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Gwent Wildlife Trust Grassland Conservation Trainee blog by Nadine Evans.

Posted: Thursday 6th June 2019 by Sarah Harris

Nadine Evans pictured at Pentwyn FarmNadine Evans pictured at Pentwyn Farm

May’s trainee blog (get some popcorn and get comfy!)

I had an interesting day showing how incredibly varied work can be! Yesterday I was taught about orchid surveying and moved cattle into the cattle race for the Farm Manager, the day before more chain harrowing and today, I was with Linda the Reserves Officer, doing such jobs as fence posting, stile making, and retrieving tree guards and generally all over various reserves. These tasks are made so enjoyable as Linda can be a good laugh and is always mindful of trainee/volunteers as individuals, and adapts to suit them. It is hard work, but the locations are breathtaking. Imagine fence posting in an area dense with bluebells and three native Welsh ponies curiously watching you, the birds singing and the smell of May blossom. A light shower of rain and the fresh after the rain smell only mingling with the smell of two stroke as Linda fires up a chain saw.

A great day made absolutely brilliant by seeing two barn owl chicks in Springdale reserve in a nest box, Linda having to remove a gate and us doing our jobs in cathedral like silence so as not to disturb the owlets. Home after a hard day via the weather, sheep at Ty Mawr who run eagerly for their supper and then unload the truck. A satisfying three days!
You never know what the day will bring. Well today the sheep at Ty Mawr have to leave for pastures new. I arrived in good time and got the sheep into the small field and then waited by my car…. at the wrong entrance! And waited and waited. It was the entrance I had always used and forgot that there were back ways onto the land! Eventually I wandered back towards the sheep to see that they had been loaded and were ready to leave by Tim, Linda and their new owners coupled with a bemused glance from Tim as he looked pointedly at his watch! All good humoured!

The sheep were a dream to load anyway so the task didn’t really need five of us. I had used the time waiting by chatting to the Convent sisters whose land Gwent Wildife Trust manage, and they all expressed sadness at losing the sheep that they had come to love and enjoy the antics of!
Back to Pentwyn and Tim teaching both Linda and I to use the flail attached to the quad. A great heavy bit of kit but really useful. Linda and I cut the grass in front of the barn and to the sides. We took turns until I realised that the quad was suffering a little dragging the flail and me (I am reasonably chunky not to put it too finely!) up the slight uphill parts. I swapped with Linda who was hand cutting with shears, nettles and docks where the flail can’t reach. After a while Linda had to see to other Reserve Officer duties, so I practiced on the flat reversing and manoeuvring the flail. Reversing with a quad attachment is hard, but I eventually ‘got it’ and was able to reverse the flail into the shed when finished. I don’t get that much practice on the quad and haven’t used it for a while which coincided with a chap from the holiday cottage coming out, fascinated by what we were doing with the quad….Turns out he was a quad bike trainer and assessor! How embarrassing but kinda funny. Moral of the story, you never know who is watching. We had a lovely machine talk before I finished.
Then it was my rostered day for livestock checking. As I was about to start, a group of people turned up to see the famous Pentwyn orchids. Thank goodness for my recent orchid training! I was able to show them the Twayblade which they were so excited about. I then took them on a guided tour of the livestock and talked (as best I could!) on Gwent Wildlife Trust’s vision for Wyeswood and Pentwyn. They enjoyed it thoroughly. I love engaging with the public as  I love what I do!
After returning I continued chopping nettles and docks with shears (haven’t got a brush cutter ticket yet, so limited in what I can do with machinery!) then washed out the feed trough the wethers had used and tightened a bolt on the flail then home I went.

