Thoughts From Blaenavon World Heritage Site Volunteers

The Forgotten Landscapes Project at the Blaenavon World Heritage Site has been transformed to protect the heritage of the area, build new habitats and encourage wildlife.  A huge reason why this transformation and protection of the area has come about?

The Volunteers 

To showcase the project’s success with volunteers we thought we’d ask a few people who have been involved with wildlife monitoring, conservation and community engagement to tell us their thoughts!

Volunteers have been key to the projects success

Volunteers have been key to the projects success © Forgotten Landscapes

We interviewed: 
Heidi Scourfield, from Blaenavon who is involved with monitoring of the reed bed sites and is also a committee member for the project.
Julian Morgan. County ecologist.  Julian has a very personal story, as becoming a volunteer as the Blaenavon World Heritage Site helped change his life.
Nicholas Beswick, who has volunteered for Wildlife Monitoring.

1. How long have you been volunteering with the Forgotten Landscapes project?

Heidi Scourfield: “My partner and I signed up two and half years ago.”
Julian Morgan: “I signed for the project around 18 months ago, after I picked up a Forgotten Landscapes leaflet in Pontypool that was looking for volunteers.”
Nicholas Beswick: “I started volunteering at the project around two years ago”

2. Why did you get involved?

The conservation team having fun

The conservation team having fun © Forgotten Landscapes

Heidi: “As I live locally I wanted to help the area more to try and make a difference.  The project itself seemed very interesting and an excellent way to learn about the surroundings of where I live.”
Julian: “I had recently been made redundant, so I decided it was time to change my career and do something that would be more enjoyable to my life.  So I started looking for new opportunities which I thought would be more beneficial to my interests and where I could learn new skills.  In the area where I’m from it can sometimes be difficult so find such things, so when I saw the advert I applied and became a volunteer.  Since becoming a volunteer my life has changed for the better.  I have a new a job that is very similar to my volunteer job, I’ve met some incredible people and learnt plenty of new skills along the way.”
Nicholas: “As I had previous experience working for the National Trust working on bird surveys, I thought it would be good to contribute my experience to the project”

3. What do you find is the most appealing thing about the project?

Phragmites reeds on project site

Phragmites reeds on project site © Forgotten Landscapes

Heidi: “Being out and about has made volunteering a very appealing part of getting involved in the project.  I really enjoy being out in the open air, because the surrounding area of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site is stunning.”
Julian: “The preservation and conservation aspect of the project is a wonderful thing.  I love being around wildlife and nature, it’s a great feeling to be outside in the open air.  It’s been great to learn new things in terms of conservations.  As a result of the Forgotten Landscapes Project I’ve developed new skills which has helped me find new employment opportunities.  I’ve also bought my own skills to the project which has helped other people learn.  Without the project my life would be completely different, it has certainly had an impact on my own person experiences.”
Nicholas: “It’s an exciting project, which showcases a unique industrial heritage, which was an area of wasteland that has been turned into a more attractive place and transformed for wildlife”

4. Have you seen any changes to the area since the volunteer project started?

Beautiful Scenery in Blaenavon © Forgotten Landscapes

Beautiful Scenery in Blaenavon © Forgotten Landscapes

Heidi: “There have been a few changes over the last few years.  The one change, which I think, has had the most important and influential impact on the area is educating the local people.  More people in the community are now more aware of the great history that surrounds the area.  The lectures that take place at the Bleanavon World Heritage Centre have helped”
Julian: “From my own personal point of view in the eyes of a conservationist, I’ve noticed some big changes around Garn Lakes as a result of work from volunteers of the Forgotten Landscapes Project.  There has been a slow increase of wildlife as a result of activities like the laying of reed beds.”
Nicholas: “The work around Garn Lakes has been significant, before the area has no wildlife value, but has now changed dramatically”

2012-05-29 P1030212

Volunteers Hard at work! © Forgotten Landscapes

5. Where’s your favourite place to walk in the World Heritage Site?
Heidi: “The old rail line just past the cemetery on Varteg Hill, there’s an old cycle track and rail line.  Along the line you can see the Blaenavon Heritage Railway where there a historic steam trains.  There is a long stretch of forest towards Ponty and if you walk in the opposite direction you will end up at Garn Lakes.”
Julian: “The Blorenge is always a special place to visit, the scenary is beautiful and it’s also nice to see the changes to the area which the project has influenced.”
Nicholas: “The are a number of walks, such as heading up the North Ridge of the Garn Lake area.  There are areas where Red Grouse can be spotted.  It’s also nice to see the positive changed to the area.  Half a century ago the ridge was subjected to open cast mining, so it’s an interesting walk, but might not be for everyone.

