14th May 2007 - Slimbridge.
A trip to Slimbridge during the breeding season.
WWT Slimbridge is a wetland reserve managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (a UK charity) at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire. Slimbridge is halfway between Bristol and Gloucester on the estuary of the river Severn.
The reserve was the first WWT centre to be opened, on the 10th November 1946, thanks to the vision of artist and naturalist Sir Peter Scott. The United Kingdom now has eight other WWT sites.
The reserve exists to care for and study ducks and geese of the world. To cater for bird and duck watchers, sixteen hides overlook the fields, streams and lakes bordering the River Severn and the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal.
The Sloane Observation Tower gives far-reaching views to the Cotswold escarpment in the east and the River Severn and Forest of Dean in the West. Slimbridge has a visitors' centre and shop, restaurant, art gallery and Tropical House.
*please click the image below to access a photo slideshow of our groups visit to Slimbridge
photo: Peter Scott
The site has 3 square kilometres of reserve, of which 500,000 square metres is landscaped and can be visited by the public.
The number of ducks, geese and swans is greatest in winter, with large flocks of White-fronted Geese, sometimes with a rare Lesser White-fronted Goose amongst them. Bewick's Swans are a feature of Slimbridge in winter, arriving from northern Russia to enjoy the milder climate of southern England.
Their behaviour has been studied intensely at Slimbridge. The pattern on each bird's beak is unique and is recorded in small paintings from front and side views (rather like "mug shots") to aid recognition. Birds are also given names (for example, Maud, The Major, Ethel, Rudy and Aristole).
Other winter visitors are birds of prey such as Peregrine and Merlin, as well as wading birds and songbirds. Princess Elizabeth arranged for the first Whooper Swans to be sent to Slimbridge during a visit to Canada, at the personal request of Peter Scott during a visit by the Queen to Slimbridge in 1952. They became known as the Queen's Swans.
An early success story in the 1950s was the saving of the Nene goose (or Hawaiian Goose) from extinction. Breeding at Slimbridge was successful and there are still Nene geese at Slimbridge today. However, initial reintroduction into the wild in Hawaii was unsuccessful since the Nene's natural environment was not protected from predators introduced by man. Once the Nene's habitat was protected, reintroduction became successful.
Website link: www.wwt.org.uk/centre/122/visit/slimbridge/.html
Butterfly Farm and Maze near Symonds Yat.
Learn why ancient mazes baffled modern mathematicians; and enjoy a
keepers tour of the Butterfly Farm.
*please click the image above to access a photo slideshow of our group visit
to the Butterfly Farm and Maze near Symonds Yat
Symonds Yat is a village within the Forest of Dean and a popular tourist destination straddling the River Wye on the county border of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.
Symonds Yat West is on the Herefordshire side of the river and Symonds Yat East is on the Gloucestershire side. The only connection between the two banks is by two ancient hand ("pull") ferries by which for a small fee the ferryman pulls people across the river using an overhead rope. The only connection by road is upstream over Huntsham bridge; this is a five mile trip.
Symonds Yat Rock is a scenic viewpoint towering 120 metres (394 feet) above the river on the Gloucestershire side. From this viewpoint it is possible, between April and August, to witness peregrine falcons nesting on the cliff side. Volunteers from the RSPB help visitors to use telescopes provided in a joint project with Forest Enterprise, owners of the site. Yat Rock is a popular location for climbers.
Website link: www.royalforestofdean.info/attractions/index.shtml
A tour of the Cotswold Perfumery to learn about the importance of our sense of smell and see how perfumes are made.
The Cotswolds have always been looked upon as the Heart of England. It is one of the few regions with an architectural style all of its own and the steeply pitched roofs, stone mullions and dormer windows are typical. Built almost exclusively in warm yellow Cotswold stone, this delightful village has such a unique appeal to visitors and residents alike.
Regularly voted one of the prettiest villages in England, Bourton-on-the-Water has more than its share of Cotswold houses and cottages, many of them three hundred years old, some dating back to Elizabethan times four hundred years ago.
