Meadows Group Planning; Meadow Mammals; Bark Stripping.

About 10 days ago a group of 16 volunteer members met again at Myddfai Hall with the aim of trying to plan how to develop the group, in a bit more detail. About 3 hours later, and after much discussion, considerable progress was made by what we’re calling this steering group (SG),  including setting up sub groups.

These subgroups are looking at formalising the group’s aims, what structure the group takes and possible constitution format; how we set up membership and possible membership benefits; future meeting content and locations for meetings around the county, as well as how we raise awareness of the group within the wider community. In addition we started to consider links with artists, and possibly seed collection and exchanges as examples of a wider take on the whole subject of meadows and their vital role in preserving diversity in a world where almost every day brings more news of species decline or loss across the board.s1010012-2

A decision was also taken to change the name of the group to just “Carmarthenshire Meadows”, so in due course, this will be reflected on the website.

Everyone agreed that it was a very exciting start to what will be a long journey, and hugely encouraging that so many people had wanted to be involved and give up a Saturday morning to kick start the process.

Already a first spring meeting on the morning of Saturday March 25th 2017 has been planned, with Pumpsaint village hall the venue. We hope to soon have a core group of suitable locations in most areas of the county so that at least occasionally a meeting will be held close to everyone! Always a difficult issue for such a large county, and we aim to have 4 such public meetings each year, with additional meadow site visits which will be open to members only.

One of the points made at the SG, was that there hasn’t been sufficient mention of species other than flowers on the website, so I’m very grateful to Lynne of Maes Yr Haul, for sending in the notes below, to accompany these photos of mammals which she’s taken recently. All part of the wider community which thrives in our local landscape…weasel1

I have attached a picture of the weasel I mentioned. Sadly dead – but at least it gave me a chance to study it at close quarters. Generally all I see of the resident weasels is a flick of a tail as they disappear into the undergrowth. This one was lying on the path, still warm, plump and without any sign of injury, leaving me puzzled as to the cause of death. An internet search suggested that parasitic nematode worms were the most likely cause. Apparently they get into weasels’ nasal passages and eat their way into the brain, often causing a very early death.imgp0048
Happily, the Pipistrelle bat i(above) was very much alive. I found him snoozing in the folds of a towel when I brought the washing in from the clothes line and he very kindly posed for photos before I folded him back into his towel and re-hung it on the line.imgp0021

And here is a dead shrew that I found this morning in the very same spot as the weasel had been! And – like the weasel – it was still warm and plump and undamaged, apart from one small hole as shown.imgp0023
If anyone has other images of wildlife they’ve been able to capture in, or near, their meadows, then do send them in to me with some accompanying notes, and I’ll try to include them in future posts. (If possible please try to limit photo sizes to a few hundred KBs maximum). Please email them to me, Julian:  grumpyhobbit@gmail.com

Finally, a mention of the possible merits of tree foliage and bark as a dietary component. After last year’s very heavy winter rains, we realised the importance of removing fallen branches from our stream. I know that some now favour the blockages that such debris causes, as a mans of slowing water flows. But it was shocking to see how much soil and land was “lost” downstream by an even minor obstruction shifting the stream’s course. yards of 4 foot high bank disappearing in a few days.

So this year, with all the wonderful dry late autumn days, I’ve already been down the banks and removed branches about to enter the water course. As in previous years we now leave them on the bank edges for a few weeks.sdim0408-2

Why? Well very quickly our Tor Ddu sheep will strip off any remaining leaves and bark from many of the twigs and branches. The grass is not particularly short in these fields (compared with the norm for sheep grazed fields), so there is obviously a strong selective element in their behaviour. I assumed earlier that since many of the favoured branches are willows, that they might be deriving some advantage from the salysilic acid in the bark, which has aspirin like properties.sdim0409-2

But it could be that there are additional nutritional benefits. Firstly the bark may be richer in trace minerals or micronutrients, pulled up by the tree’s root system from deeper in the subsoil, whereas the wet pasture’s grasses are likely to be deficient in such materials. (Cobalt and Selenium being possibilities). I’ve often thought that trees and also root vegetables must concentrate compounds with very good anti-fungal and antibacterial capabilities in their very outer cell layers, simply to keep rots away from the vital inner materials. Another possibility is that the tannin content in trees and bark has some beneficial action on ruminant function.

