a bittern had been seen. 

The wetland won the referendum, so we headed round to the board walk, stopping to look at the inlets around Hamadryas Park.  We picked up a few more species on the way such as goldfinch, chaffinch and mistle thrush but there was nothing much in the inlets.  The wetland board walk was more interesting with a large flock of tufted duck and coots, within which there were scattered a few pochard and grebes. 

We also got further good views of the glaucous gull and heard a water rail.  From there we walked around to St David’s Hotel where we scoured the area for signs of the bittern.  However, a few chiff-chaffs that were flitting around in the bushes distracted us.  Some of these were clearly common chiff-chaffs, but there was also one bird that was much greyer-brown, and paler in appearance than the others and which we thought was possibly a Siberian chiff-chaff (one had been seen in the previous week).  Unfortunately, it didn’t call, so we can’t be sure. 

We got so absorbed in trying to sort out our chiff-chaffs that we actually missed the bittern, which was seen flying across the reedbed by another birdwatcher.  Oh well, you can’t win them all! 

We walked back to the Leisure Centre and a great day was finished off by a flock of 13 long-tailed tits that were moving through the bushes in the car park just as we got back. 

Thanks Rob and Linda for leading a thoroughly enjoyable days birding!

List of Birds Seen (more or less in the order we came across them).




Mute swan

Grey heron

Black-headed gull


Blue tit

Great tit




Great-crested grebe

Little grebe


Carrion crow

Herring Gull


House sparrow


Grey wagtail


Lesser black-backed gull

Tufted duck


Long-tailed duck (imm. male)

Scaup (four male, three female)

Pied wagtail


Glaucous gull (1st winter)



Mistle Thrush


Water rail (heard)


Siberian chiff-chaff (possibly)


Long-tailed tit

Richard Cowie

January 2017

Accompanying photos taken by Linda Nottage (birdwatchers, long-tailed duck, goosander pair):

Friday, November 25, 2016

Otters as sentinels for environmental health

On Wednesday 23 November 2016, Dr Elizabeth Chadwick talked to the Society about the work of the Cardiff University Otter Project, which she has managed for twelve years. The talk emphasised the otter’s importance as an indicator species for the general health of river ecosystems, and as a charismatic umbrella species that provides a focus for education and freshwater habitat conservation.

The Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra), one of 13 otter species worldwide, has an extensive range extending across continental Europe, Russia, China, and parts of north Africa; though in modern times its populations have become fragmented. In the UK, populations dramatically declined between the 1950 and 1970s, with chemicals in the environment (e.g. PCBs and organochlorine pesticides) mainly to blame. However, this protected species has recovered in the UK, and its once-isolated UK populations are again interacting. Nevertheless, by nature it is non-sociable and lives at low densities, so it can be hard to spot in the countryside.

Dr Chadwick explained the different methods used to monitor otters. The main methods used by the Cardiff University Otter Project are the monitoring of spraint (faeces and scent gland secretions) and the post-mortem of dead otters (mainly roadkill reported by the public).

A study of the spraint otters deposit at prominent locations around their territories is revealing interesting information. The spraint contains 432 volatile chemicals, and its smell is unique to an individual. The components of the spraint marking also change with age, enabling adults and juveniles to be identified.

The Cardiff University Otter Project started collecting samples from dead otters in the 1990s, when it would process around 10 otters/year (this figure is now around 200/year due to the otter’s recovery). This large sample bank now amounts to 3,000 specimens that can be used retrospectively for a wide range of interdisciplinary studies. Dr Chadwick described some of the studies that Cardiff University and its collaborators have done with these samples. These include studies on the presence of chemical contaminants over time and the effectiveness of legislation (e.g. bans on pesticides and lead), parasites infecting otters, dietary studies from stomach contents (83% fish), and genetic studies over time as a more contiguous UK population re-established. New areas of study include looking for the presence of micro-plastics and a new wave of emerging pollutants (e.g. pharmaceuticals).

For further information, visit the project’s website: www.otterproject.cf.ac.uk

Report by Stephen Nottingham

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Tremendous Oak


Possibly the biggest or oldest oak in Wales? Whilst out walking near Cwmdu in the Brecons recently my walking colleague, Ian Moody, and I came across a large oak. Whilst the object of our outting was walking we always keep an eye open for any wildlife of interest and have regularly recorded veteran  trees which go on to the Ancient Tree Register managed by the Woodland Trust. Amazingly there may be little or no protection for some of our oldest living things but there are calls for a specific National Tree Register for Wales. As the Woodland Trust comments:
'A national register will help to classify, celebrate, and protect each of Wales’ Trees of Special Interest for the rest of their days. It will also help landowners properly care for these incredible trees by allowing them to access more support through grants and specialist advice.
But the most important reason for a register is to celebrate these incredible and much-loved natural treasures!'

We have recorded 20 trees so far but these have all been veterans. A veteran tree is one which is in its second or mature stage of its life, an ancient tree in its final stage. As a general guide any oak with a girth of more than 6 metres is a possible candidate for ancient. Our oak, immediately adjacent to a public footpath came in at 10.36 metres and exhibited many of the other characteristics of an ancient tree such as hollowed-out trunk and  fallen branches. It was originally pollarded, often the case with many of our oldest oaks.