And now for something completely different….. Well, every day is different but for the next two days, the order of the day is lone working. I had been tasked by Tim and Linda to clear a section of old fencing and wire from a small coppice and from in between two fields.
“Don’t worry Nadine, it is around 15 meters or so in length…shouldn’t take long!” WRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was actually around 100meters long with some wire buried over two feet deep! This caused some amusement, (mainly with Tim and Linda) but they gave me time to finish the task. This task was ‘non urgent’ but Mother Nature has burst into life and the vegetation is growing at an alarming rate around the fence so best push on! Using a scythe, loppers, a spade, wire cutters a bow saw and the quad bike and trailer (Yes! Awesome! Love the quaddie) in two days the fence line was removed. Day one was muddy and rainy, day two was glorious. With the sound of the cuckoo in the distance, a black cap singing loudly, a linnet watching me have lunch and bees humming in the hawthorn blossom which smells amazing, one can’t help thinking ‘What a wonderful world!’ At lunch break I glanced at my mobile and read my work e mails…. TRACTOR EXAM IN 5 DAYS!!!!!!!!!!!! EEEEK!!!!!!!!!!! One thing as a trainee that future trainees should note is work comes thick and fast. My jobs are piling up and things can change at the last minute. You can have your work week planned out in your head then WHAM! Everything changes. Adaptability, flexibility, innovation and above all good humour are vital tools, and as Tim keeps reminding me ‘it’s character building!’ said with an extremely wry smile. I will just mention at this point a little about Tim and Linda. Tim has been in post for a goodly time and Linda has done similar work in previous jobs and has quickly got to grasp with all the Gwent Wildlife Trust’s reserves she is responsible for. They know what needs doing, they know how long it should take, they know the pitfalls, and they feel your frustration at not having time to complete a task because you have had to break off for other vital work. It helps when your ‘higher ups’ are fun and patient. We don’t always see eye to eye but even that is approached with reason and humour. It truly helps!
Sooooooo the tractor exam. Did I pass? Drum roll please! YES! As did the woodland trainee, a great young lad called Dewi who has shared the ups and downs with me of tractor training. Very pleased and looking forward to using my newly acquired skills! Coupling up the PTO and aligning the tractor to do the three point linkage had been giving me nightmares, but by a massive dose of divine intervention, both were aced first time and went as smooth as silk, or as smooth as the tonne of grease I had applied to the PTO shaft beforehand!
Another day, another task so on from the heady success of tractors to Dingestow to clean out and uncover, from years of blackthorn growth, several water troughs. This is one of those tasks that you can really lose yourself in. Beautiful weather, surroundings and so satisfying to remove 6 inches plus of twigs, slime and foul filthy water (been a while since they were used) and replace with sparkling clean drinking water.
Next week I am ‘bossless’ and on call so that will be interesting although hopefully no livestock emergency will happen!
So no emergencies so far! The weather has been really warm and so on Monday I undertook the task of cleaning out the lambing stable. Not the easiest or nicest job as it had been deep littered for a while, and was hard work but very rewarding to see it all scrubbed and disinfected ready for next time. Tuesday I finished this and helped Doug load some huge pieces of timber in his truck, (Always cool as Doug is great fun!) Wednesday was the big sheep day. Pauline, the most knowledgeable of the volunteer shepherds and who taught me pretty much all I know, joined me and together we set off on our merry way on the quad bikes down to the field to get the lambs in for the first of their injections. This injection protects them from clostridium and pasturella diseases and a lot of interesting sounding ones like pulpy kidney, black leg and braxy. The lambs will need a further dose in 4-6 weeks which should be fun as they will be a little wiser. Again I will try and precis this but the vital points to note are as follows:
1. Lambs can squeeze through the race into the ‘treated field’ and so always take tag numbers otherwise you will be in trouble and will never find the untreated one! (Yes, we had to get them all in again but thankfully we always take tag numbers!)
2. Never work such a strenuous job with people (Pauline!) who make you laugh hysterically - as it drains vital energy.
3. Make sure you wear secure clothing, preferably a boiler suit as whilst holding one lamb it kicked violently, got its back legs into my trouser waist band and managed to pull down, a considerable way both my trousers and pants!
4. Make sure your co-worker, whilst juggling, pen , paper and lamb (thankfully not hypodermic!) is open to being a close friend as she retrieves your undergarments and trousers for you!
5. Never be the quad bike behind the quad towing the little trailer as it is just the right height to knock off every dandelion clock so you finish up with mouthfuls of dandelion fluff laughing and choking.
Suffice to say a tiring but great fun day. As we arrived back at the office we met the couple staying in the holiday cottage. They were farmers and we finished up having a rather splendid evening with them laughing and talking about what Gwent Wildlife Trust do farming wise, tractors and machinery and some great anecdotes. I arranged next morning to meet them and give them a full tour of Pentwyn and Wyeswood which they seemed to enjoy and hopefully will go back to Devon and spread the word!
So we are getting to the end of the month AND SO MUCH FOR MAKING THIS BLOG SHORTER! There is too much to pack in! Friday 24th was a Hill farming training day and I had been looking forward so much to this. Tom, the Senior Reserves Officer from The Living Valleys, who is a top bloke and brilliant source of information, had passed on the course details to me and I had booked on. I arrived and Tom was there and what followed was probably one of my favourite days so far (there have been quite a few!) Including but not limited to, amazing farmers, interesting talks and a convoy of 4x4 trucks on some serious terrain (Tom drove!) just AWESOME! I had picked up a message from one of the volunteer shepherds that one of the lambs had got into the wrong field and could not get back, so from the mountains a drive straight back to the farm to fire up the quaddie and go and find the missing lamb. There he was, with the older sheep looking confused, so quickly herded the old ewe (who is a darling) and a few others, plus the lamb into the race, pulled out the lamb, released the others and a quick walk to the right field, lamb under my arm and all was well again back with mum!
Next week I am going on a 2 day pretty intensive First aid course so I can lead Volunteers when qualified, so, all in all what a month!

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