Here I’m struggling. Decades old tuition on the finer points of rumen physiology have long since left my brain, and anyway I guess a lot more is known about the processes than it was in my student days. But  it is a very specialised and different means of supplying nutrition to that of many other mammals, involving complex bacterial breakdown of plant materials within the huge 4 stomach ruminant complex ( rumen, reticulum, omasum and abomasum).sdim0410-2

A couple of useful links to this topic, to anyone interested in more information, can be explored by clicking here and here.

I wonder how many other readers leave branches for stock to explore/ bark strip in this way? Obviously you have to be sure that there aren’t any potentially toxic trees involved, such as say Laburnum, but otherwise is it worth doing?

Obviously we, and our sheep, appear to think so, and a final benefit, if you’re planning on saving any of the bigger limbs for firewood or looking to burn the brush a bit quicker, is that with the bark ripped off it all tends to dry out much faster!

6 thoughts on “Meadows Group Planning; Meadow Mammals; Bark Stripping.

  1. Very interesting comment about the sheep and bark story. Ruminants/sheep are not the only mammals that like eating bark, rodents certainly do as well. I can’t remember which trees were favoured, but we’ve seen logs in our logstore completely de-barked by woodmice. They were choosy, only logs from some trees were favoured. The dreaded grey squirrel also certainly likes eating bark and does lots of damage to woodland as a result of de-barking round branches/main stems which kills the wood above the ring. At a talk I went to recently there was some discussion as to why they do this, and one idea is that it makes up for mineral deficiencies in their normal diet.
    When tree-planting, tubular guards protect young saplings not only from severe weather and rabbits (who also like eating the bark in a squirrel-like manner) but also field and bank voles. When planting our trees at Ffos y Broga, our grant required us to do weed control in a 1m circle round each tree, the method was left up to us. One possibility is to use weed supressing fabric/matting, but the downside of this is that field or bank voles will make runs beneath the weed mat and can enjoy a delicious bark meal while not having to worry about buzzards, kestrels or barn owls above.
    While the big pile of brushwood was in one of our fields, (the disposal of which was the subject of some previous posts) we found the sheep were more keen on eating all the remaining leaves rather than the bark. And I understand that before the invention of metal cutting edges as a means of mowing meadows so hay could be stored, winter feed for stock was in the form of brush (with its leaves attached) stored for the leafless winter season. So it must have been a big leap in technology to be able to cut and store grass which is much more space-efficient, and fast growing. Maybe that’s one of the reasons most of the deforestation of the UK actually took place in the bronze age, according to Oliver Rackham in the “History of the British Coutryside”; because meadows were a better source of winter feed than woodland or scrub!

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    • A really interesting reply Andrew, thanks. Lots of fascinating stuff here .We’ve also seen animals – presumably mice, strip bark off logs in our wood store, ( again apparently selectively) and had big issues with squirrels. We mentioned it to a fellow gardener, who reckoned that around May time frustrated male grey squirrels took to debarking her maple trees… we had the same thing happen to many of our trees one year, in early May, so way after any shortage of food time. I suppose they could have been after rising sap, but a little too late for that. And the debarking was high off the ground, on trees maybe 10 years old. Mainly maple trees (Acers) of one sort or another. Most will shoot again from the base, but many years growth has been killed in a spree that only lasted 2 days ( or nights). Short of taking out, by trapping, grey squirrels in advance of this time of the year, I don’t know what you can do to prevent it …other than not plant maples of course! Field maples were some of the trees really badly trashed – I might include a few photos next time to demonstrate the degree of damage. We thought it was just a manic one off, until this other gardener explained she’d seen it several times.
      Best wishes
      Julian

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  2. Pleased to read that the Carmarthenshire Meadows (Group) is going from strength to strength. Like the idea of incorporating more information on mammals and other wildlife and also widening the interest in meadows to more in the community …especially children! The sheep on our field are very helpful and eat all the leaves and bark off the branches that I throw to them when pruning the fruit trees… they stampede to get to the apple branches first! I always wonder why there are so many yew trees growing in the hedgerows when yew is so poisonous to sheep.

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    • Thanks Marianne for the comment and feedback. Interesting point about the yews – I haven’t seen any around us in hedgerows, and I wonder whether they would have been planted consciously, or just arrived via seed passed through bird’s guts after eating berries… I guess there are more churchyards with yew trees in the grounds in the Towey valley, than in the wilder uplands round us!
      Best wishes
      Julian

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