Visit to the Mill Leat – 27th September 2013

Mill Leat Site Visit

On Friday 27th September we were invited by Alun Griffiths – the contractors on the Mill Leat project – to visit the site.  This was a unique opportunity to see the work in progress before the Mill Leat, in front of the west wall of Cardiff Castle, is finally flooded. We were impressed by the care with which the masonry had been restored and by the efforts made to protect the trees around the site.  This is a major project costing over £800,000 and will restore the appearance of the Castle to that before the Mill Leat was drained in the 1970’s. We were interested in the remains of the old mill as well as the foundations for the piers of the Swiss Bridge that formerly linked the Castle and the Park; these had been revealed during the work.

Thanks to Gail Jones for organising the visit and to Christian the engineer who guided us around and answered our questions.”

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A Walk in the Park

DSCN5505Dafydd Cadog, a very capable and entertaining speaker, led a large group of Friends and members of Cardiff Civic Society around Bute Park last evening. We assembled outside the Mochyn Du public house and resisting the temptation to pop in for a quick pint, started off at a fair pace.

With our very first view of the River Taff we were told that the neat walls that bound its banks were built in 1979 after a great flood. Daffyd then gave us a brief talk about the City itself and showed us some old maps and told us that as far back as 1548 Cardiff had been a small market town but, being on a river, was destined to develop over time, as such fortunately situated settlements do.

photo (1)As we walked into the park itself we learnt a little of its long history. Originally, this land
was rough pasture and areas such Old Man’s Wood and Cooper’s Field were not developed until the mid nineteenth century as they are not shown on earlier maps. The land was confined by the Bute family and used as their private grounds from 1850 but, because the citizens had been ‘robbed’ of this green space, Sofia Gardens was built as a form of compensation.

photoThe gardens were named after Sofia Rawdon-Hastings, second wife of John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute (1793-1848), hailed as the founder of modern Cardiff. The park was handed back to the City and its inhabitants in 1947 by John Crichton-Stuart, 5th Marquess of Bute (1907-1956); and was named Bute Park in 1948.

As we walked through the park, Dafydd talked about the old summerhouse and the various statues that are springing up including the pig/dragon’s head and what might depict a wild woman carved from an upended tree, although, with a full beard and moustache, most of us thought it looked more like a wild man!

IdesiaWith contributions from the Friends we also learned some interesting facts about the champion trees in the Park and quite a few folk took photos of the superb Wingnut (Pterocarya fraxinifolia) by the red bridge. The walk concluded where it had started, at the Mochyn Du, but this time with no restrictions to entering and having a well earned drink!  Thank you Dafydd.

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QR codes in Bute Park

Originally designed for industrial use, QR codes have become common in consumer advertising. Typically, a smartphone is used as a QR-code scanner, displaying the code and converting it to a useful form such as a standard URL for a website, thereby obviating the need for the user to type in a web address manually.

The QR trail in Bute Park is a series of little plaques bearing these codes dotted around the Park. They are funded by the Council and can be found on posts or on walls where, once scanned, they will provide some basic information about a nearby feature of interest and a link to a website where more info, photos and web links can be found.

Here is a sample QR code to illustrate how it looks – the plaque on which this particular code is affixed is by Fisher’s Bridge. You will need an app such as QR BARCODE SCANNER (for Androids) or QR READER (for iPhones) to read the code.

HistoryPoints label Fishers Bridge


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18th May 2013 Friends of Bute Park AGM

We held our AGM last Saturday (18th May). We met beforehand and spent an hour walking round the Park looking at the latest developments. Before we began we drew attention to the pressure on the Blackweir woods SINC (Site of Interest for Nature Conservation) resulting from increasing use by cyclists. At the start of the walk we saw one of the new QR code posts, on them, and around the Park on walls &c are little plaques with what look like miniature crossword puzzles; if you have a smart phone and a suitable app you can scan these and codes and download information about points of interest. There are notices explaining how to do this. As we carried on we were able to see examples of the trees the Friends had been labelling that week. Following the Feeder canal we saw the trial revetments that Keep Wales Tidy are using to reinforce the banks; KWT will be looking for volunteers to help carry on this work and we will be letting Friends know more shortly. Further on we were told about the work being done to re-flood the Mill Leat by the Castle. Julia Sas explained the work and the steps being taken to minimise the impact of heavy lorry traffic. We were also told about the archaeological work being done on the site as work progresses. We finished by listening to Julia tell us about the work on the Blackfriars Priory which is expected to be completed later this summer.

For a full report of the meeting, accounts and membership, please see under the ‘News’ tab. 

