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Gwent Wildlife Trust Grassland Conservation Trainee blog by Nadine Evans

Posted: Thursday 1st August 2019 by Sarah Harris

Nadine Evans pictured at Pentwyn FarmNadine Evans pictured at Pentwyn Farm

Here's my blog for July.


Well, July was hot!!!! and started with Heptavaccing the lambs who are not so little anymore. I arrived on that day to see Tim and Linda coupling up the cattle trailer, two of the steers were off to market so I took the quad bike and followed them down to the fields to help get the cattle in. The steers were as good as gold, and the only slight faltering occurred when instead of the cattle being moved towards the race, they all decided they wanted to see Tim! WRONG WAY STEERS!!!!! They were loaded though and away they went to market. This is what I love, minimum stress and relaxed cattle.
I then took the quad back and met Pauline who was ready with all the accoutrements for a day with the sheep. Would the little darlings go in the pen? Well yes, and no, as the trusty quad chose this moment to throw a tantrum and refuse to change down his gears giving the sheep crucial thinking time to escape back into the field. What is it about machinery and animals? Eventually we got them in and all went relatively smoothly this time, except for one little Hebridean lamb having a monumental tantrum and kicking so hard that I acquired a rather splendid bruise! Sheep, bless them!
Next I was on livestock checking duties. All the critters were fine and so from there I went off to New Grove Meadows just down the road from Pentwyn. Another stunningly beautiful place where the meadows are rather splendid this time of year with Knapweed, Ox-eye daisies, Burnet moths, butterflies, and orchids….. so many orchids! I count the orchids in the four fields and there are Heath spotted, Common spotted and Twayblades. I also cleaned and emptied the water troughs out ready for some of the sheep that will be placed there to do their bit for conservation in the autumn.
Well the tempo changed on shearing day which started at 07:30am, as the shearers were due at 08:00am. It was a good job it was early as it was going to be hot. Tim had got the quad and trailer loaded and headed on down whilst Linda and I waited for Pauline. Linda drove down and we all set to in our various positions to do what was needed. Tim had already got the sheep in. Sounds easy but trust me, unless you are Tim, it isn’t. (See previous sheep posts!) Infuriating, but at the same time awesome to watch as they just follow Tim into the pen like he is the proverbial Pied Piper! We all have our jobs. Linda is on rolling wool. This involved making sure the fleece is outside upmost, tucking in both edges all along and rolling and securing in a tight bundle so that the shoulder fleece (inside) is topmost so that the graders can pull and grade the best wool from the fleece. I was on passing fleeces to Linda from the two shearers and clearing the shearing area plus sorting loose wool. Tim and Pauline were on chivvying the sheep through and separating lambs. Now if you think that these processes are easy, not so, and there are International competitions for all parts of the process. I pretended I was in the World Championships in New Zealand and was the leading female contender. The reality was I managed to shut Pauline’s hand in a door (she is okay), throw a fleece on the rolling table so enthusiastically that I missed, covering Linda completely with a large Hill Radnor fleece from head to toe, and grabbing an errant Hebridean sheep that was escaping between the legs of the shearer…. Well enough said there! Still, we were finished by 11am and the sheep feel so happy being ‘naked’ and I am sure they were smiling from head to toe!
Saturday - well I don’t usually work a Saturday but I have volunteered to help mann the Gwent Wildlife Trust stand at the Monmouthshire show. I started at 11am meeting Debbie, the Marketing and Membership Manager, by the gate to get my wristband. Debbie explained the order of things and then I was joined by Lois, a lovely lady who is the Membership and Marketing Administrator for Gwent Wildlife Trust and we set to explaining to people the role of GWT and what it does and then if people wanted to join, introduced them to Steve, one of the marketing guys. It was lovely speaking to the public and I enjoyed telling people about the absolute magic of the GWT sites that are throughout Gwent and many on their doorstep that they never knew about. It was so rewarding to see people so engaged and excited and membership was increased that day by a fair bit. Any reader who isn’t a member, it is so worth doing! One highlight was meeting a fellow trainee who was from the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, a really nice young man who I am sure will go far. We compared notes about our training and had a really good laugh talking about how wayward sheep can be!
