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Gwent Wildlife Trust Grassland Conservation Trainee blog by Nadine Evans.

Posted: Thursday 6th June 2019 by Sarah Harris

Gwent Wildlife Trust's Grassland Conservation Trainee Nadine Evans.Gwent Wildlife Trust's Grassland Conservation Trainee Nadine Evans

Hello! My name is Nadine Evans and I am not a competent blogger! There, that feels so much better now! I will, however, try to entertain and inform anyone who cares to read this with my trials and tribulations, successes and adventures as Grassland Conservation Trainee 2019 for Gwent Wildlife Trust.

So how did I get here? I volunteered as a shepherd in September 2017 and gradually became more involved with the livestock. The Trust has their own flock of Hebridean and Hill Radnor sheep, and a small herd of pedigree Hereford cattle at Pentwyn Farm and Wyeswood Common. I always had aspirations to be a Farmer, but growing up in suburban Liverpool, from a non- farming background, didn’t really present that opportunity! So, when the chance came up to be a volunteer shepherd I jumped in with both feet first. Literally! Gwent Wildlife Trust's Senior Farm Manager and Wildlife Development Officer, Tim, was kind enough to let me come and help under the guidance of Pauline Gaywood - a very competent shepherdess. Pauline ‘took me under her wing’ and I soon became a slightly irritating shadow, following Pauline and Tim any time there was any livestock work to do. Their patience (and kindness) was incredible.

If any of you have young children, inevitably they hit that stage when they start to ask ‘Why’ a lot. Well I hit that stage, and Tim and Pauline would often be met early in the morning with a hard day ahead of them with the constant ‘Why?’ ‘Why?’ ‘Why?’ questions. I soon progressed to other questions beginning with ‘W’ such as ‘Where?’, ‘When?’, ‘Who?’ until it was suggested that maybe these could be best answered if I applied for the Traineeship. I was fascinated by what Gwent Wildlife were doing at Pentwyn and Wyeswood. If you have not visited, then go, truly go. It is a phenomenally beautiful site, and an inspirational and visionary project. 

Pentwyn Farm includes one of the largest areas of flower-rich grassland remaining in Gwent, and provides an opportunity to see hay meadows as they would have looked in the past, and an ambitious habitat restoration project at Wyeswood Common that is transforming what was modern agricultural land – impoverished as far as wildlife was concerned – into an intricate mosaic of habitats rich in biodiversity. 
Tim would explain how the interaction and use of specific breeds of livestock were being used to achieve this vision, in an organic way. Gwent Wildlife Trust’s choice of stock isn’t random, but more about that in later blogs. They are also rare breeds, and Gwent Wildlife Trust has its own breeding programme for the Hebridean and Hill Radnor sheep.

So to the actual blog- 
April 15, was my first day and after an induction with Linda, one of the Gwent Wildlife Trust Reserves Officers, I had a walk around Wyeswood/Pentwyn and Ty Mawr sites while Linda explained the work that has been and would be done. The enormity of the work that needs doing and the vision of Gwent Wildlife Trust really began to hit home, so if any readers out there want to volunteer, go for it! You will learn heaps, and the staff are so much fun. After my induction, a relaxed lunch and then moving all the lambs and ewes down to the far fields from their ‘nursery’ fields. There is something so rewarding about herding a load of cuddlesome lambs who are in awe of their ‘big wide world’, and a load of slightly nervous mothers who know the lay of the land, but who are struggling to keep unruly adventurous lambs under control. This job is done so gently and considerately. It is one of the things that struck me instantly about Gwent Wildlife Trust's farm management, the wonderful way the animals are cared for. Later, I got to feed two orphan lambs with a bottle. It’s a hard job holding a cuddly lamb, but someone has to do it. The mortality rate of sheep is exceptionally low, but it does happen and so for the next few weeks these two will be bottle fed. After grilling Linda about plants and beetles on our walk round it was time for my first day to be done and dusted. I am raring to go - excited at the possibilities.

At the age of 50, I can honestly say you are never too old to learn and, with the right training, the possibilities are endless. Tomorrow I start tractor training and I am beyond excited!!!!

Day 2, and it didn’t disappoint! Now, I shall try and keep this to the bare bones as I have a ‘thing’ about tractors and machinery, and if not checked, will run on and on until any readers, bar an editor of ‘tractor weekly’, will fall into a comatose state! Having had a training day and several hours one on one with the ever patient farm manager, Tim, today consisted of a whole day with machinery. This involved coupling up a flail mower collector (a really nice matching green one to go with the John Deere compact tractor), and getting to grips, literally, with the power take off (PTO) - yes it is as sexy as it sounds - and fitting it to the machine and tractor. This is an incredibly heavy and awkward piece of kit, but Tim had made sure it was well greased and ready to go. It involves matching up six splines, pulling back a metal collar and pushing hard until it clicks. Sounds easy but in practice it is fiddly and hard work! I found the best way to do it was to inwardly swear at the brute as seductive encouragement failed to work. Also manoeuvring the tractor to couple up to the three point linkage, a real skill and worthy of one of those game shows for driving talent; all this whilst being asked questions about the why’s and wherefores of tractor operation, then a go in the field seeing how the tractor handled with the flail and operating it. I really must stop now as liable to ramble on but all I can say is - it was AWESOME! A lovely piece of kit and I couldn’t help wishing I had a field right there and then to go to town on, but sadly I am not fully trained as yet, but one day……
After lunch more tractor stuff, then cleaning out the troughs used for lambing and tidying up the muckheap. The two orphan lambs are doing well and have moved into the orchard with their Father, Idris the ram. He is a gentle and lovely beast, and gets on pretty well with the lambs. They, in turn, have access to fresh grass and room to play - so far so good, and they are thriving. So that is it for today.
I would love to include everything but it would make the blog far too long so I shall just include highlights.
One of the highlights is meeting other volunteers. These guys, along with staff, are the lifeblood of making Gwent Wildlife Trust work. I was not disappointed as such lovely, hard working people make any task fun. We have been clearing wood from fields for a variety of reasons, some conservation and some as machinery has to cut hay, and hay cutting machinery hates big pieces of timber! The task is made the easier because of the fabulous locations and company.

The two orphan lambs are now mimicking their father. They follow him around like his shadow and you can almost hear them bleating ‘daaaaad daaaaad! So highlights this week, definitely chain harrowing an entire field with the tractor. I shall leave that there as I’m likely to run on. Being a Trainee is so varied and so much fun. I would highly recommend it!

To keep things short, week 2 was more of the same. Helping volunteers with dead wood clearing. Helping Doug, the Woodland Reserve Officer, dig fence post holes on what seemed a 90 degree slope, which was excellent fun. And more chain harrowing! In my next blog I will pick the best bits and try and keep it much shorter, but there is so much to report on! It is AWESOME!


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