Saturday, December 05, 2020

Too long for botany

Three of us set out on a long walk last Sunday from a car park near Abergwesyn to the Llyn Brianne Reservoir. Abergwesyn itself seems remote in our county and the drive between our start point and the place where we met the road again is a long one of over 10 miles over the "Devil's staircase". The walk up Cwm Culent and down Cwm Garach was "only" about 3 miles. I say only as it was quite tough going at times with much boggy and tussocky ground.

We returned through forestry and past the Cefn Fanog trig point (lost in the trees). This return route may have been a greater climb but was actually easier - thankfully.

(The trig point has been photographed by Trig Point baggers - see this, but we didn't bother visiting it!)

There was plenty to see including this very tall and flowering Bush Vetch. There was similarly robust Meadow Vetchling nearby.

Bush Vetch, Ffacbysen y cloddiau or Vicia sepium

There were several abandoned homesteads in the valleys and anthill meadows like this.

Anthills on Nant Culent near Abegwesyn

As can be seen the conditions were not good to start with.

Steph noticed some Bell-heather sheltering from grazing under Gorse:

Bell Heather, Grug y mêl or Erica cinerea

This species is surprisingly uncommon in the county and this record has added a green dot to this map:

We saw a fogbow as the mist started clearing around us.

Below Cefn Fanog

(A fog bow, sometimes called a white rainbow, is a similar phenomenon to a rainbow; however, as its name suggests, it appears as a bow in fog rather than rain. Because of the very small size of water droplets that cause fog—smaller than 0.05 millimeters the fog bow has only very weak colors.)

This is the view back from where we came once we got to the reservoir road.

From the Llyn Brianne reservoir road

Llyn Brianne reservoir from our lunch spot.

Looking down from Cefn Fanog on the way back.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

And recently...

Outings in November have been walks with occasional records - to scout out habitats for more attention next year (we hope!)

The first was to Craig y Cilau, the cliffs and old quarries above Llangattock. The area is particularly botanically rich and we though we might just catch a very young Hutchinsia plant - they are flowering by March. 

Hutchinsia, Beryn y graig or Hornungia petraea (was known as Hutchinsia petraea) Avon Gorge

 - We didn't.

 But Alan did spot a small patch of this - not previously recorded there:

Ivy-leaved Bellflower, Clychlys dail eiddew or Wahlenbergia hederacea (Abergwesyn 2018)

and we identified several areas for exploration next year.

A week later saw us up between the Nedd Fechan and Afon Llia on the high ground, exploring an area known as Plas y Gors. The two rivers both get water from this watershed - and eventually meet up again at Pontneddfechan.

The forestry there used to cover a known Roman Fort site so it was good to see that area had been cleared and apparently not replanted (other areas near the fort had been). Whether the outline of the fort will eventually become clear again was uncertain !

 We soon passed the Maen Madoc standing stone.

The Maen Madoc or Maen Madog stone is adjacent to the Roman road Sarn Helen that runs across the Brecon Beacons.

It is thought to mark a Christian burial – the stone is inscribed on one side, the Latin inscription reading DERVAC(IVS) FILIVS IVSTI (H)IC IACIT – "Of Dervacus, Son of Justus. He lies here".

There was a dwelling called Plas y Gors and these are the ruins. We had managed to get through the bog referenced in the name by the time we saw it. It is difficult to imagine the existence supporting such a relatively grand dwelling. There is more information about the ruined farmstead, thought to be 18th or 19th century, on Coflein.

The bog to the left of it certainly is worth a summer visit and has yielded reports of quite rare plants in the 1990s. We saw that the trees that used to surround the bog have been felled which is good news for its future. 

Our most recent visit was to the Nant yr Hafod stream which comes off the southern slopes of Mynydd Llangatwg. It is our only site for Cornish Moneywort which I last saw in 2013. We were glad to find it still thriving there.
Cwm Nant yr Hafod
At the top of the Cwm the view to the east shows the just-discernible wall of the Cairn-Mound Reservoir dating from 1880 and abandoned by Welsh Water in 2005. This reservoir collected water destined for the Nant yr Hafod. To the right of the picture the remains of the Disgwlfa Tramroad crossing of the Nant yr Hafod can be seen.
Bing maps shows the reservoir very clearly from above:

We walked back down over the mountain with glorious views towards Llanelly Hill.

and came upon this inscribed stone which it took us a while to decipher:

The Hafod Inscribed Stones
(Go to the link for full details).

These Inscribed Stones that are found near Nant yr Hafod on the southern slopes of Mynydd Llangatwg above the Hafod Road/Cymro Road.

They were done by Jack Rushton. He was born in 1920 who was an upholsterer by trade.

The stone we saw is inscribed: "HE THAT SINNETH IS OF THE DEVIL BE YE HOLY”. There appear to me more letters beneath but we couldn't decipher them. We did manage to read almost all of the above.

