12th December 2019
Cattle working to protect the Celtic Rainforest
Project staff usually come in the form of humans – but that isn’t always the case, as the Celtic Rainforests Wales LIFE project uses the services of Connor, a black Highland steer, as an essential member of their team! Working with a pair of red Highland cattle, known as ‘The Twins’, the three have been grazing the RSPB’s Coed-y-Parc site in Dolgellau, and recently moved to RSPB’s Coed Garth Gell reserve in order to improve the conservation status of these internationally important ancient oak woodlands.
These woodlands have a long history of grazing, which has led to the development of many of our most valuable and wildlife rich habitats. In the recent past, too much grazing had damaging effects on vegetation, and woodlands were fenced off in order to exclude graziers altogether. However, having little or no grazing within the woodlands can eventually have undesirable impacts, namely a dramatic increase in bramble, ivy and bracken - too many of these and they become over dominant in the ground layer to the detriment of other flora including the precious lichen and bryophyte assemblages of these magnificent woodlands.
It is now acknowledged that conservation grazing is a very effective tool in managing native woodland habitats. The National Trusts’ Dolmelynllyn Estate in Ganllwyd has had great success in restoring their woodland by using Highland cattle over recent years, and the Celtic Rainforests Wales project hopes to replicate this success at further carefully chosen sites across the project area. However, keeping grazing animals on sites comes with its own challenges – it often involves having a small number of animals ranging over large areas, so a lot of time can be spent simply looking for them, as well as monitoring their impact on the vegetation! There is also a need to ensure a balance of leisure use, livestock, and the wildlife that calls it home, for the benefit of all.
Helen Upson, Grazing Officer with the LIFE Celtic Rainforests Wales project, said:
“I’m thrilled to see the first cattle reintroduced as part of this project, and they’re already having a great impact. The Highlands are a native British breed, well suited to the local climate and the steep, rough terrain. They are generally calm and docile on sites with public access, but we remind all visitors to give them plenty of space, and those with dogs to manage their pets appropriately. If you spot our livestock on a visit, why not tag us in your picture @coedceltiadd?
Notes to editors
- The Welsh Government has contributed a £2 million Green Infrastructure Grant, enabling the partnership to draw in a further £4.5m from the European Commission via their LIFE Nature and Biodiversity programme.
- Snowdonia National Park Authority leads the project on behalf of a partnership consisting of RSPB Cymru, Coed Cadw / The Woodland Trust, Natural Resources Wales, Dŵr Cymru / Welsh Water, and Welsh Government.
- A key element of the project is to eradicate Rhododendron ponticum from within the woodlands, and a buffer zone around them. This invasive alien plant suppresses native vegetation, creating conditions that are unfavourable to other wildlife. In particular, the plant prevents sunlight from reaching the woodland floor, stopping young oak seedlings from becoming established, and outcompeting other native plants.
- At some sites, the dense cover of introduced conifer trees has been casting shade over the ancient woodland soil below, suppressing the wild flowers and reducing the range of insects and birds that once thrived there. As part of the project, conifer plantations will be thinned out to encourage the re-establishment of native species. .
- Another core objective of the project is to improve land management within selected woodlands, with the introduction of grazing as a management tool within certain sites. Cattle, sheep, and ponies will be introduced into certain areas as appropriate, and to promote best practice by showcasing this work through case studies and events.
- Four rural areas across Wales are set to benefit. These are the areas local to five Special Areas of Conservation (SACs): Eryri SAC, Meirionnydd Oakwoods and Bat Sites SAC, Coed Cwm Einion SAC, Elan Valley Woodlands SAC and Cwm Doethie - Mynydd Mallaen SAC.
- For further information please contact Llinos Alun, Engagement Officer, Snowdonia National Park Authority on 01766 772214 or e-mail email@example.com
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