I have grown up and live on the boundaries of the Snowdonia National Park and I have spent many happy days walking in the mountains, taking in the scenery and searching for wildlife. So when I found out I could help conserve the habitats I have grown up with and love, I jumped at the chance. I first started volunteering for the Snowdonia Society in February 2016 and I have been trying my best to fit some volunteer days in with my masters which took up most of my time.
A typical day in Wales usually involves rain and a lot of it! The rain was pouring and the wind was blowing as I turned up in a car park for my first volunteer day at the Hafod Garegog nature reserve in Beddgelert which seemed very fitting. The fact it was raining only improved the experience of standing in a bog cutting down gorse and bog myrtle for a species of butterfly, I admittedly, had never heard of.
The species in question, the silver studded blue butterfly is a small butterfly which usually lives next to the coast which Beddgelert is not. This is when having knowledgeable people leading you is important as without them I would never have known that Hafod Garegog was once a tidal flood zone which is why these butterflies have made this place their home. They are weak flyers which is why they have not moved to more suitable habitat and are highly reliant on ants for their survival. I came home from this day soaked from head to toe despite my full waterproofs and hundreds of splinters that found their way through my gloves but I wouldn’t let that stop me in volunteering and pursuing my dream of becoming a conservationist.
The next time I ventured out as a conservation volunteer the sun had come out from behind the clouds. I went to Lon Gwyrfai to help the Snowdonia Society with footpath maintenance and litter picking. As litter can harm wildlife I felt it was the least I could do to help the wildlife in a woodland that I visit almost weekly for dog walks. It also gave a chance to talk with the other volunteers about their experiences and life which also led to a rather heated debate about rhododendron, which leads me on to my next volunteer day.
Rhododendron is an invasive species in the UK which creates a monoculture, does not support insects which in turns reduces the amount of birds which are supported in an area. I am, personally, pro rhododendron eradication. The debate that a few of us had on the footpath maintenance day was whether or not it was worth removing rhododendron, as a few of the volunteers did not know of the negative effects of having rhododendron. If anyone has visited the Nant Gwynant Valley they will have seen the rhododendron which has plastered the hillsides. I helped with cutting down rhododendron to clear a section of hillside behind the youth hostel with a group of other volunteers. A bonfire was also started to burn the rhododendron which had been cut down. As men have some sort of fascination with fire this meant that all the girls (all university students) were left cutting down rhododendron, dragging the pieces down the hillside and piling them up by the bonfire whilst the men stood around the bonfire throwing bits on and prodding it with sticks. It is a good job and I am not afraid of a bit of hard work!
Most recently I went scything at the Pen Sychnant Conservation centre. I went into this sort of blind. I have seen scything on the television but I had never seen a scythe in person and didn’t really know what to expect. The heavens opened once again and the wind was so strong that at one point I almost got blown off my feet. A little bit of rain does show who really has the passion for conservation and who does not as it involves working in all weather. There was supposed to be ten people attending the scything day and two people plus Owain the volunteer leader turned up. I learnt that scything is quite physically demanding and difficult. You do quickly get into the swing of things, literally, but the scythe has to be sharpened about every five minutes or you end up swinging with no gain. As my masters is almost at its end, I am hoping I will be able to contribute more of my time to volunteering for the Snowdonia Society and others.
Stunning photos Katrina! Snowdonia is definitely a natural place in the UK on my bucket list! I think its important to stress as well that these beautiful wild places, particularly in developed heavily populated countries like the UK can only be protected through public participation, via volunteering and citizen science surveys. Thanks for sharing!