‘’A Day In The Life of Denise Shaw RSPB Warden South Stack Isle of Anglesey’’
It is not always apparent to the public that much work is carried out behind the scenes of a busy nature reserve such as RSPB South Stack, we all sometimes take the beauty around us for granted, but as you will find out it does take a lot of planning and management work to help protect and sustain such a beautiful nature reserve.
This is a succinct overview of a typical day on reserve for our Warden Denise Shaw, who kindly shared her thoughts with me. I caught up with her and she told me about her work at RSPB South Stack.
- Tell me about yourself Denise – who are you and what inspired you to work in nature conservation for the RSPB at South Stack..?
‘’From an early age I have had a deep seated passion and interest in wildlife and conservation. I joined the RSPB South Stack team in April 2011. Prior to this I had gained 12 years of valuable experience working in nature conservation. Most recently I worked for the RSPB for 6 seasons monitoring Terns and other seabirds on the Skerries. During the winter seasons through this period I worked for a local contractor doing all sorts of practical habitat management.
I felt that the time had come to move on, to learn new skills, become more involved in the management side of nature conservation and share the learned skills that I have gained in my past work roles. I had felt this way for about a year and when I heard that South Stack was in need of an assistant warden I jumped at the chance to apply and was lucky enough to be given this post, which for me is my dream job, I still have to pinch myself from time to time!
I feel extremely privileged to be part of the fantastic team here at South Stack and to come to work every day at such a spectacular reserve. As I was born in Holyhead and have lived here all my life I have a deep affection with this, my homeland area and know the reserve very well. I also feel that this job is going to allow me to grow and develop my career and I am relishing the new challenges and experience my role as assistant warden at RSPB South Stack brings.
- How does a normal day pan out for you?
‘’ Well Mark – RSPB South Stack is one of the busiest RSPB Reserves in the country for visitor numbers, we do get in the region of 190,000 visitors on average a year, the visitors range form a variety of ages, class, and usage – anything from walkers, climbers, cyclists, bird/nature watchers, to people out for a drive in their cars. As you can imagine with such high volumes of visitors there is always site maintenance and checks to ensure the safety of all our visitors, this can range from path maintenance and repair through to checking facilities are of the highest standard for our visitors to Ellins Tower and our newly opened Visitor Centre. Quality assurance and the safety and enjoyment of all our visitors are of paramount importance’’. My role as assistant warden mainly deals with the reserve side of things which involves carrying out wildlife surveys and the habitat management of the reserve.
- Denise – a lot of people ask me ‘’ Why are the RSPB here, what is our purpose’ can you shed some light on this re-occurring question’?
The RSPB is a nature conservation charity, our purpose is to ensure that the visiting public have a safe, enjoyable and informative time at South Stack whilst
also protecting and managing the habitats and species for which it was designated.
South Stack reserve is blessed with two of the largest lowland maritime heath in Wales. Together comprising c300ha, these are mostly owned by the Isle of Anglesey County Council who leases them to the RSPB to manage as a nature reserve. As well as being designated a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) under the UK wildlife and countryside act, it is also designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) for breeding and wintering Chough under the EU habitats regulations. Within the reserve we also own c38ha of semi-improved pasture which is managed as a foraging habitat for Chough by year round grazing (mainly by cattle).
The Heathland sustains a variety of scarce wild flowers and animals such as spotted rock rose, the endemic spathulate fleawort (a flower that only grows here and nowhere else in the world!), reptiles such as the common lizard, adder and slow worm, silver studded blue butterflies and the charismatic and rare Chough (a member of the crow family) which we are proud to say that we have 11 breeding pairs or about 4% of the Welsh population right here on our reserve. These are just a few examples of the very unique plants and animals associated with Heathland which are found here at South Stack.
Biodiversity and their eco systems (the broad mixture of all life living and thriving together) is very important, sometimes it is a fine balance how all these living organisms interconnect with the landscape. Having an open access reserve that sustains many rare plants and animals requires careful management, combine this with high volumes of visitors to the reserve and you can see that it is very important that the balance is right. We want visitors to come and enjoy and learn about the wildlife here while ensuring there is no detrimental or negative impact on this sensitive habitat.
- How do you manage and protect such a unique habitat for visitors and wildlife?
