Meet Sully’s tortoise lady – Ann Ovenstone, MBE

The last place you’d probably expect to find the International Tortoise Association is tucked away in someone’s back garden in the sleepy town of Sully, in the Vale of Glamorgan. And, yet, that’s exactly where it is. The Association and its sanctuary are run by Ann Ovenstone MBE (she is known to friends and associates as ‘the tortoise lady’), and she’s helped along by a team of dedicated volunteers.

A few weeks back, I went along to meet Ann and visit the sanctuary, to make a small documentary Ann the tortoise lady for the BBC (it was shared on BBC One!! I know, check us out!!). You can watch the final piece here, although it’s edited down from about an hour’s worth of chatting and wandering around the wonderful sanctuary…

But there was loads more we discovered on our chelonia tour (chelonia being the generic term for tortoise/turtle/terrapin) than I could fit in the short video, so I thought I would share the rest of the visit here.

The association started in a relatively organic way – Ann got her first tortoise aged around five (it cost six pence from the local market – and she still has it!), and then as she got older had some other friends who also had tortoises. The animals started laying eggs, but no one really knew how to look after them, so Ann started researching … and over fifty years later, has pretty much dedicated her whole life to the care of these weird reptiles.

She works with UK Border Force to help identify illegally smuggled species, which can be  challenging and upsetting work – she says that some of the largest hauls can contain up to 300 animals, half of which are usually crushed to death in transit.

While a few smuggled animals can sometimes be saved, they can never be returned to their natural habitats, as there is too high a risk of introducing bacteria or germs they might have picked up here. Instead, these animals have to be tagged, and they must be returned by their new owners to be checked every six months, to make sure they havenot been sold on for profit. It’s complicated and time consuming business, but for Ann – who has spent a lifetime in the company of chelonia – it’s worth it.

The Association’s members work tirelessly to ensure the welfare of tortoises, including caring for the sick and injured, rehoming, events, breeding and hibernation programmes. All aspects of the tortoise life are undertaken at the sanctuary and the specialist expert knowledge of those involved ensures that all tortoises who are born, bred and live there receive the utmost in chelonian care.

Although Ann says tortoises are perhaps not the ideal pets (when compared to more interactive animals like cats or dogs), they are definitely full of personality – being in the sanctuary felt a little bit like walking amongst very small and quite nibbly dinosaurs. They especially like painted toenails, as Ann told me they think they’re tiny tomatoes (both of us made the mistake of wearing sandals on the day of filming …).

The sanctuary (aka Ann’s garden) is an overwhelming complex of small runs, sheds, ponds, industrial fridges (to help with hibernation) and warm indoor tanks (to help with incubating eggs). They hold open days throughout the year, and also provide services for members like taking in tortoises to hibernate in optimum temperatures, and incubating eggs to hatch. If you have a tortoise in your life, or are interested in having a weird, tiny, prehistoric looking reptile join your family, then head to one of their open days to find out more.

Find out more:

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Exciting performance beyond the stereotype – Mags at Sherman Theatre

We’re big fans of the theatre over by here, and so were excited to hear about Cwmni Pluen’s new show Mags – a devised piece that’s been developed over two years through work with three community groups across Wales. The show asks how far family bonds can be pushed, and how does it feel to belong, through following the story of Mags and her return to her hometown after chasing a hedonistic escape from life events. The show is at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff from 25-28 September (get tickets here!)

Reuniting with her past, Mags is determined to discover how we can continue to look after each other in a society that has let traditional community structures break down. Uplifting and provocative in equal measure, Mags prompts conversations on the complex role of care in society today, the impact of human connections, and celebrates the families we can create for ourselves.

“The show our audiences will see is a fusion of movement, bilingual text and live music as we follow Mags’ story – her past, present and future in the small Welsh village she both loves and loathes,” says Gethin Evans, director of Mags. “Her story is created from the people we have met through the community engagement with CAIN, Trans*Form Cymru and Dads Can”.

Like every Pluen production, Mags is bilingual in Welsh and English, and combines an eclectic mix of theatre, live music and physical performance. The original score has been written by Welsh electronic pop artist CASI, who will perform with musician Eddy Bailhache, remaining on stage throughout and performing live – bringing pulsing energy and a connection with the audience. Check below for the Soundcloud link to the beautiful song Rhyw Dynfa that they’ve created for the show – that they’ll be performing live on stage.

Performance Dates

Buy tickets for Mags at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff – performance dates:

  • 25 September, 7:30pm
  • 26 September, 2:30pm & 7:30pm
  • 27 September, 7:30pm (post show talk)
  • 28 September, 7:30pm (Captioned performance)

About Cwmni Pluen

Cwmni Pluen are a Cardiff-based theatre company, working across Wales. Their approach is to create a synergy between text-based and devised work that is always physical, always probing the human condition, always bilingual, and always engaging with new members of communities.

Following the success of their first production Llais / Voice, which the company presented in Wales and at the Edinburgh festival, Sherman Theatre’s artistic director Rachel O’Riordan appointed Cwmni Pluen as the Sherman’s inaugural Company in Residence.

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