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Thursday, 19 June 2014

In the Green Desert

The high, upland plateau of the central spine of mid Wales, which stretches from NE Carmarthenshire into Ceredigion, has been dubbed the `Green Desert`, as many centuries of grazing has transformed it to a `grassy tundra` (as one visitor called it). As well as the long-term, but slow degradation, it has been assaulted in recent years by agricultural intensification, with subsidy-promoted re-seeding of upland pastures and other negative changes.
Today, I visited (in the company of Nigel Stringer) an area that I`d been to only on a handful of occasions - the high ridge that delineates the northern boundary with Ceredigion at Craig Twrch, between Ffarmers and Llanfair-Clydogau. The aim was a general `natural history jolly`, with more specific searches for day-flying moths and with two target species in mind - clouded buff and small argent and sable carpet. I am pleased to say that both were seen.
The last time I`d seen clouded buff was in the mid-late 1980s, above Coed Rhaeadr (Cilycwm) and above Pont Rhyd-felin (Nant Melyn near Rhandirmwyn), both in SN74. There have also been a couple of other subsequent sightings (as well as earlier Rothamsted records?) from the latter area. I`d only seen small argent and sable at one or two sites in the BBNP, again back in the 1980s (unless I`ve forgotten others - which is possible). Today`s record is the first time it has been recorded outside SN74.

Above: male clouded buff, Craig Twrch. Unfortunately, the left-hand wing is out of focus in all my photos!
This is a new 10km sq record and perhaps the first time that it has been photographed in Carmarthenshire.

Above: steep streamside slopes, with bilberry and other herbaceous vegetation where the clouded buff was caught. This corresponds well with my recollection of its habitat at the sites where I recorded it in the 1980s. The general habitat along the part of the ridge visited today was excellent - not overgrazed, with good re-growth of upland vegetation.

Along the ridgetop of Craig Twrch is a fine bog that occupies a large topographical hollow, a bog that looks in pristine condition, with lack of drainage activity and with a range of bog habitats - open water and varied sub-communities. I`d first visited this site in 1986 and was impressed because it was too difficult and dangerous to cross - a real `Hound of the Baskerville` bog, and perhaps the best in Carmarthenshire. I believe that Sam has also surveyed this site, and the NCC Welsh Peatland Invertebrate Survey also made some very useful invertebrate records in the late 1980s.

Above: Cors Bryn Mawr, with bog pools and a few self-sown conifers - a nice bit of `wilderness habitat` that is rare in the modern countryside. I`m sure that it holds some `good` moths (as well as breeding snipe etc, in season)!
Amongst the `still to be looked at` micros that were collected, was this presumed Ancylis myrtillana (see photo below), an upland species associated with bilberry (which it was). Perhaps Sam can kindly confirm the det please?

Another micro collected is shown below...what is it please?

Close-by, on a warm bank that was fragrant with Galium saxatile in flower, two very flighty small argent and sables were seen (but not caught or photographed), though the following green carpet was more easily caught...a particularly nicely-coloured individual (see below).

Finally, for the botanists, there was also plenty to see - such as the insectivorous butterworts and sundews around flushes, but a special feature of the ridge to me was the relative abundance of crowberry Empetrum nigrum.

I`ll probably do some minor updates to this blog tomorrow, after I`ve det a very few other species, but it was an enjoyable and useful day out recording, adding to the number of moths, butterflies and other wildlife found in SN65, at the very north of Carmarthenshire.


  1. More nice pics for 'Visit Wales' Ian! I too had a day out today, not for nature study reasons though, but on an annual outing with fellow roadsters along 'Top Gear Roads' in the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons. This time, however, having reached Brecon we decided to head north to Garth and thence along the Tregaron road, eventually heading down to Llandovery past the spectacular Llyn Brianne. It was there, on one of our pit stops, that I saw moths which initially I took to be one of the Heaths, but on inspection saw different markings, Argent & Sable I think. I will post a photo when I have a moment. It's possible that our paths may have crossed! If you saw a yellow Triumph Spitfire on your travels, it was almost certainly me.

  2. Chris, if you saw Argent and Sable we (BC) will be very pleased to hear about it! We only know of two sites in Wales for it currently. Look forward to seeing a pic.


  3. George, on reflection it seems unlikely that I've added another site to your list, but I've posted the photos for what they're worth. If I had realised the possible significance I might have been able to persuade my companions to give me a little more time to get better photos! I suspect that the location was in Powys but only just - my map isn't good enough to determine exactly.

  4. Reading this I checked my records and found that I have 3 records of the above, on the 22/6/2007; 17/6/2010 ; and this one which is just inside your border. I can't recall sending this one to John. The 3 sightings are in similar habitat. Whether I will manage to get out there this year I don't know.

  5. Bryan, I don't seem to have any records by you of Small Argent & Sable from Carms. Details would be much appreciated! Thanks.

  6. I agree with Ancylis myrtillana; only 8 previous records, though clearly under-recorded. The other Tort is Celypha lacunana.