Our bird walk around the meadows this morning set a new record of thirty-eight species, including three we haven’t seen before. Redstart and willow warbler are migrants that spend the summer in woods a bit higher up on the hills around Abergavenny. They are probably down on the meadows refuelling after their flights back from Africa. Both are a bit tricky to identify: willow warblers look very like chiffchaffs (which were also around the meadows), and this female redstart could have been mistaken for a robin until we spotted that the red was on the tail, not the front. Fortunately we had Steve Butler from the Gwent Ornithological Society to confirm the identifications. The other new bird was unmistakeable: a pair of siskins, the male in particular shining yellow in the sun. These are residents but move around different habitats during the year depending on where seeds can be found. In cold winters they may even visit garden feeders for a few weeks early in the year. Other highlights of the walk were a splendid male redpoll, in full breeding plumage, and the large colony of sand martins settling in to the river bank for the summer.
Seven of us joined Fiona Ford to hear about some of the traditional uses and stories of plants growing on the meadows. The most obvious are the trees: horse chestnut, whose wood is too light for timber but ideal for wooden legs; oak, whose bark produced tannin for making leather and whose galls were ground up and used as ink; ash, which hardens in water, so used for canal lock gates, but rots if placed in the ground; and alder, used as charcoal for making weapons both because the blood-coloured sap when cut was thought to indicate magical powers and, more practically, because it makes a very hot fire. Many plants were thought to have medical benefits, some of which have been confirmed by modern pharmacy: mugwort should probably not be relied upon to protect from sunstroke or mad dogs; broad-leaf dock does contain anti-histamines so can be rubbed on nettle stings to reduces the pain; carrying or wearing crushed elder leaves will repel midges, but the smell will keep most humans at a distance as well.
Young Friends from Year 5 at Cantref School returned to the meadows last week to carry out a litter pick and to identify and (literally) highlight the issue of dog fouling across the site.
The ten strong Deri View Eco Team enjoyed a recent visit to the Castle Meadows where they joined Mark Langley from Monmouthshire Countryside Services and Friends of Castle Meadows volunteers for a morning of pond dipping and food chain activities.
“The natural world in Abergavenny and the surrounding area”
The Friends of Castle Meadows have launched a photographic competition to capture the best of Abergavenny and its environment – and showcase the winners during the Monmouthshire and district National Eisteddfod of Wales 2016.
The theme of the competition, sponsored by Shackleton Photographic, is ‘The natural world in Abergavenny and the surrounding area’, and it has categories for both children and adults with certificates and vouchers for winners.
Winning entries will be on display on the Maes at Castle Meadows during the premier cultural festival in Wales between July 29th and August 6th, and have the potential to be seen by many thousands of visitors.
Accompanied by Friends volunteers, teachers and support staff the pond dipping and food chain activities were organised and led by Mark Langley from Monmouthshire Council Countryside Services.
The Young Friends scheme is aimed at encouraging our local children’s interaction with, and experience of, the natural world generally and Abergavenny’s Castle Meadows in particular.
Over the next year it will involve each of the town’s primary and junior schools, with all of them benefiting from activity led visits to the site as well as a practical session which can be either schools based or on location. Every practical session will mapped the the National Curriculum.
The Young Friends will also be undertaking site specific nature survey researches and also campaigns aimed at encouraging a responsible engagement with the meadows. The results of these surveys and campaign notices and posters will be posted here later in the year. Some of our Young Friends will also be involved with the National Eisteddfod which is being held on the Castle Meadows this summer. But more on that later…