*please click the image below to access a photo slideshow of our groups visit to Bourton-on-the-Water
Birdland was first established in 1957 and was sited in the centre of Bourton. It moved to its present site, a few hundred metres down the road in 1989. The current location was a trout farm and a Poplar plantation, for match-stick production, owned by Bryant & May. There are still over 150 trees which create a high canopy for the River Windrush and enclosures.
Birdland is set in woodland, river and gardens. this natural setting is inhabited by over 500 birds. Flamingos, pelicans, penguins, cranes, storks, cassowary and waterfowl can be seen on various aspects of the water habitat. Over 50 aviaries of parrots, falcons, pheasants, hornbills, toucans, touracos, pigeons, ibis and many more. The Tropical, Toucan and Desert Houses are home to the more delicate species.
Website link: www.birdland.co.uk
Cotswold Motor Museum Located in the beautiful Cotswold village of Bourton-on-the-Water, the Cotswold Motoring Museum is a fascinating journey through the 20th Century.
Though the main focus is on motoring, the Museum is full of the everyday paraphernalia that made motoring so popular including picnic sets from the 1920s, alongside caravans, radio sets, gramophones and knitted swimsuits.
Website link: www.cotswold-motor-museum.com
Cotswold Perfumery perfumery exhibition Victoria Street, Bourton on the Water, exhibition includes the origins of the perfume as well as a cinema with "smells".
Website link: www.bourtoninfo.com
Weymouth R.S.P.B. Reserve and Beach.
*please click the images below to access a photo slideshow of our visit to
Weymouth R.S.P.B. Reserve and Beach
photo: Weymouth seafront.
RSPB Reserves and bird watching: To tell you of the natural beauty and outstanding wildlife in the Weymouth and Portland area. From coastal waters to reed beds and exotic gardens you will be surprised and delighted in discovering a wealth of fascinating flora, fauna, birds and wildlife.
The RSPB nature reserves at Radipole and Lodmoor are situated close to the town centre and are excellent for birdwatchers and those who are interested in being close to nature.
The Classic Seaside Resort of Weymouth, with its beach and idyllic leisure harbour, nestles perfectly alongside the rugged "Isle" of Portland, the perfect place for visitors who just want to get away from it all with something for everyone, isn't it time you discovered Weymouth and Portland.... the Natural Place to be.
website link: www.weymouth.gov.uk
A visit to Concorde at Filton.
The Wests world famous visitor attraction stars Concorde 216 Alpha Foxtrot which made its spectacular final flight home into Filton on 26 November 2003. Concorde at Filton is a temporary home for Concorde 216.
Local organisations and companies are supporting the creation of a major aviation heritage centre, where Concorde 216 will be under cover as the centre-piece of displays and exhibits that detail the story of the regions long-standing role in the world of aerospace.
*please click the images below to access a photo slideshow of our visit to
Concorde at Filton.
IT WAS around 9am on the "20th January 1607" (although in the modern calendar this is the January 30 1607) when the flood struck. The event is recorded on plaques in a number of churches, including those in Monmouthshire at Goldcliff, St Brides, Redwick and Peterstone.
The idea that the 1607 flood was due to a tsunami was first put forward by us in a scientific paper published in 2002 in the journal Archaeology in the Severn Estuary.
A number of historical documents exist that describe the event and its aftermath. An area from Barnstaple in north Devon, up the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary to Gloucester, then along the South Wales coast around to Cardigan was affected, some 570 km of coastline.
The coastal population was devastated with at least 2,000 fatalities according to one of the contemporary sources.
At the meeting members of the Science and Natural History group put together a programme on the Great Flood in 1607. Special thanks to Jim's nephew for the DVD, to Nita and Jim for gathering information and putting together the display, and to Jim for explaining about the Gregorian Calendar and to Ron and Val for fieldwork with the digital camera.1607 - 2007 400 years anniversary of the Gwent Great Flood - "Was it a Tsunami ?"
U3A Members go Hi-Tech!*please click the image above to access a larger photograph
Dr Payne spoke on the subject The Technology of Gadgets and brought along a number of items to show the progress in electronics and computing, especially in way that we communicate with each other.
