Tuesday, 28 October 2014

A Rocking good time was had by all..........

October 18th 2014

The Wye Valley AONB Youth Rangers explored the landscape from St. Briavels to Clearwell caves uncovering the hidden world of geology that shapes the valley. We were led on the day by local geographer Nic Howes who is an enthusiastic interpreter of the landscape. First stop involved a descent into the Slade valley to visit the brook which has a unique geological feature. Slade Brook contains 700m of actively forming Tufa dams. Tufa or Travertine is a naturally formed precipitate of calcium carbonate rich freshwater.  To protect these geological features the area has SSSI designation (site of special scientific interest). 

We continued on to Clearwell and from there to Lambsquay wood. The Iron mines here have created scowles in the earth from which harts tongue ferns  cling precariously and trees, their roots exposed appear to strangle the exposed rocks. It is a landscape that fires the imagination at is said to have inspired Tolkein.

We arrived at Clearwell caves in time for lunch and were able to enjoy some warm afternoon sunshine, before meeting our caving guides. John decked us out in orange boiler suits, helmets and lights and went through a few health and safety rules. We walked back towards Lambsquay wood and to the British mine entrance. The way in was marked by a veteran tree riddled with bracket fungi its roots exposed and forming a natural ladder of sorts that led to the mine door which John unbolted and let us inside….(to be continued)

Background History

The mine dates back well over 4,000 years, when early miners dug for ochre pigments to make paints.  Iron ore miners later created a warren of underground passageways, by connecting the huge caverns.  The iron-ore mines are part of ancient natural cave systems that began their development mainly within a bed of Carboniferous limestone known locally as the Crease Limestone, fairly soon after the rock formed, some 330 million years ago. Later, about 225 million years ago at the start of the Late Triassic Epoch, the surface of the area became a hot desert, totally unlike our modern landscape both in climate and appearance. Occasionally, torrential rain storms, far heavier and more prolonged than anything that we experience today dissolved iron minerals from the arid land surface. Massive floods of acidic, iron-rich water then entered the older cave systems, where iron-ore minerals were deposited as the water was neutralised by contact with the limestone.

Millions of years later, at about the same time that the Alps were forming elsewhere in Europe, the whole of the Forest of Dean area was uplifted again. The ancestors of major rivers, the Wye in the west and the Severn in the east, and their tributaries, eroded deep valleys through the rocks of the basin, locally cutting through the old cave systems, exposing the iron-ores that most of them now contained.

The road that now runs outside the Clearwell Caves entrance follows the now-dry valley of a former tributary to the river Wye, which probably fed underground streams until the end of the cold climatic phase associated with the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago.

The original source of iron mineralisation still mystifies geologists as the remaining strata above the limestone contains relatively little iron mineralisation compared to the vast quantity that became deposited into the cave systems that eventually became iron mines

Clearwell Caves are amongst the earliest and one of the last producers of ochre (natural earth pigment) in the British Isles. Ochre is now thought to have been mined here for more than 7000 years (since the Middle Stone Age). Ochre pigment is found as a soft deposit intermingled with pockets of harder crystalline iron ore.

Until the 1930's Forest of Dean mines were famous for good quality, rich pigments, particularly shades of red and purple. Purple ochre is an unusual natural earth pigment; similar colours are usually only available in synthetic forms. The mines at Clearwell were well known for the quality and wide range of ochre colours available. Yellow, orange, brown, red and purple ochre is still mined here; dug by hand, using simple tools much as the ancient miners would have done. After careful sieving, the ochre is either washed, or milled.  For more information please visit: www.clearwellcaves.com

………Once inside the cave we were able to stand up to full height before stooping forward gingerly into the first cavern. The ceiling was covered in a white growth that flourishes where the warm and cool air mingle. Beyond that point we began a slippery descent of 200ft, along the balcony, where a narrow path needs to be negotiated next to a steep drop into the cavern below, and on the rabbit hole; a passage that narrows to the point where it is necessary to crawl and drag your body along on your belly and twist out of a rabbit sized opening. All very challenging! Everyone did extremely well, negotiating the terrain with courage and camaraderie. All and all a rocking good day and one not to be forgotten in a hurry

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Lights Camera Action...Youth Rangers first film assignment

Film Making at Shire Hall Monmouth
Saturday 25 January 2014
This was a challenge....to learn how to use a film camera....storyboard...script writing...acting and filming all in one day.
With the help of the excellent Nathan Williams from the Herefordshire Rural Media company and the creative input of Sam Densham from the Monmouth Youth Theatre airy schemes and dreams were brought to life and the Youth Rangers rose to the challenge.