Next up was a brilliant talk by Linda called Marvellous Moths. It was a hot day and we sat outside, me and a small group of enthusiasts and beginners drinking tea and coffee and identifying moths, some big (Macro moths) and some small (Micro moths). The family sitting on one side of me became pretty darn good at the micro moths and many species were identified; all from around Linda’s garden which is close enough to the reserve for the trap to be indicative of species. 31 species in all with great names such as Pebble Prominent, Hearts and Darts, Mottle Beauty and Smoky Wainscott! Linda has been letting areas of her garden grow and the results have been surprising. Poppies have grown which could be up to 50 years dormant and an abundance of moths, some rare nationally but not rare locally have been found. It shows how leaving grasses and natural vegetation to ‘rewild’ can have amazing results. I am quite taken with it.
The next day, a Monday was sheep day. Linda and Tim worked on the sheep whilst my task was to ferry sheep with the quad to various fields, then getting the young cattle in for checking. I love working the livestock.
Tuesday saw a livestock check and walk around with a potential new shepherd, a lovely lady I met at the Monmouthshire show. Happy to say we enjoyed a good old natter and she is now a volunteer shepherd! Then on to a talk about grassland profitability, which was just the best time meeting farmers and hearing their stories and what they hope to achieve. I made sure some had my details, as hopefully I can get some more work experience or a job after my traineeship and work with livestock and machinery (if any reader wants someone to exercise their tractors, I am the person for the job!)
Thursday was spent with the awesome volunteers. Removing plastic tree guards and I am happy to report the last of them have gone. The job, in true Mary Poppins fashion is mundane but with the right company is made so much easier! The proverbial ‘spoonful of sugar’! After which I checked the livestock and picked up the sacks of plastic tree guards. A quick talk with Tim and Linda about the jobs to be done, Linda and I gather all the stuff needed for fixing stiles ….the next day's task.
Friday- off to Springdale. Meet Jeff a bird box checking volunteer to fix one of the stiles. Hot, sweaty work carrying a lot of heavy tools up a hill across a field. The ground was hard as rock and Jeff was a star with the fence poster which we took turns in hammering wooden posts in. Jeff took over whilst I ferried all the equipment not needed back to the car. Around five trips in the end. Job done - back to Pentwyn to unload and check in with Linda then early finish phew! What a week - I need a shower!
Monday came aorund and it was time for brushcutting. I have been tasked with brushcutting various places around Pentwyn and Wyeswood, rough time estimation for job? Maybe a couple of hours, actually time of job? ALL DAY! Boiling hot, with humidity of 100000000% and a brushcutter that doesn’t like me. The trimmer wire had to be rewound several times as kept locking on itself and just as it began to behave, it would throw a hissy fit in some other way. In all fairness to the little brute, it may well have overheated as was given some pain in hot weather. My usual effervescent mood left me but then Richard, Magor Marsh Senior Reserves Officer and Ben, Gwent Levels Reserves Officer, pitched up to return some equipment after an Open Day. They made me smile and invited me to come and see what they do at their site. The kindness I have been shown from all GWT staff has been amazing. From the Gwent Levels to Ebbw Vale and Silent Valley, I could not have wished to meet nicer people.
Tractor Day today topping - started off great but around 4pm there started to be a slight smell of burning so I stopped immediately and took the tractor back, but before I did it was wonderful to see two foxes playing in the field chasing each other and a Buzzard waiting for any rabbits or voles to be flushed out by the tractor. The Buzzard would perch in a tree, and then swoop down after each pass of the tractor. I was going slower than walking pace so gave plenty of time for any animals to get out of the way, then after some tractor maintenance, off to finish cutting nettles by the fences and see the livestock. Another massively full and tiring day.