Well – we are here to protect and manage visitors as well as the habitat. An example of management for visitors could be maintaining walks and paths in a sympathetic manor as not to harm the wildlife but also give visitors a safe and enjoyable time, having up to date and informative signs and regularly litter picking of public areas such as the car parks. The reserve management side of things which I am mainly involved with varies depending on the season. Through the spring and summer months this mainly involves monitoring and surveying the wildlife on the reserve. After the breeding season in September the habitat management work begins, this is a combination of traditional Heathland management techniques such as small scale cutting and removal of heath vegetation, burning small patches of standing heather and close shepherded sheep grazing.
- Give me an example of how you do this
Management on the reserve varies and is required all year round through all seasons. My main priority through the spring and summer months is carrying out all the biological survey work, this ranges from doing a series of counts of our seabird colonies, monitoring our breeding choughs, doing weekly butterfly transects and surveying some of our rarer plant species such as spotted rock rose and spathulate fleawort. Outside the breeding season monitoring of our chough population is also done regularly throughout the year by walking regular set transects, the aim of this is to record where they are foraging and on what type of habitat and also to note any colour rings that are on the chough legs. Each chough will have a unique set of rings that help identify that particular bird, it is important to make sighting records because it gives us information on the feeding habits of the birds and identifies areas that could be improved to help the feeding chough and gives us an idea if our management is benefiting them.
Once the breeding season is over, our focus shifts to the practical side of managing the reserve. For example – on one area of heath we cut small patches of heath and remove the material to create pioneer heath and a mosaic of different ages of heather. By removing patches of mature heather and the underlying litter, this allows light to reach the mineral soil which improves the habitat for invertebrates and other Heathland plants which benefits our resident choughs which are specialised in that they need either bare ground or short vegetation in which to feed. In areas where we can’t get a machine in to do the cutting we carry out small scale controlled burning which also helps the biodiversity of the heath in a similar way. We only burn when the weather conditions are ideal and I’m sure anyone who has visited South Stack through the winter will appreciate this can be quite rare as it’s almost always windy!
To give you some background, historically Heathland has been exploited/managed in some way by humans going back five or six thousand years. If left unmanaged a heath will eventually become overgrown and more vigorous shrubs will invade changing this unique habitat slowly back to a type of woodland. Also over management would also have a negative impact decreasing its unique biodiversity.
As I mentioned earlier The RSPB also own approximately 38ha of farmland on the reserve which is managed for chough foraging habitat. We have 3 of our own cattle that graze here and also a herd of our grazier’s cattle and sometimes a flock of his sheep. By grazing this pasture year round keeps the grass short which is ideal habitat for Chough to feed on invertebrates in the soil, this is also helped by the fact we don’t use fertiliser or any other method of soil improvement. The dung that the cattle produce also helps a variety of insects flourish which the chough also feed on. In the summer ragwort is a problem which can poison cattle; we have to keep on top of this by hand pulling and removing the plants.
During the autumn we have a close shepherded flock of rare breed sheep (which increased this year to c189) which graze an area of Heathland for 40 days. Again this is a traditional method of managing a Heathland. The sheep tend to graze in the shorter heather nibbling at the new growth keeping areas short and again contributing to creating a patchwork of different heights and again increasing the biodiversity of the Heathland.
We have done much work to help and encourage all the animals and plants on the reserve, for example - we have created south facing man made banks that encourage invertebrates and reptiles, these are also managed as extra foraging habitat for chough.
- Denise, do you have any final thoughts that you would like to share with everyone?
I’d just like to say I love my job! And it gives me great satisfaction knowing that I am part of a team that is maintaining and creating a habitat rich in wildlife which will be sustained for future generations to come.
I think it would be a great shame if species such as the chough, spathulate fleawort or adder for example were to become extinct from this area through lack of protection. In fact the loss of any habitat, plant or animal where ever in the world would be of great sadness. I think that we all have a duty, a duty of care to protect our beautiful wildlife for future generations to come, the human race would be nothing without such beautiful wildlife – in fact we as humans without other species to co-exist would be lost and in danger of extinction ourselves it would be so catastrophic for the human race if no other plants or animals existed in the future.
- Thank you very much for your time, information and thoughts Denise –you are doing a fantastic job.
If you would like further information on the work that is carried out here at RSPB South Stack or fancy getting involved yourself by volunteering please contact us.
For more information please phone the reserve office on 01407 762100
e-mail - email@example.com
Visit – www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/s/southstackcliffs
or find us on facebook - https://www.facebook.com/RSPBsouthstack
South Stack Blog December + 1
I was not intending doing a second blog for December but I thought I had to tell you all about this.