6. Where’s your favourite spot to visit?
Heidi:
“It’s hard to say I enjoy it all…”
Julian: “I enjoy all of the areas, there is something different in ever place around the Bleanavon World Heritage site, whether it’s history or nature.”
Nicholas: “I find the hill pit part of the World Heritage Site fascinating.  It’s an iconic part of one of the earliest eras of the industrial revolution, the chimney was carefully constructed without the use of mortar, which makes it even more impressive.”

7. What do you think is the most important part of the Blaenavon World Heritage Site? 

Plenty of iconic sites

Plenty of iconic sites © Forgotten Landscapes

Heidi: “I think the most stand out place in the town would have to be the Iron Works.”
Julian: “The most iconic place has to be the Blaenavon Iron Works.  They’re historic and hugely significant to the area.”
Nicholas: “It’s good to see the local people actively engaged and appreciated by the community”.

8. Could you sum up your experience with the Forgotten Landscape project in one sentence?
Heidi: “It’s been an extremely enjoyable experience.  It’s got more people outside and active within the community.  It’s been wonderful meeting likeminded people and a good social experience.”
Julian: “An extremely enjoyable experience, that gets people outdoors, brings like minded people together, which has helped build confidence in people and the community.”
Nicholas: “It’s something that’s been a bit different, something that’s limited in scope, something that needs to be maintained by sustainably and public authority support.”

9.  Would you recommend volunteering to other people?
Heidi:
“Yes, it gets people out and about!”
Julian: “Yes, it gets people out and encourages them try new things.”
Nicholas: “Definitely, it’s something that is very rewarding.  People can see tangible changes, they can help to make a difference to the area, improve their skills and build the self-confidence.”

Better Yourself – Volunteer Focus- Education and Engagement

Help the Forgotten Landscapes project educate and engage.  This is a chance to volunteer to help younger generations learn about the Forgotten Landscape Projects great history and guiding walks around some of the most significantly historic places in the World.

The Walking Festival By Peter Fry ©

The Walking Festival By Peter Fry ©


The Junior Rangers Team.

It isn’t just the grown ups that can help make the Forgotten Landscapes Project a continued success. The Junior Rangers club, which is led by Forgotten Landscapes Education Officer Ceri Cadwallader, is the perfect option for any kids that love wildlife and exploring out in the open countryside. Open to children aged 7-11, the team meet once a month and get to do all sorts of fun activities, from learning bushcraft skills and canoe safaris to helping out with practical conservation tasks. The project is currently looking for new leaders.

Guided walks and events.

On top of helping to care for the landscape, our dedicated volunteer rangers also find the time to help out with our events and guided walks. At the recent Garn Lakes Country Fayre, this has involved manning the stand and talking to visitors about the scheme, as well as promoting the volunteer rangers. Where guided walks are concerned, volunteers have helped prepare for and even led the walks themselves – including at this year’s first first Blaenavon Walking Festival.

To sign up contact: 
Sarah Lewis, Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer
E- mail: sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk
Tel: 01495 742335 

Better Yourself – Volunteer Special – Wildlife Monitoring Team

Help the Forgotten Landscapes project reintroduce wildlife.  Volunteer for the monitoring team to participate in upland & wildlife monitoring…

Peregrine ©

Peregrine ©

Help take care of some of the region’s most important yet declining wildlife species by carrying out surveys throughout the year. Volunteers spent the winter of 2011-12 monitoring red grouse, which rely heavily on the heather moorland. They’ve also been instrumental in monitoring just what larger effect the Forgotten Landscapes Project has had on the environment. Other wildlife monitoring activities have included recording and photographing at the FLP reed bed creation site where water levels, reed height, signs of mink and other general observations are recorded.

If you’re into birds, you can do the British Trust for Ornithology a massive favour and help out with the monthly Wetland Birds Survery of Garn Lakes Local Nature Reserve. 

Individual Benefits
Mental: Slow down, enjoy a peaceful setting and enjoy the positivity of knowing you are contributing to the progression of nature.
Physical: Enjoy being active and relaxed.
Environmental/ Future Society: Helping the welfare of nature and improving habitats.

