Newsletter: Issue 1

NEWSLETTER

An open letter to any old customers of Ty’r Morwydd Environmental Study Centre (known to some as Mulberry House) in Abergavenny, and indeed anyone interested in our work here in the Brecon Beacons, from Stephen Tyrrell:

A little over two and a half years since the closure of Ty’r Morwydd, I thought it would be good to review how things have gone and spread the word about how things are developing in this neck of the woods. I think you would call me a portfolio worker now, working to a number of contracts, as well as working on a self employed basis. One benefit of working with so many organisations is that now I have more than doubled the number of contacts I had before, and I can now find ‘a man who can’ for most situations, and equipment for almost any activity.

Field studies are, and will always be, the most important part of what I do, but now I’m also branching out a bit. I have a growing following in bushcraft activities in the central Beacons and spreading, plus I’m involved in heritage interpretation with the Blaenavon World Heritage Centre. I’m also getting involved in the outdoor activities side of things a little more now, and I’m working towards the Climbing Wall Award, doing at bit of volunteering to get my experience up, as well as getting to use my walking qualifications more. Duke of Edinburgh’s Gold Award residentials are also becoming a more important part of my job, and we offer a range of ways that participants can complete their requirements with us.

I’ll explain everything in a bit more detail below. With curriculum changes on their way, I figured now was a good time to get in touch, let you know how things have gone, how they’re progressing, and directions for the future.

Field Studies

Fieldwork in the Beacons is still as rich and varied as ever, although the most popular studies will probably hardly change.

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So, as well as the steadfast river studies on the Caerfanell, or the ubiquitous urban studies in Abergavenny, Brecon or Cardiff, I’ve worked on a few new bits and bobs as well. Talgarth has come together quite nicely as a case study for rural regeneration/rebranding, with its renovated mill, and associated clips from the BBC Village SOS series. There are also a number of options now with regards to energy security studies, as micro-hydro grows in importance in the Brecon Beacons, and a number of early-adopters are happy to have groups come and visit. I’ve also become better acquainted with Waterfall Country, in the Upper Neath valley, which is a great location for investigating sustainable management of tourists and the role of the National Park, and last year it was ideal for a group studying for a BTEC in Sport that needed to measure the impact of outdoor activities in the natural environment (it’s a big gorge walking and caving area too). At primary level, I’ve started working over in the Tarell valley, south of Brecon, so a new set of local activities/studies needed to be developed there, and we are lucky to have a great stream and woodland on the doorstep to explore, as well as easy access to the Taff Trail and the surrounding hillsides.

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For biologists/ecologists, we still use many of the old sites, including the dunes at Crymlyn Burrows (I’ll be there in a few weeks), or the spoil tips at Pwll Du, and I’ve revisited the Rocky Shore study a number of times. But here too, there are new things. The residential venues that I now use have fairly substantial grounds, offering a range of environments for small scale studies, such as investigating invertebrate populations or factors affecting leaf size. I’m also now better apprised of local woodlands that can be used, either for comparative studies, or indeed other small-scale investigations, as new locations have had to be found to suit different needs.

With changes to the A-level specifications due for 2015 for the sciences, and 2016 for geography and most GCSEs, associated with a growing emphasis on fieldwork for geography, and practical exercises in biology, this next year or so is going to be an important period in field-studies. Keep an eye on my website to see what we’ll be offering to cater for the new specifications.

Bushcraft

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In August 2013 I ran my first Bushcraft Activity Week at YHA Danywenallt. We had a few regulars that year, and in 2014 we decided to run a few more activity days in all the school holidays. From Easter onwards we had weekly bushcraft sessions, and I started to offer bushcraft activities to school groups last May. The programme of activities included shelter building, firelighting, backwoods cooking (cooking without modern utensils), foraging, tracking, Geocaching, and all sorts of teambuilding games. I’m particularly pleased with one of the shelter building sessions, where we use bits of old Force Ten tents (the orange ones, that look like the tents you drew when you were a kid) to build a den. The children have to choose which bits of tent they want to use, each bit worth a different score, with only 500 points available to spend, and then tell us how and why they built the shelter the way they did.

I think in future this is going to become a more and more important part of my work. In fact, during the summer I started to work as a fully self-employed instructor, with my own insurance, running such activities as part of Torfaen County Borough Council’s Get Outdoors Summer Activities. Definitely a growth area!

Heritage Interpretation

Another of my many jobs is working for the Blaenavon World Heritage Centre, part of the team delivering educational visits to the visitor centre and wider industrial landscape. If you don’t know, the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape is a World Heritage Site, and one of our key roles is to interpret that landscape to local children so that they learn to appreciate the importance of the relict landscape of the 19th Century. As such, this year we have developed a suite of new modules to address interesting aspects of the Outstanding Universal Value of the site. There are new activities associated with Victorian town life, particularly for school children, others to do with transport or industry or broader world heritage, and in time, there will also be a rocks and materials day. Aimed at Primary and Foundation Phase education, the new modules address several key areas of the National Curriculum, especially numeracy and literacy, as well as science, history and geography, increasingly with integrated multimedia.

