Thursday, 9 September 2010

Hundreds Volunteer to Tidy Up the Taff

Last weekend saw around 700 people wading, rowing and diving in an effort to clean up the River Taff. Volunteers lined the banks from the river’s source in the Brecon Beacons to its mouth in Cardiff - over 50 miles away.

The Taff is one of Wales’ most iconic natural landmarks and is one of the ten major rivers in the UK. Sadly, it has been subjected to misuse for over a hundred years. In the height of the coalmining era the water is said to have run black and more recently it has become a dumping ground for rubbish.

However, over the past decade there has been significant investment in improving the water quality of the river. Wildlife has returned in abundance - the upper reaches are said to be one of the best spots for trout fishing, while otter populations are repopulating the lower reaches.

Now volunteer groups are getting together to restore the watercourse to its pre-Industrial Revolution best. Environmental charity, Keep Wales Tidy, organised last weekend’s ‘Great Taff Tidy’ to encourage local residents to clean up unsightly litter black spots. They removed vast amounts of waste - including three unopened safes and a bag of stolen gold jewellery!

Kayakers from Canoe Wales removed rubbish from overhanging branches and volunteers from Keep Wales Tidy, the Welsh Assembly Government, Barclaycard, McDonalds and Llamau assisted from the shores. Other organizations involved included Cardiff Rivers Group, Dŵr Cymru, Glamorgan Anglers, The Ramblers, Sustrans and Merthyr Outdoor Learning Centre.

"Rivers are a crucial part of the Ecosystem and of great importance in terms of wildlife and biodiversity. They are also a great resource for recreation," said Louise Tambini, Projects Director for Keep Wales Tidy. "One of the biggest problems that we see is the litter. Not only does it look unsightly, but it can be dangerous to river users and inhabitants. The River Taff has benefited from significant investment, which has resulted in increased fish populations and biodiversity. So it's crucially important that we resolve the litter issue - to ensure this investment is not wasted."

She continued: "We have never before attempted to clean the entire river from the Beacons to Cardiff Bay. The response to our plea for volunteers has been astounding and just goes to show that the people of Wales really do care about their rivers."

Cardiff Central AM Jenny Randerson and prospective AM Nigel Howells were also there to help with the litter pick along the river bank. Nigel Howells said: "It's great to see so many people taking pride in their area and helping clean up the local environment."

Want to get involved? Tidy Wales Week takes place from 20-26th September. Keep Wales Tidy expect there to be around 1000 events taking place across Wales and are hoping to recruit 50,000 volunteers! Volunteers can register for a free clean up kit on the Keep Wales Tidy website.

Photo by Louise Tambini, Keep Wales Tidy Projects Officer.

Published: Wales Online, 2 August 2010

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Gull Vs Hawkins

Seagulls are causing chaos in Cardiff. We are in the midst of the breeding season, with busy colonies found on roofs of houses, garages, factories and offices throughout our city. Good job the hawk rules the skies…

After being kept awake almost all night by incessant screeching, I woke to find my car covered in mess. I rescued a neighbour’s cowering cat from an attacking gull - at least twice her size – only to have the beast turn on me. Sound familiar?

Phillipa Hawkins of the Falconry Services is busy flying her hawks throughout the spring and summer. With clients such as Cardiff Castle, the Millennium Stadium and Cardiff Central Library, these impressive birds are responsible for keeping many of our most loved landmarks gull-free.

Seagulls are not only a nuisance but can also damage property and even be a danger to our health. Dense populations of the birds can spread diseases such as E-Coli and Salmonella, they can block drains resulting in structural damage, and obstruct gas flues with nesting materials – a serious problem if gas fumes are prevented from venting properly.

Breeding pairs build their nests from early April. The first chicks emerge around the beginning of June. The young birds fledge in August and then take three or four years to reach maturity and breed. The 
life expectancy of a gull is about 20 years.

The gulls tend to return to the same nesting site unless preventative action is taken. There are very few humane methods to kill seagulls – so this is where Falconry Services steps in.

Falconry Services specialise in using birds of prey to deter colonies of pigeons, seagulls and other nuisance animals. 

“Using birds of prey for pest control is the most natural way – it’s what nature intended. As soon as you put a hawk up, the pigeon or the seagull recognizes it straight away. They’ll never relax if they think there’s a falcon in the air that might be hungry!” said falconry expert, Phillipa Hawkins.

Hawkins (who insists the name is purely coincidence!) discovered her passion for falconry around 15 years ago when she volunteered to take part in a falconry demonstration at an agricultural show. She was so taken with experience that she decided to do a one-day training course at a bird of prey centre. A year later she was managing the very same centre. After two years she moved to Wales to work for the Falconry Service - which she now runs.

