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On this page you will not find late-breaking news, for which there are plenty of other alternative sites. Instead, I have included updates on issues that have continued interest and relevance to anglers, walkers, conservationists and anyone who values the wildlife, environment and other attractions of Kite Country.

Cormorants and other predators

March 2013: Whilst my love of birds and other wildlife must be fairly obvious from other parts of this web site, there is no doubt that cormorants, gooseanders and other fish-eating predators can be quite a nuisance in some parts of the country and landowners and others are now seeking changes in the Government licensing system that will enable their numbers to be culled more effectively in the future. It has been established that an adult cormorant needs to eat one pound of fish per day, so you can imagine what effect a number of these birds would have on limited wild fish stocks. This January I counted at least 35 cormorants in a roost on ths shores of Llangorse Lake and the Angling Trust's Cormorant Watch scheme has logged many hundreds of sightings along other local watercourses. Based on these sightings and other research the Trust has now produced a comprehensive report - a "dossier of destruction" - detailing the impact of these birds on fish stocks, which you can download from their web site.

Severn Barrage - not this year, or next

March 2013: Migrating salmon, other wildlife and especially anglers on the Severn and Wye catchments will be breathing a little more freely now that the most recent proposals for a massive barrage across the estuary have again been turned down by the Government until after the next General Election, ie. after 2015. The proposals have been hugely controversial and have been fiercely resisted by numerous angling organisations and other pressure groups, although it must be recognised that the country's energy supplies need to be increased dramatically to cope with present and future demands. Whether we should be prepared to risk the extinction of some of our wildlife in order to fuel our nation is one of the most difficult decisions that any elected politicians will need to take and such decisions will become more commonplace as time goes on. For more information about the recent decision please see this BBC article.

Wye and Usk fishing permits changes

March 2013: Since 2004 I have drawn readers' attention to the excellent service offered by the Wye and Usk Foundation in making local fishing available to anglers on both river systems and some other local waters. This has taken the form of larger beats that can only be booked online or via their booking office on 01982 560788, or beats on smaller streams that were offered to holders of pre-purchased vouchers. Please note that for 2013 the latter beats have been renamed Wild Streams and there will now be two methods of securing the fishing on these: firstly anglers will be able to make individual, daily online or telephone reservations up to 1800 the previous day; alternatively, anglers holding a Season pass costing only £75.00 will be able to fish any of the Wild Stream beats that have not already been reserved up to 1800 the previous day - ie. just turn up on the day as you have done up to now, but the voucher boxes will now be redundant. Maps and instructions for these beats are already available online to season pass holders with a valid login and anglers will also be able to post catch returns online.

This is a bold move by the Foundation and it remains to be seen whether it will succeed in attracting more anglers to these excellent streams. Whilst the scheme makes increased use of online facilities, please note that all arrangements can also be made by telephone. Naturally, anglers using smart phones will have some advantage here (assuming they can get a signal in these parts!) The £75.00 season pass represents superb value for money for those anglers who prefer their fishing more on the wild side and many of these beats have been substantially improved over the last two years to make them more accessible. For more information on these new arrangements see the web site.

Dates for your diary in 2013

March 2013: There is still time to enjoy one of the many walks and other events organised under the auspices of the Crickhowell Walking Festival, which this year takes place between the 1st and 10th March. Everything is extremely well organised and it's also all for charity. There are more than 60 different walks on the programme this year and it represents an excellent introduction to the delights of the countryside around Crickhowell. All we need is some fine weather...

The first ever Hay Bike Fest will take place in and around the lovely town of Hay on Wye between the 12th and 14th April. It looks like the organisers have done a great job of planning a wide variety of routes and other events over the three days to attract cyclists with all levels of experience and fitness, including a charity ride on Saturday 13th for all comers in support of medical projects to aid the long-suffering residents of Timbuktu, which is twinned with Hay. On Sunday the first ever British Cycling sportive held in Hay will take in 65 or 100 miles of some of our most beautiful countryside, if you can catch your breath to notice it, of course.

Following on from the success of similar festivals in Crickhowell and Hay (see above and below), the little mountain town of Talgarth will also hold its first-ever walking festival between the 3rd and 6th May. The dedicated web site is still being prepared, but I know that a very interesting programme will be offered, including a challenge walk for teams of up to 4 people between Talgarth and the Witches Pool at Pwll y Wrach nature reserve on Saturday 4th May, followed by bangers and mash at a local hotel.

