Fourteen members of PNTA, suitably attired for a damp day, were led on an enjoyable and informative walk by Lead Ranger for North Pembrokeshire National Trust, James Roden.
He kindly prepared this report of the excursion, for us:-
- We met at Maidenhall car park on the western edge of the Southwood Estate. Here I gave an introduction to the 900 acre estate and NT’s work there over the last 15 years. NT are currently in the process of drawing up plans to invest in the Southwood buildings and also review land management across the estate. The guided walk focussed on showing the group some of the conservation work that has recently been carried out as well as plans for the future.
- Leaving Maidenhall car park, we walked across the road into Trefrane Farm. This farm came back in hand to the National Trust in 2018 and since then we have left the farm to see how the habitats would respond to a reduction of management. The large hedges have flourished, with scrub from the edges starting to creep out into the fields. The long grass tussocks have also provided habitat for ground nesting birds such as Skylark, as well as important foraging for the resident Kestrels and Barn Owls on the estate. Once the perimeter fencing has been renewed around the farm, the future plan for this land is to introduce some cattle and ponies to lightly graze across the land to allow natural habitats and processes the freedom to express themselves.
- After walking across Trefrane, the group then crossed Bathesland road into Folkeston Farm, the most southerly farm on the estate. This year NT have been carrying out a large project funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery, to protect and enhance the large hedgerows across the farm through fencing out livestock. A lot of this work is aimed at improving the nesting and foraging habitats for farmland birds, particularly the Yellowhammer. The once common Yellowhammer, is now a red list species in decline across Wales, but a population (one of the largest remaining in Pembrokeshire) has clung on at Folkeston owing to the traditional mixed farming practices which have been conserved by NT and their tenant. There is also a nationally rare habitat at Folkeston, known as Rhos Pasture, which is essentially a species rich wet grassland. This habitat would have at one point covered most of the farm and was known as Folkeston Moor, but the majority was drained during the 19th early 20th centuries. Work has been done here to bring the remaining habitat back into good condition, through working with our tenant to reintroduce cattle to the Moor. Sadly no Yellowhammers were seen!
- After this, we returned to Trefrane farm and walked back to Maidenhall a different way, through the arable fields which we have been managing for rare arable flora; a suite of plants which thrive on disturbed ground. Intensification of agriculture through increased use of fertilisers and herbicides, has meant that many of these species have declined significantly. National Trust’s management on these fields for arable flora has meant that they still hold species of national importance (e.g. Corn Marigold and Weasel’s Snout) as well as European Importance (Small-flowered Catchfly). In addition to providing the perfect conditions for arable flora to flourish, this management also creates habitat for ground nesting birds and the arable plants also provide an important source of winter food for farmland birds.
- The walk largely followed the route of a new footpath which opens later this year. The permissive footpath will link in with the existing footpaths at Southwood, starting at Maidenhall, crossing Trefrane and Folkeston farms and coming out on the Folkeston Road (Roch to Nolton Haven road).