So… back to the orchids… I know you miss them. I am meeting one of the orchid counting volunteers to quickly hand over some posts to mark quadrats, and then back to Tim and Linda for further instructions. Tim said I could use the tractor with the cut and collect and as tempting as that was, I wanted a full day to play with that beaut, so asked for some quicker, smaller task. “Ok” said Tim, (being sensitive to my trainee needs) “You can pick the odd bit of ragwort from field 14, just near the edge and then maybe field 11” “No worries Tim” says I, “Ok so that is field 14, 11 and 12 !” says Tim..Hmmmmm slipped that extra field in quickly enough. You have seen magicians with sleight of hand, Tim has ‘sleight of jobs’ and can pack a few more in without you even blinking. But to be fair, Tim never expects you to do anything he wouldn’t do and he is always walking around at this time of the year with small ‘bouquets’ of ragwort. Great stuff for cinnabar moths, rubbishly poisonous for livestock.(thankfully, not really a problem at Pentwyn).Part way round, looking like a sweaty Father Christmas with a sack of yellow flowers, Linda texts, “Could you please check the young cattle in the woodland?” No problem! Yeh right! How do you lose 13 Hereford steers in a wood? 10,000 steps later and mumbling profanities, I give up and go back to get the quad bike. They will not beat me. I find five cattle on my return and after being nettled, brambled, smacked on my helmet by low branches, there are eight steers looking decidedly pleased with themselves in the deepest, darkest, most inaccessible part of the wood. I have never seen the beasties look so darn happy. I am beginning to take it personally. Back with the quaddie who gets a well-deserved drink of fuel before being put to bed and I am off home.
It's Monday and I'm on Ebbw Vale with Tom, Liz, Alex, Melanie and Pauline picking up sheep and taking them to Llangattock their new home. First a cup of tea and then forming lines to chivvy the sheep into the trailer. Problem was, the sheep actually wanted to go into the trailer before sorting. A fair few giggles and lots of jumping from A to B and they were sorted and off we went. Interesting terrain. At our destination we were met by such a wonderful couple, so excited about their first sheep. A masterclass from Pauline and Liz later, and then one in paperwork from Tom, cups of tea, and some beautiful dogs, we left and went back to Ebbw Vale for lunch with all the gang and Natalie. So many laughs about the tractor and ryetec cut and collect and then we left to go back home. Linda had texted to ask if I wouldn’t mind checking the cattle in the woods and sheep in field 11, so back to Pentwyn, checked the beasties, all okay, present and correct and then back home.
Monday and my last Monday as a trainee. I do officially have two more months to go but want to try my hand at some more agricultural stuff. I will still stay on as a volunteer shepherd but cannot commit the time any longer. It has been amazing! Any future trainees do it, just do it! A massive thanks to everyone who has helped me along the way.
So weaning the lambs with Tim, Linda is away for a few days so Tim and I get the ewes and lambs in and give them an MOT before separating them.Typically one lamb didn’t want to cut the apron strings so to speak and somehow finished up back with the ewes. Never mind, we will separate them soon. Alison, one of the volunteer shepherds and a great asset and laugh, helped Tim move the ewes across the fields to their new field whilst I attended to a water trough. Then onto something new…seed harvesting. Another piece of kit. Tim showed me how to use it and off I went harvesting all the lovely wild flower seeds that will be bagged for sale or used as part of the conservation programme. A brilliant day and so much fun, but a word of warning…I wore a long sleeved top but decided it was a little warm and rolled my sleeves up. One sleeve was more cooperative than the other and the result is the most uneven farmer’s tan on my arms you have ever seen! Things you never thought of as a trainee.
So my final day - Bracken bashing. Something I had always wanted a go at. It didn’t disappoint but hard work for the poor little quaddie as the bigger one is in for a service. After lunch I sieved and bagged the wildflower seed collected the other day and then all of a sudden it was half past five and my time as a trainee was over. If you have read my blogs, a massive thank you and although wordy, I have tried to convey the sheer variety of work as a trainee and how I have progressed from nothing to where I am today. Thank you everyone but especially Tim and Linda.

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