A great day out part 1: Harvestman goes clubbing
by, 10-09-2013 at 22:02 (8105 Views)
No, this is not a mid-life crisis "down with the kids" sort of thing. Nothing of the sort. Read on...
The county borough of Torfaen is my home, within the region now known as Greater Gwent. Now generally I tend to head for the neighbouring county of Monmouthshire on my trips out, but I have realised that I have been neglecting the valleys that are my home. So, I arranged to meet with my old friend Steve Williams, county ecologist for Torfaen County Borough Council, county recorder for Grasshoppers of Gwent, and the best naturalist in Torfaen by a considerable margin. What Steve doesn't know about Torfaen isn't worth knowing, and I wanted him to show me some new sites/sights.
It didn't start well. The arrangement was that I would pick him up, but having set off this morning I realised that it was a year since I'd been to his place and not only did I not remember which house it was on the street, I couldn't remember which street it was. Or even which district. Some frantic phone calling followed, and then a short journey of another mile or two (I was that far out!) and we met.
We headed for the coalfields of Blaenavon, Steve's favourite area. Formerly a post-industrial wasteland, this region has been colonised by all sorts of plants and animals, and is now a fabulous mix of coal spoil, acid bogs, moorland, fly-tipping, heather, old quarries, scrambler bike trails, industrial relics, and rare species.
It was the latter that we were after. Steve has a blog, in which he has mentioned recording clubmosses, primitive plants which are very rare locally, and I wanted to see them. Steve took me up onto the Blorenge, and we spent 15 minutes or so hunting for the spectacular Stagshorn clubmoss until I found a small cluster of them. Steve then found a huge patch, much more than we were expecting. To my delight, the plants were in fruit, with the upright spore-producing bodies that give this plant its name.
After this we headed to a region known as Blaen Pig (pronounced 'peeg'), in search of the other clubmoss species that I wanted to see. On the way we encountered black darter dragonflies, emerald damselflies, grayling butterflies, my first Mottled grasshopper, and at least 4 species of bumblebee, one of which was new to me, the wonderfully named Bilberry Bumblee Bombus monticola (try saying that after a few halves). This is an upland species, and not common in South Wales.
We had to go right up on the top of what was once the more industrialised region in the world (during the industrial revolution) and is now a huge acid moor and bog before Steve pointed to an abandoned reservoir and I found the Fir clubmoss for him
Not as spectacular as Stagshorn clubmoss, but just as rare. On the way up we found some huge fossilised trees, and Steve pointed out that actually they were not true tree but fossilized clumosses, from the carboniferous, when these plants were the dominant vegetation and were the size of modern trees. Sometimes nature just leaves me breathless with wonder.
We realised that it had been rather a senile day. I couldn't remember where Steve lived, and he couldn't remember where to find the rare plants that he was supposed to be showing me, and I ended up finding them for him. We decided that a new group should therefore be founded: Senile Naturalists of Torfaen, or SNoT for short.
Steve had to be back home for the early afternoon, so we wrapped it up and walked back to the car, agreeing that we must do something like this far more often. It was a great day.
And it was only half over.