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Saturday 20th April 2013 – Honey bees

rapeseedDinah Sweet is the Chair of the Cardiff, Vale and Valleys Beekeepers and has 37 years experience of bee-keeping and is a seasonal bee inspector. She gave us an extremely interesting talk on recognising  different bee species, getting started in apiculture, good husbandry, honey collecting and other aspects of the hobby.

honey-beeThe average colony comprises a queen, 60,000 workers (females) and 2,000 drones (males) during the summer months. The drones develop from unfertilised eggs; their principle function is to mate with the queen, an act that occurs in mid air and after which the male dies. The workers, as the name implies, do all the work! They build, clean, defend, and repair the hive and feed the larva, the queen, and the drones; they gather nectar, pollen, water, and propolis (a waxy resinous mixture that the workers collect from tree buds and other botanical sources to be used as a sealant for unwanted open gaps in the hive) and they also ventilate, cool and heat the hive.

beeflowerTo attract bees into your garden, Dinah advised planting such things as buddleia, cotoneaster, sunflowers, blackthorns, lavender, sunflowers and open daisy-like flowers (not ‘doubles’). There are also many lists of bee-friendly plants to be found on the internet. At the end of the talk, we had tasters of lovely locally made honey including that made from balsam; a deliciously crunchy, sweet treat on toast!

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Wednesday 13th March 2013 – Wild Bees and Gardens

104a Marc Carlton gave us a wonderful, illustrated talk on wild bees (everything but honey bees) and I heard a lot of things that were new to me.  For example, did you know that bees evolved from wasps? Wasps apparently feed their young with live prey but, when flowering plants came along, millions of years ago, gradually the nectar drinking bee evolved from the carnivorous wasp, providing the plants with one very effective means to reproduce.

There are thousands of types of bee in the world; over 300 species of bumblebee in the UK alone. Some are huge but others are tiny little creatures that burrow in your lawn; 749px-Anthidium_February_2008-1long- tongued bees drink from tubular flowers whilst shorter tongued bees have to drink from open flowers like daisies. But even in the bee world, there are cheats who drill holes in the side of flowers so that everyone can get at the sweet nectar, regardless of tongue size! Did you know that bumblebees can’t hover but just land straight onto a flower? When it comes to identification, Marc acknowledged how hard that can be sometimes, especially when there a lot of natural bee mimics, for example hoverflies and bee-flies. I certainly struggle with this one!

800px-Andrena_cinerariaWe learnt about the type of flowers that attract bees to our gardens and even how to bring in a single species by planting a particular flower that it simply can’t resist. Marc showed us how to build a bee hotel and how bees make their nests in hollow tubes, earth, wood and a host of other places. All in all, it was a wonderfully educational and entertaining talk. If you want to find out more, visit Marc’s website here or you can find quite a good article on Wikipedia, which is also the source of the bottom two photos on this page.

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9th March 2013 – Litter picking with the Cardiff Rivers Group

What a great turn-out! Thirty people, members of the Friends of Bute Park and the Cardiff Rivers Group met at Blackweir Bridge at 10.00am on Saturday morning. After a safety briefing and arming ourselves with grabbers and bags, we split up and went in search of litter, either to be disposed of as rubbish or collected for recycling. After a couple of hours hard work we had collected more bags than there were people along with an odd assortment of tyres, metalwork and a 70 year old semi-submerged motor car!  It’s dirty work but someone has to do it and, as the last photograph shows, actually rather good fun. We plan to do another session in a couple of weeks time!

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27th February 2013 – The Friends Forum

20130207-225853.jpgThe evening started with a presentation by Dave King, events organiser for the Cardiff Rivers Group, supported by Hugh Kettle their social secretary. After an introduction, we watched a video showing some of their litter picking events and interviews with committee members and the public who were asked about their views on the CRG’s work. Dave also showed slides of volunteers hard at work at various sites in and around the City.

imageThe CRG was founded in 2009 with a mission to ‘keep rivers beautiful’ for the enjoyment and use of everyone and with a wider aim to encourage enterprise to the area and, of course, keep the rivers healthy. Their work was initially funded by Keep Wales Tidy and grants from Cardiff Council but now they are almost self funding, having partnerships with private and commercial companies. However, its not all work and no play as this 300 strong group have a very good social programme too!

CRG’s success is due to good communications with their members and publicity via social media, text, emails and local newspapers. At litterpicks the volunteers hand out business cards to interested passers-by and have a very visible profile, wearing their bright red t-shirts. It comes as no surprise that this lively and dynamic voluntary group has recently won prestigious awards from KWT in both ‘River Improvement’ category and ‘Overall Winner’ along with £500 prize money!

The Friends asked Dave about the possible negative environmental impact of some of their work and he told us that they frequently liaise with the environmental agency. On a river clean-up, they will, for example, leave a partly submerged log in the water, providing the flow is not disrupted; such obstacles offer a safe haven for aquatic wildlife.

imageMike, our Chairman followed Dave’s talk with a Powerpoint presentation on the Friends, speaking about our activities in the past year, the Restoration Project and about our plans for the future. He asked for ideas about what you wanted us to organise and talked about designing nature routes around Bute Park, with accompanying leaflets for walkers or cyclists. Jane, our Vice Chair, spoke of the wildlife monitoring that we plan to do in the Park, sending valuable data to SEWBReC. We are going to organise litter picks and balsam pulling events and we’ve already started a huge survey of the Park’s trees, renumbering them as we go, with a view to constructing a detailed tree map. Some of our members are keen to lead guided rambles at different times of year, exploring and identifying the marvellous range of plants, bugs, butterflies, flowers, lichen and fungi to be found on our own doorstep.