“I love it,” she said, “Of course, everyone has bad days - especially in the middle of winter when you’re up on the roof, freezing cold and soaking wet - but I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.

“In the ten years that I’ve been flying birds in Cardiff, I’ve noticed the gull population increasing. And I’ve noticed a change in their behaviour. They’re becoming much more aggressive. All of the Falconry Services staff have been hit on the head by swooping seagulls this year. Some of them have resorted to wearing hard-hats!

“The conditions in Cardiff are perfect for gulls. Over the last few years they have been left alone - so they have been allowed to breed. They have plenty to eat as we leave a lot of rubbish lying around. Humans are, by nature, quite dirty creatures.”

She does, however, emphasise that Cardiff is not alone. She has experienced worse problems in other cities - Gloucester in particular.

The birds flown by Falconry Services are captive bred. They are hand reared by their assigned falconer or ‘technician’. Hawkins’ personal favourite is Madam, a 10-year-old saker falcon.

“I watched her hatch out of the egg,” she said, “She was the first of the batch to do everything – stand, feed, attack my german shepherd… She’s pretty special! I’m not a violent person but I do would do time for her!”

Katie, the harris hawk, is the bird assigned to the Millennium Stadium – why not see if you can spot her soaring above the crowds next time you’re at a game?

Published: The Guardian (Cardiff), 13 August 2010 - 'spotlight' article

Love Your Cardiff Park

This week is Love Your Parks Week - but which is Cardiff’s most beloved park? Upload your favourite photos to the Cardiff Parks flickr group and join the debate!

Cardiff abounds with green spaces. These treasured parks date back as far as medieval times and are havens for wildlife and people alike. They are an essential part of the city and play a vital role in our everyday lives.

Home to a wide variety of wildlife including woodpeckers, kingfishers, egrets, bats, hedgehogs and squirrels; and host to concerts, festivals, art, sports and picnics – Cardiff’s parks are teaming with life all year round.

Councillor Nigel Howells, Cardiff City Council’s Executive Member for Sport, Leisure & Culture, said: “Cardiff is the greenest city in the UK on a per head of population basis. The Council recognises the important contribution that its parks and green spaces make to the economic, environmental and social well being of the city and is committed to investment in these historic spaces.''

Seven of the city’s parks and green spaces were recently given Green Flag status for their contribution to city life. Rumney Hill Gardens, Bute Park, Roath Park, Cathays Cemetery, Cardiff Bay Barrage, Victoria Park and Grange Gardens were all given the award in recognition of being high-quality, well-managed green spaces that people can visit for free.

Alister Evans, Chair of the Friends of Cemaes Park Association, has been campaigning for around three years for the regeneration of this once derelict open space. He said: “As an LEA Governor for the schools in my area it is important to me to see that ‘my children’ have the opportunity to have fun in their lives and to make memories that will help build the foundation for their future. Open spaces of all types are the lungs of our city.”

Love Your Parks Week is a UK-wide campaign organised by parks charity Green Space. It features hundreds of events, enjoyed by thousands of people. In 2009, the campaign saw a record 600 events take place in UK parks during the week, with over 400,000 people getting out and experiencing all their parks have to offer.

You can find out what’s on in your local park by downloading the Cardiff Council parks event guide

Published: Wales Online, 2 August 2010

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Lower Wye Ramblers Conquer Offa’s Dyke

The Lower Wye Ramblers completed the entire Offa’s Dyke Walk last Sunday – after three years of walking.

The group started the 177-mile walk from Prestatyn on 27 May 2007. They passed through hills, valleys, woodland and mountains, and finished at Sedbury Cliffs on 23 May 2010.

The 32-strong group has an age range of 49-81 years – making them possibly the largest and oldest group ever to undertake the walk - and the 27 degrees heat made the final stretch quite a struggle.

“The walk took us through the stunning beauty of the Welsh borders. There were many challenging ascents but it gave me a real sense of achievement. Lower Wye Ramblers benefits from great group solidarity and superb organization,” said Maggie Rowlands, 62, of Shirenewton.

Completing the walk entailed 11,000 vehicle miles, 380 hotel nights and contributed around £20,000 to the Offa’s Dyke economy.

Walk leader, Terry Summers, said: “The Offa’s Dyke path runs through the most beautiful, deserted countryside. It’s brilliantly signposted from end to end. You hardly need a map, guide or compass. In fact, one of our members insisted on using a guidebook and kept getting us lost!”

The Ramblers Association is currently celebrating its 75th anniversary. They now help over 700,000 people to access the countryside every year on 28,000 walks covering 140,000 miles of footpaths, bridleways and public rights of way. They are supported by 12,000 volunteers.