To sign up contact: 
Sarah Lewis, Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer
E- mail: sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk
Tel: 01495 742335

 

Better Yourself – Volunteer Special – Archaeology Group

Sign up today to help save history! Improve the landscape around the World Heritage Site, learn a new skill and help make a difference…

Hill Pits Workday

Hill Pits Workday

Ever wanted to turn back time and discover just how people lived their lives many years ago? Join this group and you’ll do just that. Volunteers meet twice monthly (one indoor and one outdoor learning session) to hone their archeology skills under the watchful eye of experts from Archeology Wales. Complete the scheme and you’ll have the tools needed to complete projects on other sites.

Individual Benefits
Mental:
Learn about the outstanding history from the area, learn how to find historic evidence and understand what to be an archaeologist. 
Physical:
Enjoy fresh air and being active.
Environmental/ Future Society: Preserving history of the area to ensure future generations are aware of the areas proud past.

To sign up contact:
Sarah Lewis, Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer
E- mail: 
sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk
Tel: 
01495 742335

Better Yourself – Volunteer Special – Dry Stone Walling

Sign up today for dry stone walling! Improve the landscape, learn a new skill and help make a difference…

Learning the historic methods of Dry Stone Walling

Learning the historic methods of Dry Stone Walling

A tricky skill to master, dry stone walling means not only helping to repair and save the region’s numerous historic areas, but also bettering yourself in the process by picking up a completely new skill. Volunteer and you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve helped improve the landscape that relies on the walls to manage the land.

Individual Benefits
Mental:
Better yourself, learn a new skill, discover a new side of yourself and feel a wonderful sense of achievement.
Physical: Enjoy regular exercise and being active. 
Environmental/ Future Society: Help the landscape remain intact, preserve history, landscape legacy and ensure the countryside is controlled for wildlife.

To sign up contact: 
Sarah Lewis, Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer
E- mail: sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk
Tel: 01495 742335

 

Better Yourself – Volunteer Focus

Spring at Forgotten Landscapes

Spring at Forgotten Landscapes

With the weather so fine, it’s a great time to get outside, grab a few lungfuls of fresh country air and do some good to the area around you!

From the very beginning, volunteers have played a hugely important role in the success of the Forgotten Landscapes Project at the World Heritage Site.

With no less than five different volunteer groups, each one offers its own unique skills and challenges for individuals. So if you want to be a bit more active, see some more of this beautiful country of ours and help contribute to the lasting legacy of the South Wales Valleys, there’s really only one thing to do… volunteer!

So this week we’re going to focus on each of the five types of volunteering and today we’re kicking off with:

The Practical Conservation Team…

The Conservation Team Reed Bed Planting

The Conservation Team Reed Bed Planting

Working within a conservation team offers individuals more than just an opportunity to be out in the countryside helping to improve the landscape.   

This team carries out a wide range of countryside and rights of way management in a group of about six people, usually every other Wednesday and Saturday and sometimes on other days of the week too. To name just a few, these tasks have included:

  • Helping with controlled burning to manage the important moorland habitats of the landscape
  • Managing the invasive bracken to clear paths and make way for more heather
  • Putting in new signage for walking trail
  • Planting a new reed bed habitat

Individual Benefits
Mental
Get yourself out of the house, meet new people and make new friends.
Feel the positive karma of helping to improve the environment around you.
Physical
Fresh healthy air, exercise and being active
Environmental/ Future Society
Contributing to the welfare of the environment, helping reduce unique wildlife species back into the countryside and helping to clean up the World!

To sign up contact: 
Sarah Lewis, Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer
E- mail: sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk
Tel: 01495 742335

 

Some Remarkable Facts About Wildlife

The Forgotten Landscape project has successfully helped increase a variety of wildlife to the area.  One big success story has been the increase of the native red grouse to the moorlands.

Nicholas Beswick is a volunteer for the project, his role has been to monitor the red grouse and other wild birds in the area.

Here’s a quick insight to red grouse in the area and some facts that you probably never new!

Hill's Pit at Dawn by Nicholas Beswick ©

Hill’s Pit at Dawn by Nicholas Beswick ©

Grouse (correctly, Red Grouse, Lagopus lagopus scotticus)

The Red Grouse is a native game bird, unlike the Pheasant which was introduced by the Romans.  It is found only on heather moorland, with the bulk of the UK’s population in the Scottish highlands.  Our local birds are the most southerly native in Britain (they were introduced on to Dartmoor for game shooting).

