Gwern y Bustach
Initial wildlife report
The rationale behind this report and the survey it refers to is to establish a baseline of data for Gwern y Bustach to allow any decisions made for the ongoing management of the farm is made from an informed position.
The current plan is to make three visits, one just completed in the winter, one in the spring (late April/early May) and a third in the summer (Late June/July). This will give a decent cross-section of the key species using the site at the most important times of year.
The winter survey was geared towards birds and a limited amount of botanical/ mammal survey work.
The following were the bird species recorded, the colour of the name indicates the level of conservation concern for the species in the UK. Each is a link to the RSPB website so you can read a little more about them. At the end I will pick out the key ones for the farm.
RSBP Red-list species:
From the Amber list:
|Long-tailed tit||Coal tit|
|Carrion crow||Tawny owl|
|Great spotted woodpecker||Wood pigeon|
Of the 34 bird species, five are of a high conservation concern, four of moderate conservation concern and the other 25 are of low concern.
Of the red species, fieldfare and redwing are common winter visitors from the Continent that breed in the UK in very low numbers, hence their red status, they feed on the grasslands and fruit-bearing bushes of the hedgerows such as holly, so there is nothing needed to assist them.
The other three are more likely to be resident, it is more of a case of not changing anything than doing more in most cases.
Song thrush numbers declined due to widespread use of slug-pellets that passed the toxins onto any scavengers like song thrush. New pellets do not do this, so numbers are increasing. They nest in mature scrub. So the key is to not reduce their food through widespread use of non-friendly pellets and not clearing large areas of scrub, any rotational management would be fine.
Linnet numbers declined due to a mix of the clearance of scrub where they nest and more intensive farm practises that reduced the amount of weeds growing in fields, linnet feed on small seed that come from plants like docks and thistles. On a farm like this there is little chance of the management impacting linnet as long as again, management is carried out in a rotational manner, that is to say in small blocks over a number of years, then returning to the first block and repeating.
Marsh tit is perhaps the most exciting bird seen on the farm to date, a pair were in the woodland by the pools with the frogspawn in. They have declined due to a lack of sympathetic woodland management, with areas being drained and cleared up or left completely unmanaged, leading to a high dense tree canopy not allowing an understorey to grow. At the same time an increase in deer numbers has meant anything that does start to grow is often grazed off.
This particular area has benefited from some of the management for the pheasant pen which has meant the trees have been managed to allow light on to let the understorey develop to give the pheasants cover. All that’s needed at the moment would be to remove the lylandii conifers and coppice some of the trees along the edge of the lower pool, this will allow more light in to help the understory continue to develop to give the birds an area to feed. Where possible leave standing dead trees, as nest-holes will develop in these. They can be cut off at head height if they are considered dangerous, leaving a 5ft high stump to decay.
Of the Amber species, bullfinch have similar tastes to song thrush for nesting habitat and feed on berries, so the above will be fine for them.
Green woodpecker feed almost exclusively on ants, so the grasslands will be just what they are after, especially when kept relatively short.
Meadow pipit feed on insects and breed in the more tussocky areas of grass, so as the growing season progresses, they will have suitable habitat. Their numbers have declined as grass management has changed to a more intensive silage-growing technique where grass can be cut every six – eight weeks, barely enough time rear a brood. Your grassland with only grazing as management will be fine.
Mistle thrush breed in the ‘v’ of a branch joining another branch in trees rather than hedges ad nest much earlier, starting on March. They feed largely on grasslands, so again are suited to your farm.
So, in conclusion for birds currently there, there isn’t a great deal to do, any conifer removal from the pools area and bracken management on the grasslands will benefit these species. But I would suggest a chat with Brecon Beacons NPA before starting any management, there is a good chance they will be able to assist with local knowledge of the best methods to use.
It will be very interesting to see what species arrive in the summer, I think it might be possible to benefit species such as pied flycatcher and redstart with nestboxes, but let’s see if they are already present or at least in the area.
As previously mentioned during the survey, there is what appears to be a relatively active badger sett on the farm, as you already knew from your unwelcomed visitors there are fox using the farm.
There are many signs of mole and rabbit on the farm with burrows and mole hills.
You’ll remember the dropping I pointed out on top of an ant hill. This is likely to be one of two species, either stoat or polecat (this includes polecat/ferret and ferrets – escaped ferrets hybridise with polecat). I’ll do some more research into the subject for further surveys.
We saw a single pippestrelle bat flying around at dusk, this was either a soprano (building-dwelling) or common (tree-dwelling) pippestrelle. I think you are having other people visit who will be able to tell you which you have.
The stream could easily sustain either mink or otter, when I visit in the spring and summer I will walk the stream in full when it is less in flood and any signs will hopefully be present and not washed away.
Finally, I picked up a number of hazlenuts while walking round the farm, to date I have confirmed that these were eaten by grey squirrel and wood mouse. There are a couple that show signs of possibly having been eaten by dormouse – http://www.dormice.org/ these are a protected species, but will not be impacted by the work on the farm buildings. Boxes can be put up for them to use, but a licence is needed to do work for them, there will be staff at the NPA who can help with this.
Botanically the grasslands look like they could be very important. The anthills that cover most of it show that the fields have not been cut for many years, they are likely to have been grazed by cattle or sheep only. As this has declined recently the bracken has become established.
Its important to find out what’s there, so a year of review is fantastic. I would suggest speaking to the NPA to see what projects they have on the go for grassland/bracken management as anything they suggest will be sympathetic to the area and shows a level of commitment to the ambiance of the area.
One plant of interest I did find in the alder woodland below the farm buildings was golden saxifrage (photo overleaf). There are two types, alternate-leaved and opposite-leaved, I will double-check but this looks like alternate-leaved due to the relatively large lower leaves. It uses upland mossy flushes, much like the alder woodland habitat i.e. wet woodland and is present at Coed-y-Cerrig NNR just down the valley.
As I think you are aware, the area is well known for its orchards and virtually every farm used to have one. Please have a look at this website it’s a register of local varieties that grow well in your area and I’m sure they will be keen to offer advice.
The potential for wildlife at Cwern-y-Bustach is large. Having only dipped my toe into what might be present its important to collect as much baseline data as possible before carrying out any significant management.
I would suggest talking to the Brecon Beacons NPA in the near future, I would expect them to be able to assist with ideas on bracken management and might have access to animals for sympathetic grazing.