For those who are still self-isolating, here’s the latest edition of Rushlight, courtesy of the Aberdyfi butcher who supplied tonight’s delicious lamb chop. This edition, June 2020, should be posted on the Community Council’s new website before too long at https://aberdyfi-council.wales/council-rushlight-newsletter, where all the previous editions can be found. You can click to enlarge each of the pages below.
The RSPB‘s Big Garden Birdwatch results arrived through my letterbox today, together with a new keyboard, a vital necessity after I tipped a glass of lemon squash into my previous one on Monday, annihilating the entire bottom row of keys, and most of the upper right. Two pieces of post that made me very happy, with all due thanks to my postman for continuing to provide a brilliant service when they are under serious pressure as all of us turn to online orders.
Compared to our first 1979 survey, Big Garden Birdwatch results show declines in once common species such as greenfinch and chaffinch – mirroring the loss of wildlife in the wider countryside. Yet there are signs of hope – in the last decade numbers of some garden species, including house sparrows, goldfinches and great tits appear to have increased, showing signs of potential recovery. The version of the results sent to me was the version produced for residents in Wales, which was particularly interesting.
- House sparrows are still on top, and although numbers have been in decline since 1979, the rate of fall shows signs of slowing.
- Blue tits show a rise in numbers, and we certainly have a lot around here
- Starlings are down, although still common. They say that starlings were spotted in 80% of Welsh gardens, but I have never seen one here.
- Blackbirds, one of my real favourites, are down. Apparently a lot of chicks are lost at nesting time, and they can be helped by leaving hedges uncut and providing them with mealworms (which the robins and blue tits go crazy for too, at least in my garden)
- Chaffinches are down, but in Wales they were reported in 47% of gardens. I have seen one this year
- Great tits are 12% up over the last 10 years, and we always have plenty in Aberdovey
- Goldfinches, permanent residents in my garden are up an incredible 50% in the last decade. A group of goldfinches, incidentally, is called “a charm.”
- Long-tailed tits are on their way up. The last time I saw one was in the park over the road from my house when I lived in London. They are enchanting.
- Robins were seen in 87% of Welsh gardens (mine included) but overall have fallen by almost one third since 1979.
- Magpies are on their way up and are doing well in Wales. They are forever quarrelling with the jackdaws in my garden, and are often here when the pheasants visit, perhaps knowing that peanuts will be forthcoming
Interestingly, just as happened last year, the pheasants moved in to my gardens and neighbouring gardens for the winter, and have now headed off again, rarely visiting.
A lot of birds are losing their natural habitats, like hedgerows, and climate change is impacting some species, like the puffin. And have you seen a chough hereabouts? I had never heard of them but they are crows with crimson beaks and red legs, that need cliff-top farmland for nesting and feeding sites. There are only a few hundred pairs still remaining in Wales.
A lovely graphic of the seafront houses.
The clocks go forward tonight, Saturday 28th /Sunday 29th 2020. It is easy to lose track of this sort of thing at the moment. Enjoy the lighter evenings, always something to look forward to. Sunset was at around 7pm tonight, so it will be 8pm tomorrow. Even under the current circumstances, it’s a bit of a silver lining. The last few days, so incredibly sunny and warm, were astonishing for March, and the promise of things to come.
According to The Sunday Times, which has done a survey of the Best Places to Live in the UK 2020, Aberdovey is given a superb write-up in the Welsh category. The full write-up is here, but you have to be a Times subscriber. I’m not a subscriber, so you’ll just have to talk nicely to someone who is! However, a short summary piece actually is available to read, and you can find that here. Here’s an excerpt
So beautiful, yet so modest: there’s not a hint of bling in this exclusive resort, and the community comes together for the annual panto and in the queues for plaice and chips at the Bear of Amsterdam or a caramel ice cream from the Sweet Shop. Yes, there are a lot of holiday homes, but they are well loved and well used by owners who mostly live within a couple of hours’ drive — it’s 2½ hours to Birmingham and three to Manchester — so this is no out-of-season ghost town. Local characters include Carlos the dog whisperer and Dai the fisherman.
Aberdyfi’s attractions are natural and bountiful. Reports of a Mediterranean climate are best taken with a pinch of sea salt, but the glittering night skies are unsullied by light pollution and the rugged mountains of Snowdonia are a suitably dramatic backdrop for the four-mile sandy beach. If what’s on offer at the butcher, the pharmacy, the village stores and the Coast deli isn’t enough, there’s a supermarket, a GP surgery and a cinema four miles up the coast in Tywyn, where you’ll also find the nearest primary and secondary schools.