This October we also took part in WW1 Week in conjunction with Blaenavon Ironworks and Big Pit Coal Mining Museum. Our job was to tell the story of the children of Torfaen during the war, where the other museums looked at the role of the men and women. As I understand it, there are also plans afoot to run activities for Science Week and Climate Week in the coming year.

Outdoor Activities

One of the centres I work for is predominantly an outdoor education centre, and alongside helping them to develop their field studies offering, it was suggested it might be worth me getting involved in a few activities. So this year I’ve done a bit of volunteering to get my experience up, in some cases refreshing what I already had done, but also adding some completely new activities to my ‘portfolio’. I’ve done a fair bit of climbing wall climbing in the past (never really got round to graduating to the outdoors kind…but there’s still time), and so this is one of the areas I’ve been helping out, with a view to passing my Climbing Wall Award Assessment in the next year or so. Something completely new (and something I never expected to get into) is caving, but they also persuaded me to give it a go. I think that will take me a bit longer to get properly into, but I’ve certainly enjoyed the few sessions I’ve taken part in so far; maybe it’s something to do with the quality of instruction and the venues that I’ve been to, but it’s not as scary as I’d ‘ve thought. Besides that, I’ve helped (and in some cases led) hill-walking, assault course and low ropes sessions, a bit of orienteering and entry level gorge-walking, and at one point I got back in a canoe for the first time in years. All I can say is ‘every little helps’!

DofE Gold Residentials

Gold Residentials are another growth area for me. Working with the National Park, YHA Danywenallt has been running residential weeks for the Gold DofE Award. Participants are required to spend 5 days (4 nights) away with people they’ve never met before, having booked their places independently. The week is therefore open to all participants and is advertised through the YHA website, as well as the DofE site. Our package involves spending the week volunteering to do conservation work in the Brecon Beacons, which has included laying hedges, bashing bracken, clearing litter and planting trees, basically whatever work needs doing, depending on the season. My role has been to occupy them in the evenings, and I’ve put together a set of activities to get them exploring the area around the hostel, with Geocaching and an associated scavenger hunt (mostly involving selfies). The main event though, designed to get them working well as a team, is building a siege weapon to launch an egg (which they have to protect from breakage on impact) using pioneering, an old-fashioned scouting skill, making use of wooden poles and string to make the structure. At the end of the week, the egg has to be launched and land on target without cracking (and without just being thrown –ideally). This is accompanied by a campfire where we talk about everything they’ve done, and cook some quality campfire food, invariably including marshmallows, plus a few other bits and pieces.

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We’re hoping to build on the package for next year, with participants also taking part in the John Muir Award at its entry level. This is a conservation award, in which the incumbent discovers, explores and conserves the local environment, before sharing what they’ve done with family and friends. We currently manage the first three, so we just need to put together the sharing element, which will probably involve a mixture of multimedia, internet research and social media of some sort.

We’ve also offered opportunities to help with the Bushcraft week, where participants can help with the running of the activities, and we’re going to get more involved with creative arts sessions as part of the Brecon Fringe Festival next year. I’m also looking at running a skills-based Residential teaching bushcraft, which will culminate in a night spent out under self-built shelters in the local woods. Still a way to go in terms of working out exactly what to do, but that’s the overall idea.

The Future…

Each area of my growing business has potential for expansion in some way, and as well as developing/tweaking my existing studies for the new specifications as and when they are released, I’ll be looking to make the most of any opportunities that present themselves. Besides that, I’m going to be looking to build up my self employed work, and looking for venues in which to do my own bushcraft sessions, and pursuing other freelance work. That may include guided walks, maybe a bit of photo ghillie-ing, working with local wildlife groups and perhaps a bit of outreach to schools, with studies and/or activities in their local area…and of course, you never know what else is going to turn up!

Social Media & Web

These days you can’t do much without social media, and I’ve created a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/BeaconsFieldStudiesBushcraft, or you can look me up as stephentyrrell78, which is a work account. That’s used mostly for public events at the moment. You can also connect with me directly through LinkedIn (if anybody uses it!). In time I’ll have a Twitter account too I imagine, although I have still to work out what I might tweet about! Plus of course there’s my webpage: https://beaconsfieldstudies.wordpress.com which is where details of the fieldwork I offer is described.

By the way, I also have been selling a few of my photos, and there are a number of ways you can see the prints I have for sale, including a WordPress Blog (which has a bit of geography to it) and eBay Collection, plus my main PhotoBox Gallery.

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