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Summer rolls into autumn (Tales of a Reserves Assistant)

Posted: Monday 16th October 2017 by AssistantReservesOfficerERC

Autumn at Silent Valley

As the summer needs, we start to see the change in season. Not only does the environment and weather change, but so does our work load in the reserves team.

Summer rolls into autumn (Tales of a Reserves Assistant)
September and October

One of the great aspects of working in the reserves team is that you are in touch with the changes of the seasons – you are more aware of your surroundings and the weather. I have been in jobs before where these things go unnoticed, maybe only the difference is that you have to put on an extra layer and wake up ten minutes earlier to defrost your car. I feel that we are drifting away from noticing the environment around and sat in our offices and factories we are growing even further apart from our environment. I am lucky in that I am more in touch with what is around me and notice changes more than most.

One of the biggest changes is from summer to autumn, not only do the leaves change colour and fall or butterflies disappear from sight, but the work of a reserves officer changes just as dramatically. In the summer most of my work has been focussed on habitat surveys, supervising volunteers who do butterfly transects and completing some management surveying. When the summer ends, our work shifts back practical reserve management.

Traditionally grasslands were managed through hay cuts in late summer and early autumn, this allowed meadows to bloom and provide excellent habitat for wildflowers, invertebrates and other wildlife. However, over 90% of our flower rich grasslands disappeared in the 20th century and continue to decrease. This has been not only down to development and building, but due to changes in agricultural practices. One example is moving away from cutting for hay, but to cutting for silage – which is cut in early and mid-summer, which is devastating for wildflowers and invertebrate species such as grasshoppers and beetles. In the living valleys we have a lot of grassland sites, including verges and on our nature reserves. We prefer to start cutting in autumn to allow all the flowers to go to seed and not affect the invertebrate life. We continue to cut throughout winter and work our way through a long list .We have started working in Central Valley. This is a massive amount of work. The banks and even the flat areas are dominated by dense grass species which need to be cut at least twice in the year to allow more desirable species to come through. Unfortunately, we don’t only cut the grassland, we also have to rake it as well (to remove nutrients). Luckily we have a determined volunteer group who follow us around and remove all our destruction. I have a lot of appreciation for our group, who come out every week and rake, bag and drag the material away. Raking isn’t the most enjoyable task, but our group have a good laugh. However, with the case of Cwm Verge, everyone knows that the work they are doing is of massive benefit. Come spring and summer it looks amazing and all the hard graft pays off. Within the next few years, Central Valley will be the same. We have also cut already cut St. Illtyds churchyard near Abertillery, Cwm verge, Ebenezer churchyard in Beaufort and made a massive dent into our cutting in Central Valley.

The sheep have also returned from Wyeswood Common and are at the time of writing are munching their way through scrub at Henlly’s Bog (which has seen a marked improvement in numbers of orchids this year and a reduction in scrub). They will be soon grazing back at Silent Valley and surrounding nature reserves – saving us on cutting and raking.

As the days get physically shorter and the darkness looms over us, the reserves officers day gets longer – we can be found on a brushcutter, tractor, chainsaw or and at the end of a rake. This is our busiest period, September to March, and this is when feel at one with our surroundings. We are fully aware of the changing weathers – we know exactly when the temperature lowers, when winds pick up or when we have had a week of Welsh rain. Some people have sympathy for us, however I have sympathy for the people stuck in offices, who are not connected with the changes and our environment. I feel more in sync with the world, for better or worse. 

Finally, I must say a goodbye and a massive thank you to Alex, who has spent the last three months working with us on a work placement. Alex came all the way from Nantes; as part of his university degree he has to complete some work experience and thankfully he chose us. It is something of a tradition to have a French student with us over the summer. Alex loved the landscape in the Valleys and I think he deeply enjoyed his time here – even if he picked some Valleys slang to impress his English teachers back in France. Alex worked relentlessly and got stuck in to everything we did. He also worked on a project on The British studying Grayling and their population and distribution across the coal tips. He did a fantastic job and produced a very detailed report. His reports will be used as baseline for future studies and monitoring of this important area for Grayling. Thank you Alex and good luck for the future.

Alex enjoying the view


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