On the 19th we had a staff plus volunteer get together, it was sort of a Jacobs Join. The following pictures explain it better than I can do in words alone.
Mr Alistair Moralee (Area Manager North Wales Team) joined in and enjoyed a great time with us all.
We also had a birthday girl; Jane
On the 20th I assisted Mark Baldwin (Membership Development Officer) on a guided walk.
Several interesting people came on the walk including a member of the RAF who was spending some time on Anglesey after completing several tours of duty in Afghanistan, an artist who is interested in painting the lighthouse plus a number of other scenes around South Stack, and a professional Photographer/TV cameraman. On returning from the walk, a bowl of homemade soup was enjoyed by all!!
We had a very enjoyable time.
Later in the day I was approached by a family who wanted to view the lighthouse, unfortunately it was closed to visitors.I suggested that in future if they wished to come over they phone us first as we are able to tell them if the lighthouse is open. He told me that coming over again was not an easy option as they had travelled from Norway. They are part of a team who are renovating a lighthouse in Norway called ‘Lindesnesfyr’
The lighthouse is near Stavanger.
Lindesnes Lighthouse is Norway’s oldest (1656), occupying the southernmost tip of the Norwegian mainland – 2518 km from the North Cape.
The lighthouse has been designated a national lighthouse museum, and hosts various exhibitions relating to the development and history of lighthouses, maritime culture, etc.
The other important news is that the coffee shop at South Stack has been awarded the highest award for hygiene by the ‘Foods Standards Agency’.
Well done!!!! From all the staff and volunteers
A very Merry Christmas to all our readers from
the Staff and Volunteers
South Stack RSPB Reserve
South Stack Blog: December 2011
December has started the bad weather it seems. However we can still enjoy ourselves at South Stack
On Saturday and Sunday, the 3rd and 4th of December we had a two day event featuring a local very prominent artist namely Mr Philip Snow. He is well renowned for his water colour painting of birds.
The event was well supported and brought in some very welcome funds for the RSPB.
Mr Snow gave a live demonstration of his skill which was extremely interesting.
Below are pictures showing the event.
If anyone would like to see more of his work please visit his web site:
Some more interesting news is the Christmas menu it sounds delicious!
Please note: Pre-bookings only can be accepted!
Available from the 5th of December 2011 to the 24th.
Carrot and Orange Soup
Chicken liver pâté served with quince chutney and a warm baguette
Poached Salmon with a chive beurre blanc sauce
Vegetable and Stilton crumble
(All main meals served with roasted and boiled potatoes with a selection of seasonal vegetables)
Christmas pudding with white sauce
A choice of cake from our cake display
Two courses for £7.95
Three courses for £9.95
Available for pre-booked parties only
For bookings call:
More good news: Two of our staff namely
Mark Baldwin and Jon Ward received awards from RSPB Cymru
Mark Baldwin South Stack Membership Development officer was awarded :-
'The top membership recruiter on a reserve award 2011'
Mark Said :- '' I would like to thank all the staff and volunteers who have helped make South Stack one of the top locations for RSPB membership development and of course, a big thank you to all those new members who made this possible, without your kind support we could not carry out our vital work for nature conservation, You are all now wonderful champions of wildlife preservation.''
Mark also said :- ''if you are not already a member of the RSPB please do consider supporting our charity, public support through membership is so vital to our cause. If you would like more information on becoming a member of the RSPB please visit our website http://www.rspb.org.uk/supporting/join/ or pop down to South Stack and have a chat with one of the team. Many Thanks''
Jon Ward: Catering Manager received an award for:
Message from Jon: "I would like to thank all the staff and Volunteers who have helped in the coffee shop. It has been a fantastic summer and It could not have been done without them."
On Saturday the 10th of December we held a Christmas Family Fun day.
Many children and parents turned up. All the activities were free, the children painted, stones, pictures, they made seed fat balls for the garden birds, they made Christmas cards and also there was a tombola.
Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.
HURRY, HURRY, HURRY BEFORE THE OFFERS ARE ALL GONE!
On the 14th of December the Visitor Centre Shop will start their SALE
THERE ARE TO BE SOME MASSIVE REDUCTIONS
on all Christmas Cards, Calendars and many other gifts
Blog By Volunteer :