In May 2011, the Lower Wye Ramblers plan to start the Pembrokeshire Coast Path/Ceredigion Way – a total of 250 miles that will take four years to complete.

If you are interested in walking with the Lower Wye Ramblers you can find contact details on the Lower Wye Ramblers website or ring the Walks Programme Officer on 029 2063 7416.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Staycation Cardiff: The New City Break

After almost a week of empty skies, the airlines are slowly grinding back into life and vapour trails are starting to scrawl across the sky once more. But it might be a while before you find yourself a seat on that plane you’ve been waiting for - so why not make the most of your holiday in Cardiff?

Wales’ capital city is full of green spaces just asking for a picnic. Roath Park is a particular favourite, stretching from the football fields in the south, through the shady botanic gardens, to Roath Lake in the north. Here you can enjoy an ice cream on the banks, feed the swans or have a leisurely float in a pedalo.

If you’re feeling a little more energetic why not get on two wheels and cycle the Taff Trail to Castell Coch? This easy track winds its way from Bute Park, following the River Taff through woodland and villages, to the fairy-tale folly.

Sybil Williams, of Pedal Power in Pontcanna, says, “Bike hire has been very popular recently due to the good weather. We have great access to very nice trails – Cardiff is great for leisure cycling.”

If adrenaline’s your thing, why not join a high-speed boat tour of Cardiff Bay. Companies such as Bay Island Voyages or Cardiff Sea Safaris will take you out past the barrage to Flat Holm Island, combining adventure with spectacular scenery.

“Business has increased notably since the grounding of the planes,” says Pat Nicholas of Bay Island Voyages, “Since just last weekend we’ve had three extra group bookings for stag and hen dos that were supposed to be elsewhere.”

Cardiff enjoys a huge array of summer events and festivals. May’s first bank holiday promises to be a noisy one with Samba Galez’ Welsh Encontro 2010. A weekend of samba workshops and city-wide gigs will culminate outside the Senedd on 3 May with the ‘Sambadrome’ – a mass performance from all the visiting bands, totalling around 500 musicians.

Celebrate May Day in true Celtic style with Festival Interceltique de Lorient at the Wales Millennium Centre. This day-long international folk festival will see Bretons performing alongside home-grown musicians.

Fancy a bit of action? The Romans will be visiting Cardiff Castle en masse from 15 to 16 May for a spectacular military display, complete with artillery and a working ‘catapulta’.

You will probably have worked up quite an appetite by now! If it’s alfresco dining you’re after, Cardiff has plenty of options. Gastro pub, Y Cadno, provides good food and a quiet beer garden. For more traditional types, the Mochyn Du offers a range of local ales and hearty meals. The Maen Llwyd at Rudry is a regular in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. Just north of Cardiff, it has a large beer garden with idyllic views of rolling countryside - the perfect place to relax on a sunny afternoon.

How about some culture to finish off a perfect day? Artes Mundi is currently on display at the National Museum Wales. The exhibition celebrates emerging artists from around the world and features installations, drawing, photography and film.

Ballet Nacional de Cuba will be at the Wales Millennium Centre from 5 May. Renowned for their Cuban passion, the company is to perform two programmes – ‘Magia de la Danza’ and ‘Giselle’ with live orchestral accompaniment by Royal Ballet Sinfonia.

From 6 May, National Theatre Wales’ production of ‘The Devil inside Him’ by John Osborne, starring recent Olivier Award winner, Iwan Rheon, will be showing at the New Theatre.

When Cardiff has all this to offer and more, you might find yourself starting to wonder why it was you wanted to go away on holiday in the first place…

Published: The Guardian (Cardiff), 23 April 2010

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Prince's Tornado Heads Back to Wales

Tornado, the new £3m steam locomotive returned to Wales yesterday to celebrate St David’s Day. It was travelling with 'The Cathedrals Express' excursion from London Victoria to Cardiff and Swansea.

The new £3m Peppercorn class A1 pacific steam locomotive moved under it own power for the first time in 2008 after almost 20 years of construction.

The locomotive was officially named Tornado by TRH The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall in February 2009. Mark Allatt, Chairman of The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, said: “There could be no more appropriate day than St David’s Day for Tornado to return to Wales.”

Terry Summers, of Chepstow, witnessed the train as it headed back through the Severn Tunnel Junction. He said: “It was a wonderful sight. There were loads of people waiting on the platform. It was so quiet we didn't believe it was a steam train then the driver blew his whistle as he hurtled past us.”

Published: Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Review, 05/03/10, page 9.