This year's Hay Festival of Literature will take place between the 23rd May and 2nd June. This quite unique event set in the beautiful town of Hay-on-Wye, renowned for its many second-hand bookshops, always attracts a fascinating variety of speakers and other entertainers. Make sure you check the web site for details of this year's guests and book your accommodation for this as early as possible.

Not to be outdone by Hay (see above), Abergavenny hosts its own Festival of Cycling between the 12th and 14th July. The events announced so far have a more competitive edge than in Hay, but there will be plenty of fun involved too, so check the web site for more details and get your lycra cleaned.

As in 2012 the Welsh Game Fair will be held in Carmarthen on the 15th and 16th June, instead of its former base in Llandeilo. This is always a good day out for anglers, hunters and lovers of other country pursuits, but there is something at the Fair to interest the whole family.

Between the 22nd and 25th July the Royal Welsh Show will attract many thousands of visitors from all over the United Kingdom to this very special and popular agricultural show in the beautifully situated town of Builth Wells. This is the region's premiere visitor event and promises entertainment for all the family.

If you can't make it to Builth Wells for the Royal Welsh Show, please note your calendar for the Brecon County Show on Saturday 3rd August. This is always a very popular one-day show and boasts a very large selection of exhibitors and trade stands as well as livestock competitions and displays.

The hugely popular and truly international Brecon Jazz Festival will again take place between the 9th and 11th August. The main programme has just been announced and I can only urge you to consult the Festival web site for further details, as tickets are likely to sell out very quickly. It is expected that there will be a fringe festival running in parrallel, so visitors will be able to enjoy wall-to-wall sound throughout Brecon during the weekend.

Clearly illustrating the attraction of the Brecon Beacons for music lovers and closely following on the heels of Brecon's jazz fest is the Green Man Festival featuring a wide variety of indie, psych, dance and folk musicians. The festival will again be held between the 15th and 18th August in the beautiful Glanusk Park on the banks of the River Usk near Crickhowell and you are well advised to book early to guarantee a space for your tent/caravan/bed roll.

This year's extraordinary and very popular Victorian Festival in the pretty old spa town of Llandrindod Wells will take place between the 17th and 25th August. Boasting a variety of themed events, this is an excuse to find some old clothes in the attic and dress up in your best Victoriana.

Also very popular with summer visitors to Kite Country is the Talgarth Festival of the Black Mountains, which encompasses a variety of events throughout the small town of Talgarth over the August bank holiday weekend. There is something here for everybody.

If you want to enjoy a truly memorable and unique experience, please make sure to visit the smallest town in Great Britain to soak up the atmosphere (and possibly something stronger) as well as to enjoy some truly unique events. Llanwrtyd Wells will hopefully again play host to the famous World Bog Snorkelling Championships on the 25th August plus many other zany and entertaining festivities throughout the year. For more information keep your eyes on the Green Events web site, as some dates have yet to be confirmed.

Please note your calendar for the Monmouth Show on Thursday 29th August. This is always an excellent one-day show and boasts a very large selection of exhibitors and trade stands as well as livestock competitions and displays.

Cycling fans will want to catch the Tour of Britain as it heads through the spectacular mid-Wales landscape on the 19th September. Last year's Welsh stage provided local people and tourists with many excellent vantage points from which to watch these superb athletes, including Mark Cavendish. This year stage 5 of the race starts off in Machynlleth and heads through Llanidloes, Llangurig, Rhayader and Builth Wells before heading over the hills to Brecon and then the end at Caerphilly, where there is usually a gut-busting climb before the final sprint to the line.

The Abergavenny Food Festival will again take place on the 21st and 22nd September. The event routinely attracts leading figures from the food world plus TV chefs and media personalities. Visit the many talks, tastings, stalls and demonstrations.

Not to be outdone by their fellow walking fans over in Crickhowell (see entry above), this year's Hay Walking Festival takes place between the 10th and 14th October, when a great many events will be offered up for your enjoyment. The weather is often quite good here in October, so do give it a try.