I felt almost embarrassed by my own good taste in living here 🙂 I was glad to see Dai of Dai’s Shed getting an honourable mention – I’ve eaten serious amounts of the fish he catches, and the same applies to the excellent butcher. And of course, The Sweet Shop sells my favourite ice cream in the UK.
Terrific to have some good news in this particularly difficult period. Thanks to family friend and bee-keeper Kelvin Heywood for alerting me to it.
My RSPB Big Garden BirdWatch pack turned up today. Lots of helpful material, including a handy bird counting sheet, and some useful suggestions for attracting birds to your garden and encouraging them to stay.
BirdWatch itself is such a great idea. You choose an hour, at any time of the day on one day between 26th and 28th January and write the highest number of each bird species that you see at any one time. The example given is “if you see a group of eight starlings together, and towards the end of the hour you see six together, please write down eight as your final count.” This is because the second bunch may be the same individuals as the first bunch, back for another visit. The purpose is to count individual birds, not individual visits. Even if someone participating in the survey sees nothing in the hour, it’s still useful information for the RSPB.
As BirdWatch has been going for 40 years (this is their anniversary year) some interesting statistics have emerged. Examples are that sightings of song thrushes have dropped by 75% since the first BirdWatch, starlings by 79% and house sparrows by 57%. There were some rises too, such as a 52% increase in long-tailed tits. One of the interesting findings is siskin and brambling numbers were up in 2018. I hadn’t heard of either, but both are winter visitors, and the RSPB site says that their numbers are higher in years when conditions here are more favourable in the UK than on the Continent. I suppose that global warming will result in even more visitors of this sort. Blackbirds were in 93% of gardens and robins in 83%. Figures like this allow ornithologists to get a much better idea of what is happening to bird communities across the country. As the survey is postcode sensitive, regional patterns can be determined.
The survey is not confined to birds, although this is the primary purpose. There is also a section on the form that looks at how often garden owners are visited by other wildlife – daily, weekly, monthly, less than monthly, never or don’t know. It’s a fascinating selection, everything from what I think of as fairly common species like grey squirrels, badgers, foxes and frogs to animals that I have rarely seen like red squirrels and muntjacs. Mind, I thought that pheasants were exotic until I moved here, and now I’m literally falling over them every time I leave the house.
All the photos on this post were taken in my garden at Aberdovey, and are just a sample of the avian life that regularly visits, one of the real joys of living here.
The survey can be returned by post or completed online, and must be submitted no later than 12th February by post or 17th February online. The survey results are published in April, and it will be fascinating to see what the results are. The results of the 2018 survey, consisting of 420,489 collated responses, are posted here on the RSPB website. The main findings are shown below, but you can also see the findings by country, and see an Excel spreadsheet of the detailed survey results.
The 2018 general wildlife findings were also interesting. The survey results indicated that although frogs were seen in more than three-quarters of UK gardens, that’s 17% fewer regular sightings than in 2014, whilst toads have been seen in just 20% of gardens at least once a month, which is 30% down on four years ago. At the same time, sightings of hedgehogs have increased and were seen in 65% of gardens during 2018, with foxes reaching 72%. I saw foxes all the time when I lived on the edge of a park in Rotherhithe (London), but I cannot recall ever seeing one here, although there must be plenty around.
I was in the Aberdyfi Village Stores a couple of days ago and asked if there was such a thing as a local newspaper. I came away with the Cambrian News (www.cambrian-news.co.uk) for the Meirionnydd district, which is absolutely bursting with information about Meirionnydd (or Merioneth in English).
Meirionnydd is the southernmost part of Gwynedd and used to be a separate cantref, lying between the River Dyfi to the south and the River Mawddach in the north. In 1889 it was officially renamed Merionethshire and in 1284 assimilated the cantrefs Penllyn and Ardudwy to its north. In 1974 it was amalgamated with Caernarfon and Angelsey to become Gwynedd. However, Meirionnydd is still considered to be an entity in its own right, and this is the area served by Meirionnydd version of Cambrian News, although the newspaper has issues for other districts as well, taking in much of Gwynedd and Ceredigion.
The Cambrian News itself has both heritage and pedigree, celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2010. It first appeared in October 1860, at that stage just a four-page supplement in The Oswestry Advertiser, and was called The Merioneth Herald. It developed into a newspaper in its own right, still in Oswestry, and in 1864 became The Merionethshire Standard and Mid-Wales Herald. It was only in 1864, that the name Cambrian entered the name, when it became the Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard. At times it also included The Welsh Farmers’ Gazette.
