Horsepower and hats (Stepping back in time: Part 1)

By Mariecia Fraser

Old photos and films can give such fascinating insights into bygone days.

“Shadow on the Mountains” is a short film showing life in the hills in 1931 which is free to watch on BFI Player.  It has no audio or soundtrack, and this together with the jerky haste of early films gives a real sense of atmosphere.  Much of the film is shot on steep hillsides typical of the sudden transition from valley floor to high upland plateau.  Men incongruously dressed in Sunday best, complete with ties and hats, head out to gather their sheep.  They ride stocky little hill ponies and are accompanied by a motley collection of working dogs.  Shots of abandoned mine workings are a reminder that other ways of life have come and gone in these areas.

Later footage captures the more rolling and fertile lower lands near the coast and the crops grown these.  This gives a link to a section showing experiments with grass and clover underway in the greenhouses of the Welsh Plant Breeding Station, which had been opened in 1919 (see more here).  We see scientists with a surprisingly simple set-up doing pioneering work a world away from the high tech systems of today.  Back up the hill a caterpillar tractor and plough working at an alarming  angle and speed prepares ground for reseeding with these new, improved grasses and clovers, leading to concluding shots of an apparently contented ewe chewing her cud with her lamb by her side.

shadows

To watch, follow the link here

What is striking is how similar much of the landscape is to what you’d see today.  This is a time well before support subsidies and headage payments, yet we see vast tracts of the same floristically challenged grasslands that are now considered synonymous with over grazing.  No trees, no heather.  It’s just one area,  but it’s a reminder that it’s often worth questioning just how good the ‘good old days’ really were.

 

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From staff to student (again)

From staff to student (again)

By Ben Roberts

Decisions, decisions…

This time a year ago, February 2016, I was writing the first posts for this blog; very much into my job at the time and not really wondering what was going to happen when the fated day of September the 6th rolled by and my contract was to finish. Having spent 6 months (with 5 remaining) as a KTP Associate; mapping the pipeline for producing the Alzheimer’s disease drug galantamine from daffodils and supplying the related QA documents; I hadn’t bothered to worry myself too much on the future.download

Though, unfortunately as it does, time went ticking by. And by the beginning of June I was beginning to scratch various parts of my head quite a bit over what I should do come the big day. Fortunately, my nails and receding hairline were saved from too much damage.

One particularly wet lunchtime (we get lots of those at Pwllpeiran), Mariecia asked me what I wanted to do post contract – a dangerous thing to ask any not-long-graduated 22 year old. I had however been mulling it over in anticipation of such a question. Having greatly enjoyed my job, my time at Pwllpeiran, and the university in general- I thought that given the opportunity I might like to stay on. I also realised that the thing I enjoyed the most was the research side. And fortunately, when Mariecia told me about her future projects – one in particular stuck out.

Sooo, what was this new project?

Well, it was an upcoming PhD project due to start in September 2016. A collaborative project between IBERS, the computer science department, RSPB Lake Vyrnwy, and the Elan Valley Trust titled ‘Understanding and exploiting livestock behaviour to manage upland vegetation for wildlife and ecosystem services’ (catchy title i know!).  70a57409a2cb2f99a7951f54883c4023_vector-white-sheep-eating-a-sheep-eating-clipart_1300-1025An application led to an interview, the interview led to an offer, and here I am.

The basic premise of the project is to understand more about how, and why cattle, sheep and ponies eat what they eat; what influences their choice, and by knowing this- can we manipulate the influencing factors so they eat what we want them to? The utility of this being to create grazing prescriptions that could be used to help restore habitats that are often impeded by certain vegetation e.g. Molinia caerulea over-dominance on restoring upland blanket bogs.Which when we consider that these habitats provide valuable ecosystem
services, such as climate regulation (UK peatlands contain at least 3000 million tonnes of carbon, which is twenty times as much carbon stored in the whole of the UK’s forest biomass (IUCN, 2009))- it seems important to try and restore them as best we can.

  “I trust you can handle this contraption, 007?”

One of the real fun parts of this project is the collaboration with Aber’s Computer Science department. Given the scale of plots used in this study, and the need to know where these animals are at one time- we joined forces with Comp Sci in order to try and develop some specific equipment to do the job. I wont say too much now, as they’ll be a blog on that at the beginning of next month, but to keep the suspense going I will say it involves specially developed electronic ear tags, and auto piloted drones (exciting i know!).

Until next time!

phd022509s

Lots to look forwards to I’m sure!

 

References

IUCN. UK committee (2009).  Peatlands and Climate Change.  IUCN Peatland programme. Accessed online. http://www.iucn-uk-peatlandprogramme.org/sites/www.iucn-uk-peatlandprogramme.org/files/images/091201BriefingPeatlands_andClimateChange.pdf 

 

 

Deer, oh deer

By Mariecia Fraser

I grew up in the Highlands of Scotland where there are deer everywhere; on hillsides, in woods, on warning signs along roads, in bits on walls, and on menus in most pubs and restaurants.  The monarch of the glen is an icon after all.  And deservedly so.  Red deer in particular seem to embody the free spirit of those that are at one with wild places.  They move swiftly and effortlessly over the toughest of terrain, disappearing into the landscape within moments when disturbed, while a well crowned stag personifies elegant violence.

