Having worked as a Public engagement officer for 6 months in north Wales ‘busy’ is a word I mention regularly when people ask me how it’s going. Another word I hear myself saying is ‘variety’” I visit farmers on their farms, build wreathes out of willow with local kids , learn about the nesting habits of ospreys, and manage woodland!
Its easy to get lost in some of the woodland in the area, but lost is not what I would have liked to have been a few weeks ago however with snow covering much of Denbighshire. I’m considering whether I should invest in some winter tyres before I find myself stuck on a moor with only a cuddly lapwing to keep me company!
So far I’ve managed to keep moving though; travelling up to Llanrwst to speak with the young farmers club there. I’d really enjoyed watching them on S4C at the Young Farmers’ Eisteddfod the weekend before, it was great hearing them discuss how many curlews or lapwings they have on their farms. It’s nice to hear them speaking about it as if it’s nothing special, but it’s my job to make them realise that it is, and that they have a huge part to play in making sure there are still curlews and lapwings around on their farms for their children to see.
All the schools I’ve visited over the past couple of weeks have been so enthusiastic, and all looking forward to the Big Garden Bird Watch in January. I’ve also had a couple of people knocking on my door at home, just as I’m starting to make my evening meal asking whether they could book me in to do a talk at their WI group. It’s all down to my lovely neighbour who’s a great contact to have and has clearly been pointing them in my direction. I’ll be sure to take ‘round a couple of mince pies as a thank you!
I’ve made progress on my plans for getting volunteers out doing some practical woodland management at Llyn Brenig. That forest is a maze! I only slightly got lost whilst taking our Health and Safety Officer out to the site . good navigation skills are a must in these places!
Brenig Osprey Project is really starting to build momentum now. The prospect of having ospreys nesting within the North Wales Moors Futurescape definitely gives me some more material for talks and walks. I was at a meeting with representatives from Welsh Water, North Wales Wildlife Trust, Friends of the Ospreys and North Wales Tourism Partnership last week. I learnt a lot, as did everyone else. I had no idea that ospreys colonised an area so gradually. The expert (from Friends of the Osprey) assured us that we shouldn’t hope to have ospreys nesting at Brenig until 2017, so this is definitely a long term project! We have been a bit puzzled about the two ospreys that were flying around Llyn Brenig for a few hours on Friday. Shouldn’t you be down south by now??
A nice end to November was a trip up to York to meet up with other people who work as Community Engagement Officers in all the other Futurescapes across the whole of the UK. It was so good to chat with others who are in the same boat as me, who often encounter similar obstacles and sharing ideas of ways of getting people enthused about the landscape around them.
The weekend involved creating felt robin Chistmas tree decorations at Betws-y-coed Christmas event. It was a brilliant (if sticky!) couple of days! The organisers had really gone to town with activities, costumes and even covering part of the church grounds in artificial snow. It really was like walking into Narnia! There was a great turn out and everyone couldn’t help but get in the Christmas spirit.
I’m looking forward to getting even more Christmassy with the children at Pentrecelyn school tomorrow by making wreaths out of the willow and dogwood we can find in the playground and wildlife garden and at the weekend I’ll be attending Christmas at the Castle in Ruthin Castle, so it’s glittery antlers at the ready! I’m sure I’ll find time to start Christmas shopping at some point...
The traditional Christmas song, ‘The Twelve Days Of Christmas’, is a festive ornithological treat, partridge, turtle dove, calling birds, French hens, geese and swans. That’s half of Christmas dominated by birds, and the modern version has lost some of its birds through the years.
The twelve days start on Christmas day and run through to the eve of the Epiphany on the 5th January, which was the end of the festive period, traditionally a time for merrymaking.
The song itself, first published in 1780, contains a variety of birds some well known, partridge and turtle dove, but others slightly less obvious. The modern ‘calling birds’ were originally ‘colly birds’ a name for blackbirds, relating to their ‘black as coal’ appearance. And French hens are thought to relate to any foreign hens rather than French hens specifically.
