Spring time at Ynys-hir is very special. There are the breeding lapwings, the woodland birds in full song, sheets of bluebells and life abounds everywhere. For the staff who manage the reserve it is also a time of reflection. How well did our management work turn out? Will numbers of our key species increase? What can we do next winter to make things better?

Perhaps now is as good a time as any to look back on some of the things that we have done over the past few years that have made a difference. My list is a personal one of work that has made me feel most proud, although deciding which to write about has been difficult.

Foel Fawr would always be on my list of our achievements. I remember standing on the hillside five-years ago in a sea of bracken and regenerating rowan and wondering how we could get this habitat back into a traditional ffridd of acid grassland, heather and scattered bracken, full of fritillary butterflies and whinchats-it seemed hopeless. We decided that forestry ponies with rollers could crush the bracken and reduce its vigour and replacing the sheep grazing with our own ponies would also break up the habitat.

Bracken rolling on Foel Fawr. Photo Dave Anning

I don’t think any of us would have thought that the change that we started would happen so quickly. We now have the mixture of habitats that we want, fritillary butterflies have become far more numerous and in March the hillside is studded with violets. The arrival of nightjars on the hill was a real surprise and whinchats, although not mushrooming in number, still hold their own.

Also, on the list are lapwings. Lapwings have challenged us for a number of years, and they have caused us sleepless nights and much agonising. Numbers have fallen gradually over the past ten-years, to a low point a couple of years ago. Over this time, we have had several wetland ecologists visit, take measurements, count worms and generally give us a huge amount of advice. Lots of work to reduce rush cover, restore ditches, redesign water level management regimes and install new sluices has meant that last year lapwing numbers were significantly up and the number of fledged lapwing chick per breeding attempt was one of the best years on record at Ynys-hir.

Lapwing at Lodge Farm. Photo Tom Kistruck

Technically, this work has been very difficult with detailed analysis of soil conditions, water levels and topography. However, the biggest steps forward on our lowland wet grassland are still to be made. A new predator fence is planned this summer and a new management regime is being rolled out that will see new opportunities for more breeding waders over the next few years.

Finally, there are the Marian Mawr pools. Over time they have changed from an open pools system to being enclosed by scrub and they rarely attracted waders-as a rule robins and blackcaps on a wader scrape are never a good sign. This area is one of our biggest visitor attractions and we decided that we ought to get more birds back here. We have over the years removed scrub, cut rush, varied water levels and put out grain in the winter to entice the birds back in. Highlights over the past four years on the pools have included Temminck’s stint, avocet, wood sandpiper, great egret, garganey and long-tailed duck, but it is the return of lapwings that was the biggest surprise with up to eight pairs now nesting. With regular black-tailed godwits and ruff, these pools during the spring and autumn can be an excellent birdwatching spectacle.

Great white egret in flight. Photo Tom Kistruck

Ynys-hir now has a new management plan that will drive the reserve forward over the next five-years. In a following post I will talk about some of the changes that we are planning.