Part of the Meirionnydd Oakwoods and Bat Sites SAC.
Explore a precious piece of the Celtic Rainforest. In 2015, the Woodland Trust had the fantastic opportunity of acquiring Llennyrch, a traditional upland farm with an extraordinary surviving fragment of temperate rainforest at its heart. Together with the National Trust’s existing wood, Coed Felenrhyd, this landscape has a place in Welsh myth and stretches from the shores of Llyn Trawsfynydd to the fringes of the Dwyryd Estuary. The steep banks of the Afon Prysor are thought to have been wooded for thousands of years – possibly since trees first re-colonised Wales after the last Ice Age – and a walk here certainly feels like a journey back in time. It’s a magical place that echoes with birdsong and where gnarled oaks are festooned with mosses and ferns.
Coed Felenrhyd & Llennyrch is a significant property of 309 hectares, linking Coed y Rhygen on the shores of Llyn Trawsfynydd with the Dwyryd estuary to the west. The northern boundary is defined by the deep and atmospheric gorge of the Afon Prysor, Ceunant Llennyrch. The steep sides of the ravine are cloaked in sessile oak woodland with rowan and birch, with species such as ash, hazel and elm on milder soils. This woodland is designated as a SSSI for its Atlantic bryophytes, which thrive in the humid conditions of this temperate rainforest, where it can rain 200 days a year. The quality of the lower plant flora is of European and indeed global importance, a fact recognised by its inclusion within the Meirionnydd Oakwoods and Bat Sites Special Area of Conservation.
More recently, survey work has confirmed the site’s international importance for lichen conservation.
A number of rare species found here occur nowhere else in Wales and their presence indicates significant habitat continuity over many thousands of years. Coed Felenrhyd has been managed by Coed Cadw (The Woodland Trust in Wales) since 1991.
In 2015, the opportunity arose to purchase Llennyrch, a 550 acre farm adjacent to Felinrhyd. Together, the site connects the National Nature Reserves of Coed y Rhygen and Ceunant Llennyrch and is an important part in the wooded landscape of the Vale of Ffestiniog. In addition to roughly 130 hectares of woodland, most of it ancient in origin, the property includes significant areas of acid grassland, semi-improved grassland, heathland, bog and mire, extending up to 320m above sea level on the northern flanks of the Rhinog mountain range. Mature field trees and traditional dry-stone boundary walls and barns are a significant feature of this farmed landscape. The heart of Llennyrch is a four bed farmhouse and the barns, where livestock (sheep and Welsh black cattle) are gathered. Llennyrch supports a hefted flock of around three hundred Welsh mountain ewes, which have become adapted to the specific conditions of the farm over many generations. At present the flock ranges widely over the farm and also grazes the woodland at Coed Felenrhyd under licence in order to maintain optimum conditions for lichens and bryophytes. The grazing is managed by a local farmer under a farm business tenancy. The two woods within the property have quite different management histories. Coed Felenrhyd was once part of the Oakeley estate and would have provided oak bark for tanning and timbers for ship building, before being subject to widespread planting of conifer (hemlock, larch, cedar, spruce and Douglas fir) in the post-World War II period.
Small farmsteads were carved out on higher ground, of which only clearings and a few ruined stone barns remain as evidence today. Coed Felenrhyd was also once densely infested with Rhododendron ponticum, a highly invasive ornamental shrub. Several decades of work by Coed Cadw and its partners have gradually reduced the threat to the ancient woodland from dense plantation conifer and invasive rhododendron. Broadleaf cover is now increasing again across the wood and veteran oaks are again visible, released from their shroud of shading hemlock and spruce. Grazing has been recently reintroduced to control coarse and competing vegetation. By contrast, the woodland at Llennyrch shows evidence of a long history of grazing as part of a farmed landscape, being very open in character with little understorey or natural regeneration. However, the even age of much of the oak and an absence of hazel in some parts of the wood suggests that episodes of felling or intensive management have occurred away from the inaccessible steep ravines, perhaps around the time of the First World War. The site nonetheless escaped the damaging impacts of post-WW2 plantation forestry and major rhododendron infestation.
The wood has a remote feel and does not benefit from a designated car park, although parking is available at a layby near the Maentwrog hydroelectric power station or at the Visitor Centre on Llyn Trawsfynydd. A variation of the Wales Coast Path passes through the wood at Maentwrog. From this entrance, visitors can gain access to a good network of internal footpaths, although given the terrain many of these routes include steep flights of steps. From the east, Llennyrch is accessed from the dam at Llyn Trawsfynydd, utilising the public rights of way network or the new Llyn Trawsfynydd cycleway which passes through a corner of the property. For those who enjoy longer walks in rugged scenery, however, Coed Felenrhyd & Llennyrch has a great deal to offer, with a varied internal landscape and magical atmosphere, coupled with outstanding views across Snowdonia.