He was able to demonstrate how many features were now being integrated into one device so that a mobile phone could also act as a camera, diary, GPS, etc..
Members were also shown a radio in the shape of a pig which could be plugged into the USB socket of a computer! This he said was one of the many things that could be powered by the USB socket he also had a device to keep his coffee warm in his office. The group convenor, Dr Dorothy Witcomb thanked him for giving such an interesting insight into the subject.
Water: Sam Taylor-HeardSam uses the River Wye to illustrate the work of the Environmental Agency in protecting and conserving a resource that is essential to all life on earth - water.*Click the photograph above to access a slide show of Sam's work at the Environmental Agency.
Swans: Peter Martin and Ellen Kershaw
Most people admire swans. Peter and Ellen from Swan Rescue will talk about
these beautiful and majestic birds, and explain how humans threaten them,
either deliberately, or unintentionally by changes in their environment.
On a warm sunny day in March, members of the Science and Natural History Group visited Bristol Zoo.
Apart from strolling around the Zoo admiring the animals and the floral displays, we had booked a session in the Education Department. We were ushered into a large room, draped like a tent.
On the floor were a number of objects, many representing animals in danger of extinction, such as snake skin bags, fur coats, a turtle, a piece of coral. Other objects represented Conservation, for example wooden articles from sustainable forests.
The objects prompted us to discuss many ways in which animal species may be threatened by mans activities. An opportunity to hold a rare cockroach reminded us that conservation is not just about large animals; small creatures also have important roles in the environment.In a recent Channel 5 program these caves were voted the most spectacular natural feature in the British Isles. This trip will involve a number of steps.
This trip will include an optional visit behind the scenes to learn about the scientific work of Gardens.
*Click the photograph above to access a slide show from the visit to Kew Gardens and a tour of the Herbarium building.
PorthcawlAn opportunity to explore a number of habitats, including cliffs, rock pools and a sandy shore, in the peaceful atmosphere of Rest Bay; or just spend a day at the seaside.Have you ever wondered what happens to the cardboard and garden waste that is collected in white bags? Paul is the man to tell us. He is the Waste Strategy Officer for M.C.C.At the September meeting Paul Quayle, who is the Waste Strategy Officer for Monmouthshire County Council talked about the need to recycle waste. He described an impressive scheme in which garden waste is composted and then eaten by worms, which produce fine nutritious compost, which will be sold in garden centres.
Lave Net Fishing in the River Severn: Martin Morgan
For centuries fishermen have caught salmon in the River Severn using Lave Nets. Martin is one of the people keeping this tradition alive.
Fungi in all their Diversity: Vaughan Fleming
Fungi are everywhere; they range from mushrooms and toadstools to moulds and slime moulds. The talk is illustrated by amazing images from a leading photographer.
Vaughan Fleming amazed us with his images of Fungi from forests in South America and Britain, from his garden and in the house on jam and bread.
Weird species included the Slime moulds, which creep around like huge amoebae, and luminous fungus on trees.Kay Flatten (left) gets the class working out as part of her demonstration. Our Chairman Peter Shreeve believes in leading from the front and to prove it takes the seat next to Kay.
Badgers: John KennettSome people love badgers, others want to kill them. John is the secretary of the Gwent Badger Group; a group of people dedicated to the welfare of these amazing creatures.
Visit includes a demonstration of birds flying, a guided tour and many opportunities for photography. The Conservation of Birds of Prey and their habitats through public education, captive breeding, treatment and rehabilitation of wild injured birds of prey. Research for understanding, health and the conservation of all birds of prey.
The Centre is open to the general public for 10 months of the year. Education is ongoing to all visitors. The Centre also undertakes more in depth education to specific groups and parties, from first schools to universities and offers off-site lectures and teaching.
