Cambrian Wildwood is a project run by the charity Wales Wild Land Foundation.
Set in the northern part of the Cambrian Mountains in west Wales, the project will first restore the native forest and other natural habitats to the area and subsequently reintroduce missing native species. The initial focus is on Bwlch Corog, a 350 acre (140 hectare) stretch of land, flanked my mountains, which is currently dominated by purple moor grass (Molinia purpurea). A relatively small area in the northern corner is ancient woodland alongside a couple of streams, with adjacent open ground dominated by bracken. In time, we hope to allow the Wildwood to spread with further land purchase and by other landowners participating to make 7,500 acres (3,000 hectares). Positioned in a remote, rugged corner of the Cambrian mountains, a woodland Special Area of Conservation (SAC) lies 3 kilometres from Bwlch Corog and a woodland Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) grows adjacent to it.
The project will begin with planting around 5000 native tree species in small groups across the site, which will provide a seed source and bring about a return of the native tree species that once grew here but have now disappeared. Treeless upland and bracken dominated slopes will be enriched by the spreading native woodland, and the swathes of purple moorgrass will revert to heather moorland with pockets of native tree cover, improving the biodiversity of the landscape and complementing the two nearby heather moorland SSSIs that flank Bwlch Corog. In time, riparian and wetland habitats be allowed to develop naturally, important habitats for a number of species.
Through this habitat restoration work, the project will create the right conditions for bringing back some of the lost animal species that our landscape sorely lacks. Many of our lost species, including beavers and wild boar, are keystone species, integral to maintaining naturally healthy ecosystems. Species restoration can be achieved through natural colonisation, as bird species can easily migrate to the area, attracted by the enriched habitats that have been restored here. For less mobile species, reintroduction programmes will be researched extensively for feasibility. We hope to see red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) swinging through the wildwood, mountain hares (Lepus timidus) boxing on the mountainsides in spring, water voles (Arvicola terrestris) messing about on the riverbanks, wild boar (Sus scrofa) snuffling in the undergrowth, and, on a lucky day, the elusive pine marten (Martes martes) slinking down the tree trunks. Wales has recently seen successful rewilding in action through projects such as the Pine Marten Recovery Project of The Vincent Wildlife Trust and the The Wildlife Trusts’ various water vole reintroduction projects throughout Wales and the UK, and Cambrian Wildwood hope to contribute to this pioneering work.
Cambrian Wildwood, following rewilding principles, will introduce large herbivores, such as Exmoor ponies (Equus ferus caballus) and Welsh Black cattle (Bos Taurus), as feral substitutes for domestic grazers. We expect roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) to migrate into the area in the long term, and will study the case for red deer (Cervus elaphus).
Following purchase of Bwlch Corog in May 2017, surveys will be carried out to establish what birds, plants, mammals and invertebrates are present – providing baseline data to see how things change over the years.
Long term, as Cambrian Wildwood grows, we will improve access to the land through footpath maintenance and creation. Members of the public will be able to roam in the towering Wildwood, camp on the starlit moors, picnic by the tinkling streams, observing nature in its wild form and glimpsing animals that dwell now only in our imagination.
There are rewilding projects going on in England, Scotland and Wales. You can find out all about them at Rewilding Britain.