March was a very busy month at Carmel National Nature Reserve. We rushed to finish several scrub clearance jobs before the birds began nesting. One of our greatest challenges at Carmel is to achieve our aim of winning back the original grassland from encroaching bramble, bracken, scrub and secondary woodland, while maintaining habitat for dormice, reptiles and scrub / woodland birds. That is why it is vital to monitor species and habitats in order to guide our management.
Volunteers recently placed nearly 100 dormouse boxes and tubes in the Pwll Edrychiad section of the reserve, to identify which habitats the dormice are using. I would like to begin reptile monitoring as well, if we can find more local volunteers to help with regular monitoring. Our current volunteers have a full work programme, featuring both habitat management and species monitoring, and we don’t want to cause ‘volunteer fatigue’! Please contact us if you are interested in helping.
Contractors are employed on the larger scrub and tree clearance jobs on the reserve. For once we were lucky with the weather, which remained dry and sunny. Although West Wales often feels like wettest place in the world, Carmel dries out quickly. There are no streams or rivers running through the reserve – instead, rainwater quickly seeps through the underlying limestone to feed Pant-y-llyn turlough, the seasonal, groundwater-fed lake to the east of our reserve. The turlough is the main feature responsible for Carmel’s European designation as a Special Area of Conservation, as it is thought to be the only turlough in mainland Britain.
The contractors were able to get their machinery up to a steep bank at the north end of Pwll Edrychiad, to tackle the gorse and bramble spreading through the Molinea grassland. One of the problems with scrub and tree clearance is that it produces a surprisingly large amount of ‘brash’ (scrub, branches, twigs, etc.) that needs to be disposed of sustainably. We use what we can to create habitat piles, and we prefer not to burn the rest. The contractors came up with a new solution: they used a grabber to collect the cut gorse (which is horrible to handle), load it into a trailer and take it to a local business that processes woody material to supply a biofuel power station in Margam, about 28 miles from Carmel.
We also cleared an area of bracken, birch and other scrub at Pant y Castell, on heathland to the west of the main reserve. The aim was to clear enough scrub to encourage ponies to graze the whole area and keep it permanently open. The contractors chipped the cut scrub here, and then spread it around the new water trough, to prevent the ponies from cutting up the ground when they come to drink.
I hope that the female stonechat I saw investigating the results at Carmel agreed that we have achieved a good balance of nesting habitat in scrub with adjacent grassland full of insects for her chicks.
Deborah Sazer, Ecologist