The Centre continues its captive breeding aims; to research species; breed from species not previously understood; provide teaching and written information for captive breeding programmes at home and abroad; maintain the Collection and provide birds for demonstrations, both in the UK and further afield.
website link: http://www.icbp.org
Dr Colin Dawes poses for a photo after he had taken a group of us on a guided tour along the beach to see some of the fossils that Lyme Regis is famous for, thank you Colin and Dorothy for a fascinating day out.
website link: www.jurassiccoast.com
In July 2004 a joint expedition by members of the Science and Digital Imaging groups visited the picturesque village of Port Eynon at the tip of the Gower.
We saw the Salt House where for several centuries salt was extracted from seawater, and which may have been a smuggler's headquarters. An oyster shell prompted tales of a once flourishing oyster fishery. Later some members explored the rocky shore, discovering a number of interesting specimens including edible seaweeds, many recently shed crab shells, sea anemones and dog whelks with their cocoons.website link: www.the-gower.com
In June we visited Pentwyn Farm near Monmouth, which belongs to the Gwent Wildlife Trust. The unspoilt hay meadows were thick with flowers, bringing back happy memories to many of our members.
There were massed ox-eye daisies, greenish hay rattles, blue eyebright and thousands of spotted orchids in various shades of purple and white. After the hot meadow we were pleased to take a coffee break in the cool medieval barn. Thank you to Jemma for a wonderful morning.
*please click the image below to access a photo slideshow of our visit to
Pentwyn Farm near Monmouth.
It was all those things plus the tranquillity of this meadow with it's wonderful selection of wild plants, nature has given us, which we know are being preserved for future generations.
website link: www.gwentwildlife.org/pentwynFarmOrchard
Members of the science group were fascinated by a collection of over 80 helicopters. Sizes ranged from tiny remote control machines to the huge French Super Frelon. Sinister war machines such as the Russian "Hind", which once bristled with weapons; contrast with the luxurious Westland Wessex from the Queen's flight.
A sleek Westland Lynx holds the Helicopter World Speed record of 249mph; in contrast a 1950s gyrocopter from America, which has no engine, is towed behind a speedboat. One small 'copter was built in a garden shed, others cost millions.
We would like to thank the two Mikes who enthusiastically guided us around this impressive collection, which is lovingly maintained by volunteers.
website link: www.helicoptermuseum.co.uk
Visit to Clearwell Caves
*please click the photograph below to access a photo slideshow of our Visit
to Clearwell Caves and Church
In May the Science group visited Clearwell caves. This is a natural system of natural limestone caves, which has been enlarged by mining. People have used the caves since prehistoric times to obtain earth pigments and iron.
The marks of ancient tools can be seen on the rocks, also numerous items from the industrial period when whole families worked the iron. The mine is still used to extract pigments reds, yellows and violet, these are useful to artists, as they do not fade. The caves are also used for discos and Father Christmas' Grotto.
The mines have been worked for 3,000 years and children were used to transport the ore out by carrying a bin on their backs with each load weighing approximately 70 lbs. The rail, truck and winch system was used at a much later date and only in accessible places.
After extracting pigments from the cave wall our guide demonstrates their vivid colours by rubbing them on the back of one of our members hands. Marks of the miners tools can be seen all over the walls and roof of the caves.
website link: www.clearwellcaves.comSeaweedsAt the December meeting we discussed seaweeds and their uses. Both live and pressed specimens were used to demonstrate the variety of species, some very beautiful. Seaweed extracts were found in a number of products such as ice cream, soft cheeses, toothpaste and tomato fertiliser.
On behalf of our members, Rodney thanked our convenor, Dorothy Witcomb for the fascinating talk and for bringing her collection of pressed specimens including the shopping bag full of products, all containing seaweed extracts. Lastly he thanked her for showing us the wonderful photographs she had taken, while on her dives.
Red Kites Feeding Station at Gigrin Farm
*please click the image below to access a slideshow of our group
visit to see the Red Kites
Our Group visit was in September 2003 were the photo's is of Red Kites feeding was taken. Wild Red Kites are fed at Gigrin Farm every day of the year. With breathtaking feats of aerial piracy red kites compete with buzzards and ravens for choice pickings. Feeding takes place at 2pm GMT - 3pm in summer & 2pm winter (well, no-one tells the kites that the clocks change!).
