Above: Dipper on the Caerfannel River, Tal-y-Bont (copyright ND).
This walk was arranged in conjunction with Anna at the Star Inn in Tal-y-bont and involved fifteen children from Llangynidr Primary School being led by myself on a nature walk around the Usk Valley. The weather was good and along with several parents we set off. I had already walked the route that morning to find items of interest for the group. This started with stopping to look at a group of Rose Bay Willowherb growing and explaining how it got it’s nickname of ‘Fireweed’ (it grows after the ground has been burnt or disturbed as the seeds lie dormant for many years). It was particularly abundant during the blitz of World War II after the ground was disturbed after the bombing. Next I showed the group a pile of feather remains belonging to a Woodpigeon and explained that this was likely to be the result of a kill by a Sparrowhawk. We found three other Woodpigeon feather piles on the walk. Various plants were pointed out along this section including Wild Arum with its bright red berries, Greater Plantain (and its nickname of Rats Tail Plantain), Goosegrass (Common Cleavers) – the children loved this one as they stick to fleeces and other clothing, Meadowsweet with its root that resemble the smell of Germaline and Cow Parsley.
A Golden Ringed Dragonfly was spotted and then we made our way down to the river stopping to look at Himalayan Balsam and then the large Oak tree where we played a group game involving the parents representing trees which are cut down one by one and the children being the animals that depend on them and appreciating how less and less trees can become and how much more they would be dependant on the remaining trees for their survival – a great way to understand deforestation and habitat loss and good fun for the parents too, particularly the last one that had all the children/wildlife surrounding her.
We stopped to look under some logs for insects to tick off the colour charts that were provided and found Earthworm, Woodlouse, Common Slug, Red Ant, Cricket, and Ground Beetles. I lifted a nearby log to show the group a stash of Hazelnuts that had been stored by rodents, and the group were amazed to see the tiny teeth marks on some of the opened shells. I explained that some were made by Woodmice due to the angle of the teeth marks and others that had been split open by Squirrels.
A Dipper was briefly seen flying upstream and some Crow feathers were found offering a chance to explain what a feather is made of and how it works. A large Sandstone slab next to the river was shown to the group explaining its approximate age and showing the ripples across the surface made by the flow of the water over the mud as it settled in layers.
We returned to the Star Inn for refreshments and ended the walk with a quiz showing some wildlife artefacts I brought along. The winner got a prize of a nest box.