Rally fans must head for the forests of Mid Wales between the 14th and 17th November to watch the action in the Wales Rally GB. This final round of the World Rally Championship always attracts the finest rally drivers and a lot of spectators. Keep checking the web site for further details.

The sky is darker here - official

February 2013: The Brecon Beacons National Park has now been officially recognised as the World's 5th International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Dark Sky Reserves are areas recognised as possessing an "exceptional or distinguished quality of starry nights and nocturnal environment specifically protected for scientific, natural, educational, cultural, heritage or public enjoyment." This award follows considerable efforts by a number of organisations and individuals to restrict unneccessary light pollution so that we can all enjoy the beauty of the night skies. This was undeniably helped by the decision by Powys Council some years ago to turn off two out of every three street lights in order to save money. For more on this award see the National Park web site.

All Wye salmon to be returned

June 26th 2012: According to the Wye and Usk Foundation a long-expected change to the rod fishing byelaws pertaining to the River Wye was finally enacted last weekend when the relevant ministers at DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly agreed to enforce the mandatory return of all rod-caught salmon. This change underlines the seriousness with which present stock levels are viewed and it is to be hoped that this measure will ultimately prevent the extinction of this species on the Wye and possibly elsewhere. Curiously, no specific information has yet been published online by any of the Government bodies. As an angler it is my choice not to fish for salmon at all on the Wye, but it is a free world and some anglers will naturally wish to continue their fishing. If so, WUF have proferred the following advice:

  • Play it quickly – this means having the appropriate gear
  • Don't lift it out of the water at any time
  • A net helps to do this but keep the fish calm while unhooking it
  • Use debarbed or barbless hooks
  • If the hook is deeply embedded, do not attempt surgery – cut the cast and leave it in situ
  • Return the fish in a quieter piece of water, holding it upright facing upstream

Welsh Coastal Path Opens

May 2012: After many years of tireless work by a variety of local authorities and volunteer organisations, the Wales Coast Path was finally declared open on May 7th. At 870 miles long this national trail runs from the Welsh-English border near Chester in the North to Chepstow in the South East. Wales therefore becomes the first country in the World to have a coastal path outlining the entire country. If that trail is not enough for you, you could always join up with the 177-mile long Offa's Dyke Path national trail that follows the Welsh-English border - that's over 1000 miles of fabulous walking around the entire country. Of course, any long-distance walk needs a lot of planning, but the web site will get you started and has lots of information about accommodation and detailed routes. I am going to do this walk before I die, but I may need a little time to finish it...

Welsh Red Kites survive hard winter

December 2011: According to recent reports from the Welsh Kite Trust this was another reasonably good year for the Red Kite in Wales, with the number of observed breeding pairs and chicks remaining stable despite very dry weather in March and April, which also followed a particularly cold winter, with temperatures regularly at -20 degrees centigrade and snow lying on the ground for many weeks. It was noted that the number of kites attending the various feeding stations was higher than ever before and these visits undoubtedly helped them survive. The Trust is still unable to cover parts of Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire, Powys and Meirionydd, but it is estimated that the number of breeding pairs in Wales now stands at over 1000, which is a tribute to the hard work contributed by the Trust's volunteers and related groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds over the years. These magnificent birds are now fairly widely dispersed throughout Wales and have also spread to neighbouring English counties, with Welsh birds now known to have emigrated to Herefordshire, Shropshire and even Cheshire. Over the last four years some Welsh Red Kite chicks have even been exported under licence to Ulster and the Republic of Ireland, where the native red Kite had been extinct for 200 years. However, whilst the continuing increase in kite populations in Wales and the rest of the UK is encouraging, both infant and adult mortality is still too high to let us drop our guard now. It is certainly worth bearing in mind that the Red Kite in Europe continues to suffer, with reported decreases in populations of 40 per cent in Spain and 30 per cent in France and Germany, largely through the inconsiderate and often illegal use of poisons.

The Canoeing Debate

August 1st 2009: I have tried to steer clear of the growing controversy in the UK about free access to rivers for a variety of users, especially canoeists, as I have never experienced any particular problems in the past whilst fishing. In fact, I have generally been very impressed with the politeness shown by those wishing to paddle their way past me and I can happily accept their presence for the minute or so that it usually takes for them to pass by. However, I know that many other anglers have experienced problems and I can understand the arguments expressed by angling organisations who are concerned by the prospect of large-scale disturbance of spawning grounds or even by the notion that canoeists are trying to express their right to navigate freely through privately owned watercourses without any attempt to contribute anything like the charges that anglers are expected to pay.

