They shoot ravens, don’t they?

Winter is the best time to see ravens playing at Newborough, particularly along Penrhos Beach. Usually there will be between six and 12 pairs of them (they are always in pairs).  On windy days, they love to ride the winds that sweep up the dune faces.  They seem to play just for the fun of it. They will pick up sticks and pass them from their feet to their beak; or pass things between each other in flight. They drop things from a height and chase them, tumbling to the ground, only to pick the object up and do it over again. They cruise up and down the beach cronking and calling to each other – and they’ll cronk and call to you too, if you call to them.

raven flying above Penrhos Beach

A winter raven soaring above Traeth Penrhos. (I find photographing them very difficult – it’s almost always cold and windy, I struggle to keep the camera steady and they move fast.)

Two ravens on Penrhos Beach

A pair of ravens preening and chatting with each other, Penrhos Beach

But this year, there are fewer ravens then I’ve ever seen before. I wonder where they’ve gone. And I wonder why they’ve gone.

And it’s hard not to wonder whether it has anything to do with the increased number of ravens that are being “legally” shot* (and once some are being legally shot, more are inevitably illegally shot – they’re considered quite a prize, because of their size). And perhaps it is also to do with the shrinking of the forest and increased disturbance. Who knows?

If you Google ravens and Newborough you will often see a figure of 2,000 being cited as the number of ravens that roost here. And claims of Newborough being the largest raven roost in Europe. But by 2004 there were only 800 birds reported to roost here. And it’s very hard to find a reliable and more up to date estimate than that.  I think there are far far fewer.  It’s hard too, to know how credible the estimates are when people post pictures of carrion crows (beach crows) and caption them as ravens…(and it is hard to tell them apart from a distance, especially if there’s nothing to give scale just the vast expanse of sand, or sea, or sky…)

a raven perching on a dead tree

A raven on the edge of Newborough Forest in the snowy winter of 2010 (or maybe it’s a crow…)

I hope the ravens aren’t abandoning Newborough: I wonder what that would foretell…


* see, for example, the BBC story about ravens being culled “in bid to protect livestock”; and NRW’s FAQ page about the licences; and the blog post by Rob Sheldon – Welsh Ravens: how many have been killed and why (and other posts he has about the killing of ravens throughout the UK)




Slate fence art

In 2002, the artist Valerie Coffin Price worked in the Braint car park, off Penlon, to engrave a series of pictures showing some of the wildlife characteristic of Newborough Warren.

Although I look at the pictures every time I pass, it’s easy to take them for granted. And as time goes by, some of them are becoming less distinct. So here, for posterity, are some photographs of the slate fence art.


Y tywyn trwy’r tymhorau – The warren through the seasons


Some of the engravings of flowers and fungi (including a cinnabar moth caterpillar alongside the ragwort – top left)


Some of the birds drawn by Valerie Coffin Price at Penlon, Newborough in 2002


An iconic Newborough bunny; and a pair of ponies (becoming less distinct as the lichens grow)

These are just a few, there are lots more to see…

Perhaps it’s “too darn hot”…

The cattle and the ponies on Newborough Warren are definitely finding things a little too hot. And they have a Catch 22 situation: if they go under the trees for a bit of shade, the horse flies are ferocious.


One of the belted Galloway cattle on Newborough Warren.

Young broadleaved trees, especially the willows, birches and sycamores are showing marked drought stress.


A scorched young willow behind the dunes of Penrhos Beach

Signs have been put up around the forest warning of the extreme risk of it going on fire. Mostly people are heeding these, but there are always exceptions and there have been some small fires, which have, thankfully, been controlled and put out before over much damage is done.


NRW Extreme Fire Risk warning sign, Newborough Forest

Over on the mainland things are worse, the smoke from the wildfire by Carmel, near Caernarfon, was clearly visible from Llanddwyn Beach this morning.


Smoke from the gorse/mountain wildfire by Carmel seen from Llanddwyn Beach this morning.

There seems to be no rain likely in the near future. Things are going to get tougher. It seems churlish to wish this weather to end, but I do!

Trialling treelessness…

Towards the end of last year, Natural Resources Wales gave notice that they planned to fell a four hectare block of the forest in order to establish an area in which to conduct “hydrological monitoring”. Off and on through the winter that clearfelling and site “preparation” work has been ongoing. The major works have now finished, the machines have left and the site has been fenced off…


The area clearfelled on the edge of the forest for hydrological monitoring.


NRW information sign for the hydrology trial site

The management of the forest is always a controversial issue and this trial is no exception…

The plan is for the area to be grazed: clearly that can’t happen for a while as the surface has been scraped and raked clear of all the vegetation that was there.  That is why the smart new fencing has been put around the area (to contain the future grazing animals), even though the forest is a designated open access area…

And then, in four years time, the area may or may not be planted with some scrubby/shrubby trees like rowans, hawthorns, hazels and birches.


Newborough Forest clearfell coupe April 2018

Icy sands and Eleanor’s bottles

Yesterday was a perfectly clear, sunny and bitingly cold day – perfect on Penrhos Beach. It was so cold that the dunes were frozen solid; the rock pools had a covering of ice; and there was a line of ice crystals all the way along the beach marking where the tide turned.

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Tideline ice glinting in the morning sun. Penrhos Beach, Newborough

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Ice crystals at the tideline

It was the first chance I’d had to visit the beach since storm Eleanor blew through last week. She has eaten into the dunes some more and exposed dozens and dozens of old(ish) bottles – and lots of other not so nice trash too.

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A few of the bottles exposed by Storm Eleanor on Penrhos Beach, Newborough

Fatbergs – palm oil pollution?

The Daily Post has been warning that the wreck of the Kimya, which sank in 1991, was disturbed by the recent storms and palm oil from it is once again washing ashore on Anglesey.

Sure enough, today Penrhos Beach was littered with lumps of a white soapy substance that had a very strong smell, like diesel or tar.

And floating on the tide there were more lumps, looking like miniature ice bergs.


A “fatberg” floating infront of Llanddwyn Island


All the white blobs are lumps of a stinky, waxy substance – possibly some kind of processed palm oil. At first glance, they looked like polystyrene breaking up.

There were also a couple of lumps of yellowish, waxy stuff – more what I associate with palm oil – which doesn’t smell like diesel, just a bit like rancid fat and these seem to be more attractive to the birds (and presumably dogs too). If this is palm oil, it can make dogs very ill – so be careful. I can’t imagine it’s very good for any aspect of the marine environment, but Natural Resources Wales seem uninterested, saying it is the Council’s responsibility to clean up…


A smaller piece of yellowish “palm oil” that the birds have been feeding on


Today, 5th November, many lumps of fat remain on the beach, but the wind is doing a good job of covering them up.

On a lighter note, the Council have put out their warning signs for jellyfish…

Anglesey Council jellyfish sign