In 1873 it was put under the management and editorship of a John Gibson (1941-1915), and was moved to Aberystwyth as The Cambrian News. Gibson was clearly a force to be reckoned with. He was the son of a Lanaster hatter who, according to John Gibson’s obituary in the Western Mail (19th July 1915) made the first silk hat in Lancaster. Gibson started out as an errand boy in the newspaper trade and went to the Oswestry Advertiser first as a printer and then as a journalist. In 1879 Gibson published Agriculture in Wales. His obituary in the Western Mail says that “his outspoken and negative criticism occasioned great commotion in town and district and gave rise to considerable opposition.” In 1880 his outspoken remarks resulted in a number of libel actions against the newspaper, and rather than apologize he resigned. However, in the same year a consortium of Gibson’s friends and supporters formed a consortium to purchase the newspaper, and reappointed him. He eventually became the newspaper’s proprietor. He had strong views on political and social issues, which permeated the newspaper. In a column in the newspaper on the 26th October 1885 he stated that women were “either slaves or are legally, socially and politically non-existent,” and followed this up in 1891 with a book entitled The Emancipation of Women, a treatise that came down very strongly in support of women’s suffrage. An article on Wales Online describes how in the first decade of the 20th Century he was strongly opposed to the establishment of the newly proposed Welsh National Agricultural Society and its Royal Welsh Show, arguing vociferously that it would lead to the demise of the North Cardiganshire show and other similarly long-established events.The Welsh National Library’s Dictionary of Welsh Biography says that under Gibson’s supervision, “and through his vigorous personality and fearless independent views on local and national affairs, the Cambrian News became one of the most influential weekly newspapers in Wales.”
A measure of its success under Gibson is provided by a piece in the Cambrian Times of 11th July 1874, where a column describes how the Cambrian News and Aberystwyth Times had steadily increased over the previous few years throughout the district. In 1873 there were 1590 more advertisements placed than in 1872 and in 1874 there were 1721 more than in 1873. This is explained in the column by the standards to which the newspaper was held by its editor: “The Cambrian News is characterized by the independent tone of its articles and the fearless spirit in which public affairs of local and general interest are criticized. It is full of impartial reports, local sketches, nearly two columns of markets and general intelligence etc, and the proprietors do not spare expense in making it a good family, commercial and general newspaper.” Advertisements were more expensive than other local newspapers, and this was discussed in the July 23rd 1909 issue of the Cambrian News and Welsh Farmers’ Gazette on page 3: “We are frequently told that charges for advertisements in this paper are higher than those made by other local papers. This is true. We publish two editions every week in order to give al the news of the district, and our price for advertisements is high in order to keep space for news. If reckoned by so much per thousand copies sold, advertisements should be included in the ‘Cambrian News’ will be found to be worth all that is paid for them.”
The tone of the Cambrian News under John Gibson was, to say the least, forthright. On December 30th 1881 in the Almanac for the Year 1882, just beneath the newspaper’s header, the following statement was printed: “The Cambrian News aims at being all that a pure, honest and upright family newspaper should be. Impure advertisements and reports are rigorously excluded. The reports are impartial, the criticism is just and the politics Liberal.” It goes on to say that it gives “special attention” to agricultural subjects and that as well as a wide regional circulation it had agents in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. By 1909 two editions were going out per week.
John Gibson was knighted in the same year in which he died, becoming Sir John Gibson, not a bad achievement for the son of a Lancaster hatter. He died on Saturday 17th July, aged 74. In his will be specified that his funeral his funeral “should be of the simplest form and no mourning worn at it or afterwards” (Cambrian News, 20th November 1915, page 6). He was buried in Llangarwen churchyard.
Today the weekly Cambrian News is owned by Tindle Newspapers Ltd. It is full of local stories and has an active letters page. It is a great way to find out about local government issues, problems with services and transport, innovations made by local businesses, upcoming and previous events and the outcomes of recent sports fixtures. I had no idea, for example, that there are plans afoot to put a new bridge over the River Dyfi, that there is a Merioneth County Show (very sorry to have missed that), that there is a shortage of both firefighters and train drivers in the area, that there is a move to set up a Dyf Valley palliative care service, or that Tywyn has a netball team. I also enjoyed the piece about the life of Marguerite Jervis who lived intermittently at The Lodge of Plas Pentedal near Aberdovey. The newsaper is very people-focused, with a strong emphasis on human interest stories. Its website says that Cambrian News is the biggest-selling weekly newspaper in Wales with six editions that cover Aberystwyth, south Ceredigion, Cardigan & Newcastle Emlyn, Montgomeryshire, Meirionnydd and Arfon/Dwyfor, spanning five Welsh counties. Cambrian News was voted Welsh Weekly Newspaper of the Year for 2015 and has been awarded the title of BT Welsh Weekly Newspaper of the Year twice. The price has just risen from 80p to £1.00. Worth every penny.