Grouse in the Wild

GrouseThe grouse eat heather shoots and therefore flourish only where the moor is well managed.  Under or over grazing results in loss of heather and grouse.  In times past, local landowners employed gamekeepers to manage the moors and to control predators but cannot now afford to do so.  There is, though, still an established shoot which hopes to resume limited shooting if grouse numbers grow to a viable level.

Unlike many other birds, the Red Grouse is resident all year round and can survive the harshest weather on the mountains.  Indeed, some severe weather may be beneficial in killing insect parasites.  They are most easily found in fine weather in early spring when the males will be calling to establish territories and will usually be seen flying off, low over the heather.  They are Woodpigeon size and dark red-brown all over – good views through binoculars will reveal intricate markings and the male has red eyebrows.  They have harsh, barking calls; a typical one is often represented as “Go back!  Go back!  Go back!   Go back!”  The presence of grouse may also be inferred from their characteristic droppings which are often deposited on paths and look rather like small heaps of cigarette ends.

The Forgotten Landscapes Project

The Forgotten Landscapes project hopes to improve management of the moors for the benefit of the grouse and other wildlife.  This includes creating firebreaks to reduce the problem of wildfires, conducting controlled burning of over-mature heather, limiting the encroachment of bracken and encouraging helpful grazing regimes.  Volunteers are monitoring grouse and Skylark numbers to enable assessment of the success of the moorland management.  This will need to be a continuing task for many years as there are no quick fixes.­­­

 

If you would like to be involved in projects similar to this and learn more about volunteering contact Forgotten Landscapes today.
Contact: 
Sarah Lewis, Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer
E-mail: sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk   Telephone: 01495 742335

 

The Rise of Reedbeds – Part Two

AlvinNicholas

Here’s an interview with ALVIN NICHOLAS, who’s the Commons Officer at the UNESCO heritage site of Forgotten Landscapes and the famous author of Supernatural Wales.  Alvin will also be leading a walk at the Blaenavon Walking Festival.
In this interview Alvin gives us a wonderful insight into how Forgotten Landscapes is helping to save wildlife and nature with reedbeds.

Can you tell us what reedbeds are all about at Forgotten Landscapes?
Reedbeds are being introduced to Forgotten Landscapes to help change the natural environment, encourage wildlife, protect the land and habitat.
When the project started two years ago we had to come up with ideas on how we could best create new habitats and encourage wildlife to increase in the area.  Due to the type of terrain and wetlands over the Forgotten Landscape area, we felt one of the best things to do was to build up reedbeds in certain areas.

Phragmites reeds on project site

Phragmites reeds on project site

How are reedbeds beneficial to people?
The reedbeds offer all sorts of benefits to people.  Firstly, they help to preserve nature and the environment.  They create a whole new biodiversity for the area and will hopefully bring back extinct species to Forgotten Landscapes.  They also make the area cleaner, especially when you consider the waste that was created from the past industrial era.  Mine and coal spoil water now runs through the reedbeds and are naturally cleaned up through a series of biological filters.  They therefore clean up the environment, help the eco system and improve the quality of life for people living in the area.

2011-11-05 Reed Bed Planting 002What’s the basic concept and idea behind putting in a reed bed in a landscape like South Wales?

Reedbeds are quite scarce in the UK, but offer huge opportunities to the natural environment.  Conservationists believe there are huge benefits to wildlife.  Reedbeds can be a stepping stone for wildlife that are looking to migrate north due to the change in climate/ global warming, they act as special areas of protection to vulnerable wildlife.  The other important role of reed beds is that they help make the environment a nicer place for the communities near by.

Did you have many other alternative choices for conservation ideas? If so what were they?
We had a few other ideas, such as re-wetting the bogs to make a vaster wildlife area, however the scale was a bit too ambitious as it would have been a slower process.

What will happen to the reed beds in ten years time?
In ten years time we hope to see the reed bed areas buzzing with life, some of the reeds have already grown as high as seven foot tall, so hopefully we can see them fully established in the landscape.  We hope to have covered two hectare2011-11-05  Reed Bed Planting 007s of area with reed beds. The last time this was done was for the Gwent Wetlands.  So far this project has seen volunteers planting over 20,000 reeds.  The community has come together to really improve the environment for themselves, future generations and the wildlife around.  It has given the volunteers and people from the area a real sense of ownership and pride of the area where they come from.