So it was a bit of a shock to move to a part of upland Britain where there are no deer.  I have lived on the edge of the Cambrian Mountains for over twenty years now, and have never seen a single cervid anywhere in this area.  Apparently there are reasonable numbers in some other parts of Wales, but there are none on the high ground of Ceredigion.  Or if there are they are very, very shy.  In fact you can go for miles and miles without seeing any grazers at all on many of the high plateaux.  Declining stock numbers have meant that farmers have focussed their attention on better pastures down the hill, and without any wild herbivores many of these hill areas are shifting away from the grazed ecosystems that we know.  There are many who hold strong and conflicting views on whether this is a good thing.  To me there is something desolate and depressing about these areas; we have done too much and gone too far to turn back the clock to some Bronze Age idyll without some creative management (but more on that another day).

deer-signOf course there are also some up advantages to a lack of deer.  Wildlife such as deer can be a reservoir for pests and diseases such as ticks and liver fluke.  In addition, fencing of woodland and gardens is simpler and cheaper without them, and there are none of the debates and disagreements over how best to manage population numbers.  In Scotland the majority of deer are free-ranging, passing from one estate to another,and are simultaneously considered pests and commercial commodities.  Originally forest dwellers, they are seasonally and regionally adaptable, taking browse and grasses in various amounts according to season and area.  However, this adaptability has taken its toll; red deer in Eastern Europe have 2 to 2.5 times the body weight and around 3 to 4 times the antler weight of those on Scottish hill-land.

Perhaps the afforestation planned, together with the destocking we’ve already seen, will mean deer naturally spread into favourable habitat within areas such as Ceredigion. Despite the challenges they might bring, I hope so.

Doe-in-meadow-MSHRTIFF-300x195

 

 

A new season, a new blog

20th January 2016 02

Ben’s note;

Hello, and welcome to our blog!

As you may have seen from our other pages, this blog has been set up to provide a little bit of information on the general activities that occur at the the Pwllpeiran upland research platform. Why a blog though?  Well, for the ‘communicating research’ module of my undergraduate degree at Aberystwyth University the main aim of the module was to…  well…  communicate research.  One of the ways covered was establishing a blog.  During that wet lunchtime mentioned on the ‘Why blog?’ page, I thought this would be a perfect chance to put in to practice, what I’d learnt in that module.  The only problem being.. as the blog was my idea, I’ve been tasked with writing the first post.  So here it goes; hope you enjoy! 


A general update from Pwllpeiran

So what’s been going on?  Well, the daffodils are growing! The wet are unseasonably warm weather in December meant that the daffodils were growing even in the heart of the winter months. However by February, the temperature had dropped significantly and all growth – both daffodils and grass seemed to cease. Some days we had glorious sunshine, and using the excuse of checking the daffodil plots – meant I could enjoy the terrain and go running. Though I hadn’t quite considered how bad the wind chill on the top fields would be – needless to say, running shorts in future probably isn’t enough alone! This aside, as we approach the end of February, the weather has warmed considerably and the daffodils are slowly moving their way up again.

Finding a biscuit within a hay stack- Keeping a track on the temperature

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Planting a data-logger. See you in six months!

Having had mild weather in December, and with many reporting this winter as the warmest on record, this had us wondering; ‘Will this affect the daffodil growth?’. Probably, So we decided that collecting data from our weather stations on site wasn’t enough- we need to know what was happening in the soil. So on a cold Mid January day, six digestive-biscuit sized data loggers were placed into the soil, taking great care to mark exactly where we had put them. None of us are enthusiastic about spending a day in the future searching the ground  for.. well.. maybe not a needle, but certainly a biscuit in a haystack!

The hope is, that when the data loggers are full in a few months time we’ll be able to gauge if/ how much the daffodils were affected by this unusual warm start to winter. Presuming we actually find the data-loggers that is!

 

New people

It should also be mentioned that the few first months of 2016 has also seen the arrival of some new faces. Dan; having finished his undergraduate degree in Bangor last summer arrived at the end of January and has begun his PhD on the Brignant extensification plots. Mike, recently returned from working in Australia for the past 5 years – has begun working at Pwllpeiran looking into utilising genetic analysis in upland systems. These arrivals have brought a welcome increase in ideas and knowledge to the research hub – though have likely been a contributing factor to the shortage of biscuits in the kitchen cupboard recently!


 

The first of many

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed looking around our blog! If so, feel free to follow us here, or on our twitter page (@uplandresources). We hope to update the blog regularly with updates, fun facts, and discussion from different member of the Pwllpeiran team.. Which hopefully will make you (and us!) more aware of what goes on in our uplands.

Until next time!

Ben