Compared with the CRG, the Friends of Bute Park is a relatively new venture but we are growing in number and are an enthusiastic bunch. If you love the Park as much as we do then come and join us – what would you like to do? Pick up litter? Pull up weeds? Note down wildlife? Work with rangers? Tag along on our walks? You’d be very welcome!

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Bute Park Users Survey – Have your say!

Cardiff Council has published its latest biannual survey for the many users of Bute Park online. You can find it HERE

your-country-needs-you-94-cBute Park is probably the brightest jewel in the City’s crown and we want to keep it that way! How often do you use the Park? Do you pass through on your way to work? Cycle? Walk the dog? Or do you enjoy a day out there with your family? Do you think the sign posting, services and facilities within the Park are adequate? Can you think of improvements? What do you like; what would you change? How can the Park be improved even more?

In the past couple of years so much work has been achieved with the £5.6 million restoration project, supported by a £3.1 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. birdWe’ve seen the development of the Summerhouse Kiosk, a great spot for refreshments; West Lodge, which is now a gift shop ( currently being restructured) & the very popular Pettigrew Tearooms; the Education Centre within the Secret Garden Cafe and restoration of the Animal Wall & Blackfriars Friary. Work on clearing and filling the Mill Leat is scheduled to start soon. What do you think of the changes? What more can be done? Have you heard of us, the Friends of Bute Park? Do you know what we do and would you like to join us?

This is your opportunity to have your opinions heard – the Park managers do look at ALL the responses so please take a few minutes to take part – you might even win £50 of high street shopping vouchers, just for answering some questions!  Any personal information that you provide will be processed under the Data Protection Act.

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16th February 2013 – Glamorgan Recorders’ Forum

parkThe Glamorgan Recorders’ Forum was held at Rhondda Heritage Park at Trehafod. It was a full day of talks and presentations with a great many attendees from all walks of wildlife. The event was hosted by the South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre (SEWBReC) who collate and manage wildlife records in the region. We are grateful to them for inviting us to this event.

The first talk of the day was by Chris Manley, author of ‘Moths of Trigon: Observations on a Dorset Country Estate’, copies of which Chris kindly gave away for a very small donation. Chris spoke about an app that he and others have developed for the Smartphone called ‘Butterflies of Europe’. This is described on iTunes as ‘a brilliant resource for experts and novices alike.’

Paul Seligman from Glamorgan Bird Club took us through the changes in technology which have helped him to record his sightings over the years, starting with pencil and paper (not much good in the rain!) through digital recorders and now the latest Smartphone apps. Paul described ‘Bird Track’, iSpot and the very comprehensive ‘Nature Lister’.

More presentations followed and before lunch the audience was treated to an inspirational video made by eight year old Rudi Bright whose favourite book is ‘Tarka the Otter’; Rudi is trying to see all the living organisms mentioned in the book and posts photographs of his many successful sightings on his internet blog.

After a very sociable lunch break we reconvened to hear more talks, starting with Clare Dinham from Buglife, a charity described as being ‘dedicated to the conservation of all invertebrates, passionately committed to saving Britain’s rarest little animals, everything from bees to beetles, and spiders to snails.’ Claire told us about some of Buglife’s work, including that at Kenfig National Nature Reserve here in Wales, recently featured on BBC1’s Countryfile. Kenfig have a Facebook page.

Further presentations included one by Emma Douglas on Coity Wallia Commons, a Biodiversity enhancement project which aims to restore and reconnect 1,063 hectares of priority habitats on Cefn Hirgoed and Mynydd y Gaer, commons north of Bridgend. This project has a particular emphasis on management for the Marsh Fritillary, High Brown Fritillary, Bog Bush Cricket and Shrill Carder Bee.

Mark Baber then told us about the Wales Online Amphibian and Reptile Atlas, a project which hopes to record all sightings of these creatures, particularly gathering data from areas on which there is currently little or no information. The data are collected by Cofnod, a Local Records Centre at Bangor.

These are just some of the talks that we enjoyed on Saturday. We felt that it had been time well spent and we recognised the great importance of monitoring and recording wildlife sightings, whether it be a comprehensive survey of Bute Park, or a one-man study of the beasts, birds and bugs seen in our own back gardens. All data are valuable once submitted to the local, regional and national record centres. The information not only to helps to protect, conserve and encourage wild life in Wales but also assists councils to make the right decisions when considering future developments in their area.

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