The crows are first to turn up in trees around the feeding area and make it quite a noisy affair with the calls of jackdaws and carrion crows and the deep 'cronking' of ravens. Buzzards and red kites circle overhead; buzzards are far more vocal than kites, their powerful 'mewing' carrying a long way.
As soon as the meat has been put out the crow family start emerging from the surrounding trees. As the first crows land amongst the meat the kites go on the offensive. Kites watch and wait their chance to furl their wings and dive in, skimming the ground to snatch a scrap before rising suddenly to escape the beaks of the angry crows.
website link: http://www.gigrin.co.uk
Visit to the National Botanic Garden of Wales 2003
The National Botanic Garden of Wales opened in May 2000 – making us the first national botanic garden to be created in the new millennium.
*please click the photograph below to access a slide show of the Science and Natural History Group visit to the National Botanic Garden of Wales
photo: The National Botanic Garden of Wales
In such a short time we
- are the most visited garden in Wales
- have been voted the number 1 ‘Wonder of Wales’, ’Most Romantic Garden’, ‘Best Children’s Garden’ & ‘Best Afternoon Tea’ by the Western Mail
- have been voted ‘No 1 Garden to Visit in Wales’ by BBC Gardeners’ World 2010 poll
- have been voted ‘Visitors Favourite’ by Carmarthenshire Tourism Association
The National Botanic Garden of Wales is set on historic parkland, dating back around 400 years. Visitors can see how we’ve restored some wonderful remnants of the Middleton Regency Water Park, especially the Double Walled Garden, Principality House, the Stables and the Lakes.
website link: www.gardenofwales.org.uk/
Visit to FlatholmA group of us have just returned from the visit to Flatholm Island today. As you will see by one of the photos I could hardly stand up to take it.! ' IT WAS ROUGH'On July 23rd 22 members visited the island of Flatholm in the Bristol Channel. It was a grey showery day, and the waters of the Channel were brown and choppy, but U3A members are known for their adventurous spirit, so we decided not to postpone the trip.
We were surprised to find so much to see on this tiny island. Here Marconi sent the first radio message over water. This event occurred in 1987 when my Grandfather was a child, and was the forerunner of radio, television, satellite navigation and mobile phones.
*please click the image below to access a photo slideshow of our visit to
Flatholm Islandphoto: Our members arriving on Flatholm Island
We saw huge gun emplacements, built at great expense and never used. An enormous gun lay idle, too large to take off the island. Gun pits are used as shelters by sheep. They need the shelter because, as we experienced, wind and rain buffet the island, and there is only one tree, a horse chestnut, and that is dead. Rare wild leeks bloom near the emplacements.
Near the top of the island the old Cholera hospital stands derelict. It used to be thought that the wind would blow away the cholera germs, so the hospital was built at right angles to the wind, for maximum effect. The poor sick folk that survived the boat trip probably died of hypothermia.
The old foghorn has been restored by enthusiasts. Enormous machinery generates vast blasts of air, which are expelled through two huge trumpets on the roof of the building. It is sounded once a year and can be heard 10 miles away.
The dominant animals are the gulls, mainly lesser black backed gulls. At first we could not understand why the ground was strewn with cooked chicken bones. Gulls collect them from rubbish dumps around Cardiff. As we walked through the gull colony the birds rose in fury shouting, GO! GO!
On the journey back the sea was rougher. Water poured over the open part of the boat, as if someone was throwing buckets of water. We were all thankful to reach land.
I hope that, despite the rough boat ride, everyone enjoyed the trip. It is certainly a fascinating island.
website link: www.flatholmisland.com'Fun with Photographs' by Bernard Brown
March 3rd 'Fun with Photographs' by Bernard Brown from the Positive Image Photographic Society in Barry. Bernard does amazing things with photographs. In his world science and photography combine to produce fantasy.