However, I am very saddened that an individual who I have come to admire over many years for his intelligence, contribution to British culture and his excellent sense of humour has somehow been sucked into this debate and expressed some very one-sided views that can only have a negative impact on the present impasse. According to recent reports Griff Rhys Jones has been promoting his new television series on British rivers by suggesting that “we should disturb as many fishermen as possible” because “...the river isn’t there for a few, but for the many”.

Having now watched his very enjoyable series, I thought his views were actually more balanced than previously reported and he did seem to spend time with anglers and other river users as well as (frequently) paddling his canoe along various waterways.

Fish power may generate electricity in future

April 1st 2009: According to today's Daily Telegraph scientists have discovered that the swimming actions of different types of fish can be harnessed and converted into a useful, alternative source of electricity through a process known as finetics. It is a fascinating, but technically complex article and I would strongly urge you to read it in its entirety. Unsurprisingly, the salmon comes out on top when it comes to energy production.

Sale of rod-caught salmon and sea trout outlawed

January 2009: Anglers in England and Wales will no longer be able to sell any salmon or sea trout caught on rod and line. In addition all commercially caught fish will have to be tagged by netsmen to make them legally saleable. The new Environment Agency byelaw becomes active on January 31st. This legislation brings England and Wales in line with Scottish law, which banned the sale of rod caught salmon and sea trout in 2007. However, the carcass tagging of commercially caught fish is a step further than Scotland and mirrors the successful initiative run for several years in Ireland.

The ban follows many years of persistent lobbying by the Salmon and Trout Association and other bodies and is very much welcomed by responsible anglers.

The Angling Trust

December 2008: On Monday 5th January 2009 a new representative body to be known as The Angling Trust will be formed by the merger of several organisations that, until now, represented different aspects of angling in the United Kingdom separately. These well-known groups are the Anglers Conservation Association, the National Federation of Anglers, the National Federation of Sea Anglers, the National Association of Fisheries and Angling Consultatives, the Fisheries and Angling Conservation Trust (FACT) and the Specialist Anglers Alliance. The new Trust will protect recreational angling as a legitimate pastime and promote its benefits for the environment, society and the economy. The successful legal actions undertaken by the ACA over many years will continue under the Trust.

Blueprint for Water

January 2007: Although it might be raining outside whilst you read this, I hope you will accept that our most precious natural resource is currently in a state of unprecedented crisis. The Government has committed itself to meeting the objectives of the European Union Water Framework Directive, which states that we must restore the ecology of Europe's rivers, lakes and wetlands by 2015 and that every member state's plans must be in place by 2009. The Blueprint for Water is both a coalition of specialist organisations and an alternative set of proposals that the Government is being urged to adopt to meet its obligations under the Directive. Even if you are not an angler you will have plenty to say about water conservation and quality and therefore please take some time to have a look at the Blueprint and see what you think our leaders should be doing to protect our future. The coalition members include the Angling Trust, the Association of Rivers Trusts, the Fisheries and Angling Conservation Trust, the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Salmon and Trout Association, Waterwise, the Wildlife Trusts, the WWF and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust.

National Park becomes a Geopark

October 2005: The Brecon Beacons National Park is to become part of the prestigious UNESCO worldwide network of Geoparks. The Park is the first in the country to be awarded this honour and has earned it because of the importance of its ancient and unique geological landscape that dates back some 470 million years. The new Geopark will be named Fforest Fawr (The Great Forest) and the recognition is expected to bring a number of material benefits to the area in the form of increased tourism and an enhanced commitment to the protection and promotion of the area's geological heritage.

New long-distance footpath across Brecon Beacons

May 2005: At long last the new long-distance footpath crossing the Brecon Beacons from East to West (and vice versa!) has finally been inaugurated after some 3 years of planning. Now officially known as the Beacons Way, the new 98 miles long path will be the first to start and finish in the National Park and will hopefully encourage even more visitors to the area.

