Guest blog from Andrew Bonsall, Volunteer Development Co-ordinator

The Vibrant Vyrnwy project is a Community Lottery funded project, based at Lake Vyrnwy on the southern border of the Eryri National Park. I work with Kirsty Martuccio, Volunteer and Community Organiser to deliver a variety of activities through the project.

Before we go any further let me give you some context of what we’ve been doing!

Since July 2021, our team has been inspiring the local community to connect to Lake Vyrnwy on a variety of different levels, through volunteering, wildlife experiences, wellbeing, art events, Lantra training, and exploration of Vyrnwy’s rich history.

We managed to run over 120 unique events in 2022 and we’re on target to exceed that number in 2023. Some of our favourites include guided salmon walks, the planting of a new community woodland, forest bathing/peatland wellbeing events, and local history and folklore talks.

Image: Welsh black herd at Lake Vyrnwy (c) RSPB

Agricultural Trainee programme

As part of the project, we launched an exciting new Agricultural Trainee Programme early in September 2023. Our goal is to train 6 young people between the ages of 18-25 in conservation farming techniques; giving them a platform from which they can gain jobs within the sector, making a positive impact within the farming community, and benefiting wildlife.
We are proud to announce our first cohort of two trainees, Henry, and Ioan, who started in September are settling in nicely, living on site in our intern accommodation. Over the next 5-month placement they will be working with the RSPB’s Farm team 3 days a week and Conservation team 2 days a week learning vital farming and conservation techniques to help nature and farming.

Image: Sphagnum moving on the Peatlands at Vyrnwy. Featured (left to right), Ioan Edwards Farm Trainee, Steven Caunt Warden, Ben Wilcox Warden, Colin Griffin Volunteer (c) Andrew Bonsall, RSPB

Vyrnwy boasts the largest organic farm in England and Wales with the farm and conservation area accounting for just over 5000 Hectares. Here we manage a heard of just over 1400 sheep, 88 Welsh black cattle and over 50 Carneddau ponies, and 25ha of traditional hay meadow. The farmland consists of mostly upland farming on peat and heath and includes Ffridd-land habitat and deciduous woodland. Ffridd is a Welsh word that describes the piece of land where the tree line breaks up into higher mountain/moors, and here you’ll find tree species such as Hawthorn, Crab apple, Rowan/Mountain Ash, Willow, and Birch. It is a priority habitat for Whinchats, Ring Ouzels, Tree pipits and our Welsh Clearwing moth population.

New skills

With all that giving context, let's hear a little from our trainees on how they’ve been finding their placements.

“Hi, I’m Henry and I wanted to do this training because I have a passion and love for agriculture but as time moves forward the British public and government’s goals are shifting from a more production focused model to a conservation-farming model and this program will allow me to be ahead of the curve in this vital aspect compared to my peers moving forward, making me a more appealing applicant to future employers.

In the past 2 months I’ve gained several tickets on all sorts of skills and machines from ATV training to hill skills. I have also gained hundreds of skills informally such as species ID, use of the ‘Agriwebb’ farm management and RSPB ‘Merlin’ mapping systems, and many skills involved in working with and the handling of livestock.

Image: Hedgelaying course, Henry Emberton Farm Trainee, (c) Martha Tutt

The RSPB provided me with the opportunity to work on a large upland farm estate in both agricultural and conservation roles while learning from experts in their respective fields who are open to sharing their knowledge with not just me but anyone who is interested. Vyrnwy has taught me that whilst it isn’t always easily found there’s almost always an overlap between the goals of farmers and conservationists and with a little compromise from both sides farming can be done in a ‘nature-friendly’ way whilst also remaining a respectable and successful farm from a production perspective.”

Valuable experinces

“My name is Ioan Edwards, and I am one of the Agricultural Trainees at Vyrnwy.

I have worked with the farm and conservation teams for the last two months. During my time at the site, I have learned many things in the fields of animal handling, organic farming and repair work.

The first five weeks of my training I helped moving sheep, cutting trees and work with bird boxes. I especially enjoyed learning about and cutting conifers, since I had no prior experience with that.

On the sixth week, I was trained in 4x4, sit in Gator and sit astride quad. I was also taught about sheep drenching and injections. Those were all valuable experiences to me.
Moving on to my seventh week of training which was about hill skills, meaning I got to read maps of the area. On the first day of week eight, I got to drive the other participants of the training course around to show them the area. The days following, I worked with fencing and repairing fences. I also learned about dagging, moving, feeding, and dressing the sheep.
Finally, on the ninth week of training, I got more practice in cutting trees to benefit moths and bushes to make paths for bird boxes. I also helped with moving rams and repairing fences once again.

Image: Hedgelaying course, Ioan Edwards Farm Trainee (c) Martha Tutt

The training at Vyrnwy has taught me valuable skills such as how to handle animals creatively and the benefits and ways of organic farming. I got new experiences and practice in my areas of interest, and I am looking forward to learning more on the farm!”

If you, or someone you know, might be interested in taking part in the scheme you can find further details here - Residential Training Placement (Agricultural Residential Training Placement / Lleoliad Hyfforddi Preswyl) | RSPB Volunteering