Bernard Brown demonstrating his double lens camera set-up
Bernard Brown from the positive Image Photographic Society in Barry gave us an amazing morning. We had to wear special Polaroid glasses allowing us to see 3-D images. These were far superior to the old red and green glasses. The photographs were taken with a pair of synchronised cameras. At first we saw images taken with cameras about 3 feet apart, giving a more dramatic 3-D image, which lead me to speculate on the images seen by a hammer head shark. Finally we saw pictures of the Grand Canyon as seen by someone with eyes 1000 feet apart!
We also saw images which gave the illusion of objects projecting out over the audience, rhododendron leaves which appeared to be about to poke our eyes out, and a line of marigold flowers with ladies faces which seemed to fly out of the screen.
'Visit to NASA'
'Visit to NASA' by Keith Moseley Monmouth School. A group of school children from S.Wales won a trip to NASA, and Keith will share with us some of their experiences.
Keith Moseley from Monmouth School described the history of NASAs space programme. This was illustrated by his photographs of spacecraft and some of the awesome machines needed to construct and manoeuvre the huge rockets and shuttle craft.
We were interested to learn of some of the science behind the programme and the engineering problems involved. There was also the human aspect, imagine being fired into space curled up in a tiny cabin, unable to stretch or move about.On Monday January 6th we had a fascinating talk by amateur astronomer Chris Dale. He showed us how to use star charts to identify constellations, and recommended web sites that predict the movement of man made objects such as satellites. With this information it is possible to see the space shuttle leaving the space station, and to predict the time and place of bright flashes from mobile phone satellites.
He also revealed the immensity of space by trying to convey the size of the Milky Way, and the distance to 'nearby' galaxies. I was especially impressed by a picture of the number of galaxies in a section of sky that would be covered by holding a 5p piece at arms length. We were each presented with a booklet containing a copy of his power point presentation and a star chart.photo: Stephen demonstrating dinosaurs footprints.
Stephen Howe a geologist from Cardiff Museum led members of the group along the shore at Sully. First he showed us how the rocks allowed experts to determine the environment millions of years ago.
The red rocks showed that the area was covered by a hot dry sandy desert. Out in the Bristol channel there was a large lake. Near Sully hospital we saw a stony track made by a wadi, a river bed which is normally dry and only contains water after heavy rain.
Long ago dinosaurs walked beside the wadi to drink, after rain the wadi filled with water and overflowed leaving a layer of mud. The dinosaurs left footprints in the mud, the area dried and sand was blown over the prints as they dried. Thus they were preserved, more floods left more footprints. Stephen showed us prints belonging to 4 species, at least 3 predatory dinosaurs walking on two legs and one species of reptile that walked on 4 was probably an herbivore. Experts can use prints to determine the size of the animal and that all the Sully Island animals were walking not running.
After lunch Stephen led us across the causeway to Sully Island and showed us areas where huge forces had folded the rocks, giving text book examples of geological features.
Visit to Llandegfedd Reservoir
*please click the image below to access a photo slideshow of our visit to
One of our first visits was in 2003 to Llandegfedd Reservoir on a guided boat trip around the lake, we were fortunate to see thirteen herons and a large badger sett. The lake is a popular destination for anglers, sailors and naturalists, not forgetting U3A members.
Llandegfedd Reservoir is a large reservoir north of Newport. The reservoir itself is run as a country park and supports a sailing club and windsurfing school with rescue cover provided by the park wardens.
Not surprisingly, with the upkeep of this service there is a charge for sailing on the reservoir, payable as either an annual fee or a day ticket (special rates can be negotiated for groups.)
There is a R.Y.A. Recognised Sailing & Windsurfing School on site that operates from Easter to October. Dinghies, Windsurfers & Canoes can also be hired.
The reservoir itself covers an area of 434 acres, of which a large expanse can be used for sailing, windsurfing and canoeing. The water opens up at the top by the dam and again at the bottom where several valleys all join in together.
As with most hydro electric reservoirs, the lake is surrounded by hills on both sides, however when the wind is running along the valley or down the valleys at the bottom end, it can offer some excellent sailing in very pleasant surroundings.
website link: www.bristolnomads.org.uk