It has been just over 4 years since we started our work at Pont-ar-Daf, the woodland at one of the busiest access points to Pen-y-Fan. When we first arrived on site, it was a neglected and unmanaged commercial crop. A study of the site carried out by our nature conservation team considered it to be of little value to nature, the highlights being a strip of old birch and oak wood running through it at the north end, a drainage ditch at the south end and a failed Scots Pine crop in the middle, each being quite significant for the species found in them.
The wood has changed somewhat since then, rapidly at first with the discovery of a disease in the larch trees (Phytophthora ramorum) and more gradually as we have improved access around the woods to allow for future management. We are looking to maintain a mix of species of varying age. The new tracks intersect old plough lines, in turn reducing run-off. The intention is to keep these tracks as wide corridors to let light into the wood and give space for woodland floor species. In other sections we are maintaining cover to preserve the humidity and moisture for ferns, mosses and other damp loving plants.
What has impressed us the most is the explosion of wildlife we’ve seen in the wake of our work. One of our aims is to increase the nature conservation value of the site and by spending a lot of time there, we are seeing all sorts of things take advantage that weren’t before.
Frog spawn was probably the first thing we spotted. With the harvesting machines not
long off site, they were quick to make use of the puddles left behind by the machines tracking across the hillside.
Apart from the trees we have planted (with varying success until we fenced out the sheep that wander the road), there has been a gradual increase in the natural spread of plants across the site. Taking advantage of the light now making it to the floor, lack of competition and particularly the disturbance of the ground where we have been working and landscaping. Various grasses and reeds have come up along with primroses, rosebay willow herb, foxgloves, heather, bilberry, marsh violets, gorse, bramble, bluebells and colts foot as well as some natural tree regeneration of birch, rowan and some of the conifer species that were on the site. All the seed has been unlocked from the soil or come by natural means.
We have noticed a gradual increase in bird sound, particularly noticeable in the breaks from using machinery. Just as the sound bursts in and you start looking around, you can see the birds. Ravens, buzzards and red kites circle overhead, occasionally taking a perch in the tree tops. Lower down, below the canopy and hunting for insects, we see tree pipit (a rare red status species), redstart (amber), treecreeper, robins and many members of the tit family.
Some species which may be considered shy can be quite brazen. A quite unexpected spot
by Stuart our Lead Woodland Ranger was a Red grouse, walking past him as he stacked timber with the tractor. It was picking its way through the heather, grazing its way up the hill, taking advantage of the new, young growth.
This was not the only brazen visitor to the woods. We saw footprints and tracks in the snow criss-crossing the site, but one afternoon during a chainsaw course we were hosting, a fox popped up from the lower part of the woods, trotted over the top of a timber stack, observing the trainees and taking a leisurely walk around. The fox watched them from a relatively short distance in the trees; one of those moments too busy watching to take a picture.
The increased sunlight and extra ground vegetation cover has allowed for a great increase in the number of sun loving creatures. Butterflies and moths seem more frequent across the site, following access tracks and floating over the clear fell areas. Pictured below is one we found whilst fencing the southern tip of the site. It really stood out with the bright pink on black, sat on top of a yellow flower, unusually bright for a moth.
Another sun worshipper, spotted sunning themselves on the tree stumps, or here on one of the old boundary walls, is a common lizard.
As we walk across the site we have seen various small mammals running through the maze of brash, only the briefest of glimpses as they run for cover, but looking like shrews and mice.
This leaves us with our most recent spot. Most likely feeding off the small mammals and
reptiles, we’ve been watching a kestrel hunt for its lunch while we stopped to eat ours, watching it hover and dive, completely unfazed by a busy car park and walkers making their way up and down the hill. So a plan for this year is to build a nest box for the kestrel, place it high and sheltered and see what happens.
A lot of this increase is benefiting from the work we are carrying out, but we have been spending a lot of time up there too and just being out there increases your chances of seeing the wildlife.
Tim – Woodland Ranger