When we first reported it we did not know if it had been recorded previously so the response from the Ancient Tree Register staff was encouraging:
'This is a most remarkable ancient oak you have recorded in the Brecon Beacons. What a great find and thanks for adding it to the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Inventory... Although the girth could be exaggerated by the trees condition, falling open, it still suggests this is one of the biggest and possibly oldest oaks in Wales.'

Interestingly whilst we were the first to record this tree we later came across an article in Broadleaf, the Woodland Trust magazine, which was about writer Horatio Clare ('Running for the Hills') where he said:
'... a slightly famous oak... It is the most extraordinary tree, partly for its position, high above the Cwmdu valley, with a view across the Brecon Beacons. My brother Alexander, my mother and I moved there after London, and the oak stands at the top of our lowest field so it was the first of our allies, the gatekeeper we passed on our way up the mountain. We used to speculate on whether it had seen the Romans build their camp, or the battles of Own Glyndwr's rising, one of which took place in the valley. The great poet of Tretower, Henry Vaughan, would certainly have seen it when he lifted his eyes to the hills'.

So, if you know of any venerable trees it is worth checking if they are on the Register and, if not, making sure they are added so they will get the attention and protection they deserve.

Text by Bruce McDonald
Photos by Bruce McDonald and Roy Carr

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Pontypool Park

Field Trip, Sunday, 10th July

Text by Bruce McDonald

Photos by Mike Dean and Bruce McDonald

We were hoping for better weather on our return trip to Pontypool Park – our first trip being abandoned because of heavy rain. This time we were more fortunate.

The history of this park goes back as far as 1576 when Richard Hanbury came to Pontypool and started the family dynasty here. Over 100 years later Capel Hanbury bought a portion of land that was to become Pontypool Park. Then in 1694 Major John Hanbury built the first house which was subsequently added to and then completely re-worked in the early 1800s. Part of the house was demolished in 1872 and the Victorian extension added. Finally the park was transferred to the Local Authority in 1920. There is much to see in its 64 acres including ponds, an ice-house, Italian Gardens and higher up the Shell Grotto and, beyond that, the Folly.

Our first objective was to look at the specimen trees in the company of Tony Titchen and despite only walking a few hundred yards from the visitor centre we managed to cover a wide spectrum of different species. We started with Robinia pseudoacacia, named after Jean Robin who was arborist to the French king Henry III. The pods are poisonous and the commonly planted cultivar 'Frisia' never seems to produce flowers. Nearby were Scots Pine, Pinus sylvestris, characterised by very short needles – this was the subspecies Scotica. Next Tony talked us through the identifying characteristics of a Lime. It had pale undersides with the bracts on the fruit ‘subtending’. This was the Silver Lime, Tilia tomentosa. Tony distinguished between ‘sprouts’ which emerge from the trunks of a tree and ‘suckers’ which appear from the ground. The flowers were attractive to bees but have been known to kill them.
Our next Lime had shiny leaves that were similarly coloured on both sides and this was X euchlora. It makes a good street tree and provides dense cover – one to stand under if it raining. A Norway Maple, Acer platinoides, provided an opportunity to use Tony’s latex text. Remove a leaf and check to see if a milky substance emerges from the break. The Norway Maple does but Sycamore does not. This can be really useful as the leaves of these two can look very similar. Incidentally the Field Maple, Acer campestre, also exudes latex.

Next some oaks where we had a Scarlet Oak, Quercus coccinea, juxtaposed with a Turkey Oak, Quercus cerris and a Red Oak, Quercus rubra. Tony’s tip for the American Red Oaks is to hold a leaf to the sky – the vein clearly goes to the tip of the leaf. And finally a substantial Tibetan Cherry, Prunus serrula,and this was a Champion, one of several in the park.

After lunch a few of us headed off into the extensive grassy meadows with increasing amounts of sunshine encouraging a host of invertebrates to manifest themselves. Somewhat surprising was the number of Marbled Whites, Melanargia galathe, on display matched by Ringlets, Aphontopus hyperantus, Meadow Browns, Maniola jurtina, Small Heaths, Coenonympha pamphilus and assorted Skippers.

The oaks were sporting the usual collection of Marble Galls, Andricus kollari and a few Artichoke or Hop galls, Andricus foecundatrix, but more unusual was the gall shown in the image which was on the reverse of some leaves of a Purple Beech where the branches had fallen to the ground. Up in the tree it might not have been noticed. The gall is Aceria nervisequa and whilst not uncommon when reported to SEWBREC it was the only record on the publicly-accessible database – one for members to look out for.

At the top is the Shell Grotto with great views over the surrounding countryside but closed to the public as it always seems to be whenever we visit.

Numerous grass-hoppers were disturbed as we walked through the long grass but we did manage to identify a Common Green Capsid, Lygocoris pabulinus. A decent day of weather had guaranteed a good day out.

Bruce adds this correction (19 Sept 2016):
'In the above article (also in the September 2016 newsletter) about the visit to Pontypool park we identified this bug (photo above) as the Common Capsid Bug. We have heard from Rob Nottage that this is Closterotomus norwegica also know as the Potato Capsid. This can be distinguished by the two black dots on the pronotum.'

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