Is that Martin Scorcesse or Steven Speilberg?



Thursday, 19 December 2013

Wye Valley AONB Youth Rangers Wish You Merry Cristmas

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

Merry Christmas

Exploring the Wye Valley AONB with a new group of Youth Rangers

Team Building in the Wye Valley Woodland

Twenty one ... the magic number - the number of leaves from different species of woodland plant and trees found and identified by the new group of Youth Rangers on their first outing together.
With a late autumn there were plenty of fallen leaves under foot. The group gathered them up to compare and contrast and create leaf art.The group undertook a series of challenges and all got to know each other a little better.

Getting to know each other

After hot chocolate and marshmallows the group set off to navigate from Bracelands Adventure Centre near Christchurch to Monmouth via the Biblins.

Many hands make light work

We stopped to hear about Lady Park Wood the long running scientific study situated near the River Wye at the Biblins. This  National Nature Reserve, which is secured behind a high fence though visible from the Peregrine Path where we were able to view it, has had no management since 1955 and has been fenced from the deer since 2006. In this time period it has been continually monitored to determine what factors effect the ecology of the woodland. This study is on- going and currently reveals a decline in many woodland ground flora species and an increase in deadwood species like fungi. As there is no management by people the factors which have the greatest influence on the woodland are events, like trees toppling and droughts. There is a lot more to learn from long term studies of this type that can inform and educate conservationists of  today and the future

After lunch we continued along the Wye Valley Walk to Monmouth. Our first adventure complete.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Youth Rangers Skill Share

Youth Rangers Celebration September 2013

The first group of Wye Valley Youth Rangers celebrate gaining the John Muir Award.
The award was presented by Phil Cutter at Bracelands Adventure Centre.

Well done everyone.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012


Youth Rangers Conquering Wales

On Saturday the 3rd of November  the Wye Valley Youth Rangers took part in a walk that circumnavigated the boundaries of Wales. They joined forces with Youth Groups from across Wales, who each took a leg of the Coastal footpath or the Offa's Dyke Path and walked at least a 5km section, before passing a flag onto the next group to move the walk on around Wales.
Up for a challenge the Youth Rangers walked the route from Bigsweir into  Monmouth aproximately 6 miles.
Well done everyone we made it despite my lack of concentration on the route!
Well done to Poppy, Meg and Jet who made it too, and had to suffer the indignity of wearing t-shirts to prove it.
Conquering Wales - earned the t-shirt to prove it! 

Redbrook the mid way point.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Messing About on the/ near the River

Kate Humbles inspects a tiny pair of paddles?
Monmouthshire Show 2012
The Youth Rangers attended the Monmouthshire Show in August supporting the AONB unit in publicising the AONB farming awards. The group interviewed the winning farmers and gathered film footage. Dave Jackson form Wildwood coppicing also led two green woodworking workshops for the group. Everyone managed to make a small spoon or were they tiny paddles?!
Looking at river invertebrates
Fly fishing training with the Monnow Rivers Association
Saturday September the 29th the group gathered on the banks of the Monnow. We undertook a survey of river invertebrates and discussed some of the issues which can affect the water quality of the river, and in turn the fish populations.
Tuition in fly fishing included a comprehensive explanation of the types of flies that are' tied,' and the menagerie of animal fur and feathers that are assembled and used to recreate a realistic looking lure or fly. It appears that roosters are breed specifically with the desired neck feathers to replicate distinct species of invertebrate!
Two fish were caught a Salmon Parr by Les and a small trout by Owen.
Our thanks to Frank and Justine and to the Monmouth Angling Association who allowed us access to their fishing spot.
Finally the last spot for messing about on the river took place at Piercefield and Lancaut on the 13th of October.The group under took vegetation management at Lancaut and navigated the 8 miles around to Lower Wyndcliff, passing through Valentine Morris's designed landscape, and increasing their knowledge of the Picturesque movement and the Wye Tour.
 The scree and rock fall at Lancaut


Piercefield House