There are many more similar stones to be found up there! 

Cornish Moneywort, Deilen gron Cernyw or Sibthorpia europaea
 and flowering in July 2013:


 Parrot Waxcaps back near the cars:

Parrot Waxcap or Hygrocybe psittacina

Friday, November 27, 2020

Botany in Brecknock, the story continues

We haven't been idle and this is the story from May to September. 

Our informal Brecknock Botany group carried on investigating their local flora individually all through to late June when we very tentatively started to go out in small, socially distanced groups. 

But before this… Working close to home with regular patrolling of the same routes soon paid dividends – I did not know Viola reichenbachiana (Early Dog-violet) was only 100 m from my home until this year. 

Viola reichenbachiana (Early Dog-violet or Fioled y coed) Forest Road, Hay

In late April I received reports of an abundance of Orchis mascula (Early-purple Orchid) just above Brecon well within several people’s exercise walking distance. I must say I had never myself encountered this plant growing like this. 
Early-purple Orchid, Tegeirian coch y gwanwyn or Orchis mascula (picture: Kieth Noble)
In May Joan noticed Plantago coronopus (Buck’s-horn Plantain) in the main Brecon car park. This had been new to the county up on the Epynt early in 2015.
Buck's-horn Plantain, Llyriad corn carw or Plantago coronopus (picture: Joan Millard)
An Allium triquetrum candidate at Joan’s local churchyard at Llandefalle turned out to be Allium trifoliatum (Hirsute Garlic) on more careful examination / discussion online – proving, I hope, that we were not cutting any corners by working remotely. Paul Green was able to confirm remotely as referee and this is a new Wales record.
Hirsute Garlic, Garlleg cedenog or Allium trifoliatum (picture: Joan Millard)
A walk along the Wye looking for early signs of the Persicaria mitis (Tasteless Water-pepper) found last year revealed a small population of Scirpus sylvaticus (Wood Club-rush) right by the water. It was last seen in about the same area in 1979 and is not at all commonly recorded in our county.
Wood Club-rush, Clwbfrwynen bengron or Scirpus sylvaticus by the Wye in Hay
An exploration of Waun Ddu raised bog (at Craig y Cilau above Llangattock) by two of us resulted in several good records including Carex montana (Soft-leaved Sedge) and Eleocharis quinqueflora (Few-flowered Spike-rush). A week later, Anne finally found Hornungia petraea (Hutchinsia) on the cliffs above (a personal quest) - in dead form but still unmistakeable.

Hutchinsia, Beryn y graig or Hornungia petraea (picture: Anne Griffiths)
"It's dead, Jim"

I had noticed records for Gymnadenia conopsea (Fragrant Orchid), Platanthera chlorantha (Greater Butterfly-orchid) and Epipactis palustris (Marsh Helleborine) in 2015 near Brecon from an unknown name but confirmed by an eminent botanist. So, getting a request to go and visit from the landowner was welcome. I went as soon as I could to find a delightful wet meadow that the owners had left on minimal grazing since acquiring the property. Not only were there the Orchids (recorded in a Kew scheme “Orchid Observers” that asked for photographic submission) but there was Eriophorum latifolium (Broad-leaved Cotton-grass) as well as a host of other Brecknock Axiophytes. Even better, I was told that a neighbouring farm, had a small amount of Genista tinctoria (Dyer’s Greenweed) which had not been recorded in a long time in the area. Again a visit was most rewarding and benign neglect was the regime – this time the owner, who walked me through his fields to the wet site, apologised for the Yellow-rattle not being native – it turned out he had spread hay from a nearby farm he had worked on several years back thus introducing it in what I would say is an entirely natural way… This farm also had Epipactis palustris (Marsh Helleborine) and Eriophorum latifolium (Broad-leaved Cottongrass) as well as abundant Cirsium dissectum (Meadow Thistle). 

Marsh Helleborine, Caldrist y gors or Epipactis palustris near Libanus
I was able to find the roadside Epipactis palustris between Brecon and Hay on the way home – it had had a few fallow years but was back.
I was delighted that Tim Rich re-found our Orthilia secunda (Serrated Wintergreen) population complete with fruiting stems up on the top cliffs of Craig Cerrig-gleisiad. I was shown it by intrepid wardens in 2013 and Mike Porter had climbed down to it in the 1970s more than once with Ray Woods providing the confirmation for the 1980s. Not many of us have seen it close up since Beverly A Miles first recorded it in 1955.