Are Forgotten Landscape reed beds unique in anyway?
Yes, they are very unique for the fact they involve three different types of landscapes.  The levels of landscapes range from an old agricultural areas, to industrial wasteland but are now being reclaimed by nature.  The land is now being developed for the future; reed beds are part of this conservation project.

How can visitors make the most out of the reed beds?
Visitors can get involved by volunteering and joining to help make a difference.  They can enjoy walks around the reed beds, knowing that they are surrounded by natural beauty and clean air.  Some new developments have also been constructed for visitors to understand the wildlife and everything that is going on.  A new wildlife “hide screen” has been constructed for bird watchers wanting to view the wildlife without disturbing it and there are also plenty of walks as well.

Why are reed beds suited for the Forgotten Landscape environment?
The Forgotten Landscape is perfect for the reed beds as it is a fairly wet and boggy area, which makes it ideal for these plants.  The area also has a fair altitude, which is key for attracting unique species on the nature side of things.

Wildlife at Forgotten Landscapes

Wildlife at Forgotten Landscapes

What wildlife do you hope will become part of the habitat?
We hope to see plenty of invertebrates, amphibians, mammals and breeding birds such as Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler coming to the area.  There is also an opportunity to encourage water voles to come back to the area as well.

How can visitors and volunteers get involved?
There are two ways to get involved with the reed bed project.  People can sign up as volunteers to help monitor the wildlife activities, or they can help plant and more reeds.

This project is all about the community that the people live in, what has been so special about this project is that it is the actions of local people that has made the big difference.  We want to make the community proud of where they live, respect the environment around them and help improve the lives of others.

To learn more about volunteering contact Forgotten Landscapes today.
Contact: 
Sarah Lewis, Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer
E-mail: sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk   Telephone: 01495 742335

Reedbed Wetlands: Stepping Stones to Survival of Wildlife

If you’ve been roaming around the moorlands, the valleys surrounding Bleanavon or other UNESCO listed areas ofForgotten Landscapes you might have seen a rise in reedbed wetlands.  So why has there been rise of these reedbeds in the area? 

Phragmites reeds on project site

Phragmites reeds on project site

Well, over the past two years volunteers have been working hard to plant reeds in various areas of wetlands with a hope of saving wildlife, building a larger natural habitat and improving the landscape all over Forgotten Landscapes.

Reed Bed Planting

Volunteers enjoy reed bed planting

It might not look that inviting, but as our planet warms up, the boggy wetland that visitors see around Forgotten Landscapes may hold the key to the future survival of the birds, mammals and insects that like to make their home amongst the reeds.

Whilst people are able to modify their homes to counter the effects of climate change, plants and animals are forced to move. Species that require cooler conditions are moving northwards. The reedbed wetland that has been created here will provide a sanctuary, a ‘stepping stone’ to help them relocate over time.

It’s difficult to imagine that this was once a desolate wasteland, the legacy of Blaenavon’s industrial past.

Blaenavon World Heritage Site volunteers have helped to create a new landscape – one that is being managed for the future!

To learn more about volunteering contact Forgotten Landscapes today.
Contact: 
Sarah Lewis, Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer
E-mail: sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk   Telephone: 01495 742335

The People Behind Forgotten Landscapes…

Behind the Forgotten Landscapes there is an invaluable team of workers, who are pushing the project on.  Each team member plays a different role to ensure that the project is successfully implemented. Whether it’s educating people, building a more environmentally friendly area or changing the landscapes for the future.  

So to give you a better understanding what the different people at Forgotten Landscapes here’s a quick insight for you…

Sarah Lewis

Sarah Lewis

Name: Sarah Lewis 

Job Title: Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer

What the role involves:
Developing a trained volunteer workforce to be involved as many aspects of the project work as possible.  Supporting the newly formed constituted community group from this volunteer workforce who will continue to input into the WHS/FLP management plan. 

Why is Forgotten Landscapes important to you:

The beautiful landscapes of Forgotten Landscape

The beautiful landscapes of Forgotten Landscape

The Forgotten Landscapes Partnership Scheme is a unique blending of projects which have achieved a huge amount of varied improvements to the area on different levels, whether involving local people as volunteers, managing the commons by working with local farmers, giving the chance for school groups to learn about the landscape etc.  The area has so much to offer any visitor both in terms of natural and industrial heritage.

To learn more about volunteering contact Forgotten Landscapes today.
Contact: 
Sarah Lewis, Forgotten Landscapes Volunteer Recruitment & Training Officer
E-mail: sarah.lewis@torfaen.gov.uk   Telephone: 01495 742335