22 May 2016

Walking with Mary: Cwm George woodland

At the start of May, SEWBReC, the South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre, issued a challenge. As part of the Heritage Lottery Funded project ‘A Dedicated Naturalist’, it asked the people of South Wales to take a walk with Dr Mary Gillham at one of the many sites Mary visited often and surveyed most thoroughly, Cwm George woodland at Dinas Powys. ‘Will you find as much as Mary? Has the species composition changed drastically? Can you add new species to the list?’, were the challenges they raised.

Always up for a challenge that involves a walk in a beautiful woodland, my friends and I went exploring. We were a great team: Emma, our fungi specialist (and her son, Callum, budding naturalist); Liam, our insect aficionado; Calum, the best plant-spotter I know; Cliff, our expert ears and bird whisperer; and me, knowing little about anything much but recording and photographing for posterity.

Emma soon disappeared into the deepest darkest areas of the woodland, emerging every now and then with a ‘Look what I found’. Liam scooped up beauties in his net and popped some into plastic tubes for closer examination – all got re-released unharmed. Calum pointed out wildflowers and nibbled at edibles, urging us to try a bit of this or that, and Cliff walked quietly ahead, listening acutely and watching intently. Little Callum beamed from ear to ear as he also caught specimens in his mini net, and, like the hoverflies that were prolific on the expanses of flowering Ramsons, I hovered here and there, trying to keep up with all that was happening.

Though we explored very little of its woodlands and meadows, Cwm George was glorious, and most generous with its offerings. And, though certainly not as extensive as Mary’s, we were very pleased with our final species list of 99 different types of insects, fungi, wildflowers, trees and birds.

Insects: Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni), Orange-tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines), Small white butterfly (Pieris rapae), Peacock butterfly (Aglais io), Common carder bee Queen (Bombus pascuorum), Red-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius), Buff-tailed bumblebee Queen (Bombus terrestris), Tawny Mining Bee female (Andrena fulva), Ashy mining bee female (Andrena cineraria) (above, centre), Dark-edged bee fly (Bombylius major), Orange ladybird (Halyzia 16-guttata), Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis), Hoverfly (Helophilus pendulus), Hoverfly (Rhingia campestris), Hoverfly (Eristalis pertinax), Nomad bee male (Nomada lathburiana), Bee Fly (Bombyliidae), unidentified Weevil, Oak marble gall, another type of oak gall, Hoverfly (Syrphus ribesii), Ramsons Hoverfly (Portevinia maculata), Beetle (Cantharis pellucida) (above, left), Beetle (Sphaeridium scarabaeoides) (above, right).

Fungi: King Alfred's cakes Daldinia concentrica), Unidentified woodwort, Artist's bracket (Ganoderma applanatum), Jelly ear (Auricularia auricula-judae), Beech mast ascomycetes, Candle snuff (Xylaria hypoxylon), Dead Moll's fingers (Xylaria longipes), Red elfcup (Sarcoscypha sp.), Glistening inkcap (Coprinella micaceus), Turkey tail (Trametes versicolour) (above), Arum rust (Puccinia sessilis), Bramble rust (Kuehneola uredinis).

Wildflowers: Yellow Archangel (Lamium galeobdolon), Red Campion (Silene dioica), Hedge Woundwort (Stachys sylvatica), Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), Herb Paris (Paris quadrifolia) (above, left), Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) (above, right), Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), Old Man's Beard (Clematis vitalba), Dog's Mercury (Mercurialis perennis), Common dog violet (Viola riviniana), Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa), Primrose (Primula vulgaris), Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum), Wild garlic (Allium ursinum), Creeping buttercup (Ranunculus repens), Meadow Cranesbill (Geranium pratense), Herb Bennett (Geum urbanum), Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), Jack-by-the-hedge (Alliaria petiolata), Opposite-leaved golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium), Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa), Forget-me-not (Myositis sp.), Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale agg.), Ribwort plantain (Plantago lanceolata), Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna), Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris), Cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis), Cleavers (Sticky Willy) (Galium aparine), Ground ivy (Hedera helix), Common vetch (Victa sativa), Wood spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides), Bramble (Rubus fruiticosus agg.), Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).

Trees: Beech (Fagus sylvatica) (above), Oak (Quercus robur), Hazel (Corylus avellana), Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), Willow (Salix sp.), Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), Elder (Sambucus nigra), Wild cherry (Prunus avium), Field maple (Acer campestre).

Birds: Buzzard (Buteo buteo), Blackbird (Turdus merula), Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), Blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula), Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), Coal tit (Periparus ater), Dunnock (Prunella modularis), Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), Great tit (Parus major), Green woodpecker (Picus viridis), Greenfinch (Chloris chloris), Robin (Erithacus rubecula), Song thrush (Turdus philomelos), Stock dove (Columba oenas), Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus), Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes).

09 May 2016

Llandaff Cathedral

I go often to Llandaff Cathedral, not because I’m religious but to admire its architecture, soak in its history, explore its fascinating cemetery, and because it’s at the end of a lovely woodland walk alongside the River Taff here in Cardiff. This is a place with something for everyone to enjoy.

The present cathedral sits on one of the oldest Christian sites in Britain, the place where Saint Dyfrig founded a Christian community in the early 6th century and where his successor Saint Teilo built the first church in the mid 6th century. The only remnant of those very early days is an ancient Celtic cross that now stands in the grounds near the Chapter House.

Construction of the present building began in 1120, when the conquering Normans occupied Glamorgan and appointed Urban as their local bishop, though little of that first cathedral remains – an arch behind the present High Altar and the doorway into the Welch Regimental Chapel are thought to be original. The very impressive west front of the present cathedral was built around 1220, and the cathedral was eventually finished around 1280.

During the subsequent 736 years, the building has, not surprisingly, suffered from the human history happening around it: there was significant damage during the 1400 rebellion led by Owain Glyndwr, it was desecrated by Parliamentarian troops during the English Civil War, and Mother Nature has also inflicted her share of damage, during the Great Storm of 1703 and during further traumatic weather events of the early 1720s, when the entire south-west tower collapsed.

Those architectural traumas were repaired using the gifts of the pilgrims who came to pay homage at the Saint Teilo – his tomb still stands in the Sanctuary – but, following Henry VIII’s restructuring of the church in Britain, pilgrimages were forbidden, maintenance on the cathedral could not be sustained and the building fell into a state of ruin.

Restoration work finally commenced in 1734, to the design of John Wood the Elder, an architect from Bath, though his new building, within the ruined outer walls of the existing cathedral, was never completely finished, and the original walls and pillars were left standing. A further phase of restoration took place during the 19th century, under the direction of J. P. Seddon and John Prichard, and much of their building remains today, though the cathedral was also severely damaged during the Cardiff Blitz of January 1941, when an exploding parachute mine blew the roof off the south aisle and the nave.

After the Second World War, the building’s restoration was managed by George Pace who is the man responsible for the enormous reinforced concrete arch that now dominates the cathedral’s interior. It was a bold decision to introduce such a modern element into such an ancient building but it works, primarily, I think, because of the magnificent aluminium statue of Christ in Majesty, the outstanding work by Sir Jacob Epstein that crowns the archway.

The cathedral continues to have its share of catastrophes: in February 2007 the organ was so severely damaged by a lightning strike that parishioners had to fundraise the enormous sum of £1.5 million for a replacement.

Llandaff Cathedral is the sum of its past, a reflection of the incredible range of historic events that have occurred in this part of Wales, a vital place of worship for the local Christian community, a mosaic of architectural styles and heritage, a place for the dead to rest and the living to ruminate.