Tim with Serrated Wintergreen, Glesyn-y-gaeaf danheddog or Orthilia secunda up on the Craig Cerrig-gleisiad cliffs.
Botany group member Anne likes to explore limestone near where she lives in Monmouthshire and found Erigeron acris (Blue Fleabane), initially in Monmouthshire Vice County (where they have lots) and later our side near Gilwern in first records for some time.
Blue Fleabane, Amrhydlwyd glas or Erigeron acris (which was Erigeron acer) (Picture: Anne Griffiths)
Undoubtedly the most exciting record of the year was Pyrola minor (Common Wintergreen) – possibly recorded our side of the border in 1911 but just as likely not. It gets close to us in Glamorganshire, but Arlene found it very definitely in the county at Abercraf and, it later transpired, in quite large numbers and area of distribution. The site is subject to development, but we were able to confirm a large and extensive population. (There are plans to relocate affected sensitive plants.) 
Common Wintergreen, Glesyn-y-gaeaf bach or Pyrola minor
A bryological exploration by Claire resulted in new records of Sagina nodosa (Knotted Pearlwort) and Lycopodium clavatum (Stag's-horn Clubmoss) in Cwm Callan . The Pearlwort was only the third record since 2000 in the county.

Knotted Pearlwort, Corwlyddyn clymog or Sagina nodosa (photographed several years ago)

Finally, Tim Rich has been updating records of our endemic and rare Hieraciums with some in decline and others doing well. See his videos on You Tube.

While doing this, Tim reported a single plant high up on Tarren yr Esgob (cliffs above Capel y Ffin) of Rosa spinosissima (Burnet Rose). This was  a first record for a very long time for the county.

Burnet Rose, Rhosyn bwrned or Rosa spinosissima (was known as Rosa pimpinellifolia). (Photographed on the Burren in 2005 - I haven't seen it in Brecknock!)

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Lockdown Botany

The current pandemic has inevitably prevented us from carrying on as planned in recording the botany of Brecknock. Of course, this is of small importance in the scale of the suffering that Covid-19 is causing to many but what does a lockdown botanist do with his time?

In my case, I have plenty of the admin work that goes with being a recorder to get on with and a small garden to take much better care of than normal. However, there is always that itch to be out and seeing what is developing botanically in the countryside. Members of my loyal botany group are similarly restricted, and we are all lucky enough to be living in places where the permitted local exercise still offers opportunities to "see what is going on". 

The scramble to record as widely and comprehensively as possible for the Atlas project that finished on 31st December did also lead to an "identify, tick the list and move on" botanical culture that we were looking forward to leaving behind this year. We would have taken things more slowly in any case and now we really must. An interesting young plant spotted on the walk can always be re-evaluated on a future occasion when there is better evidence to be sure exactly what it is. We can also observe and learn from almost daily observations of exactly how particular plants develop.

It has been an incredible spring with rain and heat alternating in the just the way many plants seem to like, and an abundance of choice species has been reported by many of the group. (We cover the county reasonably well - from Crickhowell and Hay via Brecon and Talybont down to Coelbren.)

Reports from all over the county say that it is a bumper year for this usually shy and retiring little plant:

Moschatel, Mwsglys or Adoxa moschatellina
by the Login Brook path, Hay

All these photographs below are by members of the Brecknock Botany Group in the last month.

Meadow Saxifrage, Tormaen y gweunydd or Saxifraga granulata
Early-purple Orchid, Tegeirian coch y gwanwyn or Orchis mascula
Herb-paris, Cwlwm cariad or Paris quadrifolia
(Actually near Monmouth)
Three-cornered Garlic, Garlleg trionglog or Allium triquetrum
Ramsons, Wild garlic, Craf y geifr or Allium ursinum
Water Horsetail, Marchrawnen y dŵr or Equisetum fluviatile
Fringecups, Clychau’r clawdd or Tellima grandiflora

Pavement gems

I have particularly been interested in the plants growing in the pavements (and walls) of Hay-on-Wye. The pavements are much less walked and several species are taking advantage.

Rue-leaved Saxifrage, Tormaen tribys or Saxifraga tridactylites

This is always to be found in small quantities in the spring on Hay pavements and on its walls but the abundance this year is unusual. It's even along Castle Street. Another place to see it in the county is high on the limestone rocks above Llangattock.

Brecknock Axiophytes

One thing we have got on with is producing a list of Axiophytes for the county. "Axiophyte" means "worthy plant" and these are the species that arouse interest and praise from people when they are seen. They are indicators of habitat that is considered important for conservation and, unlike rare plants, will all be reasonably likely to be found if you look in the right sort of place in the county.

We deliberated (online) over lists and argued about their relative merits and came up with a list of just over 200 plants.

Here is a gallery of just a few of the Brecknock Axiophytes we identified:

Green Spleenwort, Duegredynen werdd or Asplenium viride

Giant Bellflower, Clychlys mawr or Campanula latifolia

Marsh Horsetail, Marchrawnen y gors or Equisetum palustre

Three-nerved Sandwort, Tywodlys teirnerf or Moehringia trinervia

Lesser Skullcap, Cycyllog bach or Scutellaria minor

Early Dog-violet, Fioled y coed or Viola reichenbachiana