There is a definite religious theme to the new trail, which joins the small hamlet of Bethlehem, to the West of the Park near the River Towy, with Holy Mountain (Skirrid Fawr) near Abergavenny in the East. Along the length of the path walkers will also see some of the most beautiful old chapels and churches to be found anywhere in Wales, such as the little gem in Partrishow, as well as some beautiful scenery, such as the view across to the Black Mountain shown on this page. Railway access will be possible via Llandovery in the West or via Abergavenny.

The opening of the path coincides with the arrival of Open Access in Wales on the 28th May. Experienced walkers should be able to complete the new trail in about eight consecutive days, although you may naturally decide to take a shorter stroll at almost any point. The excellent guide book to the new trail by John Sansom and Arwel Michael is essential reading and this is readily available from bookshops and tourist information centres throughout Kite Country (ISBN 1 902305 354). For more information see the Brecon Beacons Park Society web site.

Habitat Improvements to River Monnow

May 2004: Regular visitors to this site will know that I have featured developments in the ongoing project to improve the habitat of the little River Monnow since its inception in 1999. With the support of a number of concerned organisations, including the Usk and Monnow Valley branch of the Salmon and Trout Association, the Wild Trout Trust, the Game Conservancy Trust and the Grayling Research Trust, work to address this tributary of the River Wye was initially seriously set back by the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in 2001. The Monnow forms part of the border between England and Wales and was hailed as one of the finest trout streams in Southern Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century. Over the years it has suffered, like so many other rivers, through intensive cultivation of the surrounding farmland, bankside erosion through overgrazing, and excessive shade caused by trees that have not been cut or coppiced for decades.

However, work to put right many of these problems is now well under way and supporters of the project were able to see the real progress being made during an open day held on the 13th May. As well as listening to excellent speeches by the celebrated Wild Trout Trust Vice Presidents Brian Clarke and Gareth Edwards, the visitors were also shown the extent of fencing, coppicing and other bankside work already carried out on the river and were able to inspect the results of electrofishing on one short stretch. Full marks to the organisers, who made the day very interesting and enjoyable and also ensured that supporters did not leave without an excellent lunch!

For further information about the project please contact:

Gill Watkins
River Monnow Project Co-ordinator
Upper Cwm
Craswall
Herefordshire
HR2 0PH
telephone: 01981 510189
email: monnow@gct.org.uk

The work on the Monnow may already be having a positive impact on salmon stocks on the Wye, as catches in 2004 are said to be significantly higher than last year. Fish in excess of 30lbs have already been caught at Builth Wells and Monmouth and some beats are reporting catches up to 4 times higher than in previous years. Check out the Wye and Usk Foundation site for more details.

Upper Wye Passport

March 2004: For some years now I have featured the excellent conservation work being undertaken by the supporters of the Wye and Usk Foundation. Another innovation from this group is the recent publication of its very useful and informative booklet called the "Upper Wye Passport". This describes all the fishing beats that visitors can either reserve direct through the Foundation's own booking office in Builth Wells or on presentation of pre-paid vouchers that are also supplied by the Foundation. For more information see my page on the River Wye.

Has anybody seen any big cats recently?

January 2003: Police in West Wales are issuing warnings to farmers not go out alone at night after a dog was savaged by a "puma-like" animal near the village of Llangadog in the Towy Valley, in the West of Kite Country earlier in the month.

The attack is the latest in a number of sightings of mysterious large cats in remote areas of Wales and other parts of Britain. However, the elusive creatures have managed to avoid capture so far and it is not possible to say with any certainty what they might be. it has been suggested that black panthers, pumas or a lynx may be involved, although the debate continues.For more information check out the British Big Cat Society site. The Welsh sightings are also discussed more fully by BBC Wales, including some rather more important safety advice. Despite the warnings, please do not be put off visiting Kite Country this year.

 

Click pictures to enlarge. Those with a red caption may take a long time to download.
 
Caerphilly Castle
Caerphilly Castle
Bank improvements on River Monnow
River Monnow
River Monnow - Bank revetments, fencing and coppicing
River Monnow
River Wye at Erwood
River Wye at Erwood
Red Kite
Red Kite
The Black Mountain
The Black Mountain
Eagle Owl demonstration at Brecon Show 2005
Brecon Show