Older versions contained even more birds with a pretty peacock, replacing the partridge in an 1892 version of the song, there have also been ducks – a – laying, cocks – a – crowing and squabs – a – swimming. Other wildlife included bears – a - beating and hares – a – running, however, lords always seem to have been leaping.
There have been regional variations with Australian versions replacing the traditional birds with native Australian wildlife. The Scottish version included an array of exotic wildlife including parrots, plovers, starlings, grey geese, a bull and an Arabian baboon.
So what would a modern Welsh version look like?
Well on day one a partridge in a pear tree would not be an easy tick, grey partridge have declined in the UK by over 80% in the last 25 years, and with the decline in traditional orchards, finding one in a pear tree could take a lot longer than 12 days.
Day two is no easier, by December turtle doves are sunning themselves in their wintering grounds in West Africa. But even at the height of summer you would be lucky to find a turtle dove in Wales. Having declined by over 90% in the UK, and no longer found as a breeding bird in Wales, the iconic turtle dove is likely to be absent for more than just the twelve days of Christmas in coming years.
Day three is an easier tick, French or foreign hens can be found in farms and gardens across Wales.
How about day four, well four colly birds should be an easy tick, blackbirds are obvious at this time of year rooting around through the fallen leaves, and with recent population estimates showing an increase, and coming in at number 5 on the 2013 Big Garden Birdwatch in Wales, blackbirds are easily spotted.
The next ornithological gift would be six geese a laying. You would think geese would be easily found in Wales, with a number of species over wintering here, but one species in particular is becoming increasingly rare. The last remaining population of Greenland white fronted geese in Wales is found around the Dyfi Estuary, the population has declined from around 167 birds in the late 1990’s to only 55 birds in 2012. Numbers in 2013 are lower again so far and finding six Greenland white fronted geese may prove a difficult task in a few years.
So, day seven, and the final tick, ‘seven swans a swimming’. Several species of swan are found in Wales, the mute swan is familiar to everyone and the population is doing well, having recovered following the ban on lead fishing weights in 1987. Bewick and whooper swans over winter in the UK, and small numbers may be found in Wales; both species are specially protected due to their small and vulnerable populations, so finding seven of either species would be exciting.
Of the birds featured in the song mute swans and blackbirds are doing well and should be around for many years to come, but turtle doves are already lost as a breeding species in Wales. Many other species, including grey partridge, could also be lost to future generations as bird numbers in our countryside continue to decline.
But there are things we can do to ensure the birds mentioned in the song and many others are around for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. In the New Year the Welsh Government has plans to review Glastir, the agri-environment scheme that rewards farmers for carrying out work on their land to benefit wildlife. Glastir must provide a countryside where nature can flourish and species such as turtle dove can recover.
We can all have our say and tell the Welsh Government to ensure that Glastir delivers a countryside where the iconic wildlife, which is ingrained in our culture and heritage, can thrive. Click here to take action now.
It just goes to show that when people visit Welsh Reserves they are sometimes so inspired by what they see they land up fighting the cause for nature in the most unexpected places in the most unexpected ways!
This is what happened to young Niamh Stewart , a 12 year old girl from Dubai, who after visiting the RSPB Conwy Reserve this summer has decided to try and raise £250 by taking part in the United Arab Emirates 5k Color Run on the 14th December.
Niamh said that she was inspired when she " visited the Reserve and was amazed at the wild birds I saw and how the sanctuary has been built to protect the birds and keep them safe".
The Color Run was founded in January of 2012 as an event to promote healthiness and happiness by bringing the community together to participate in the “Happiest 5k on the Planet”. basically the run is a fun un-timed race in which thousands of participants, or “Color Runners”, are doused from head to toe in different colours at each kilometer. With only two rules...Wear white at the starting line and Finish plastered in colour!
Niamh has raised £200 so far, so to get her over the finishing line of £250 and donate ckeck out her Just giving page at http://www.justgiving.com/Niamh-Stewart.