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 restore the native forest and other natural habitats to the area and reintroduce some of the missing native species. The initial focus is on Bwlch Corog, a 350 acre (140 hectare) stretch of land, flanked by higher hills, both moorland Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). Most of the area is currently dominated by purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea). 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). Set in a remote corner of the Cambrian mountains, Bwlch Corog lies 3 kilometres from a woodland Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and adjacent to a woodland SSSI.

The project will begin with planting around 8,000 native trees in two areas: these will provide a seed source for the natural colonisation of woodland across the site more generally and enable us to introduce native tree species that once grew here but are no longer present locally. By blocking the drainage grips that criss-cross the site, the swathes of purple moor grass will revert to blanket bog in the wetter areas. And combined with light grazing by wild horses, the drier areas will revert to heather moorland. Native tree cover will increase naturally to develop into areas of woodland at different stages and scattered trees across more open ground.

Through this habitat restoration work, the project will create the right conditions for bringing back some of the native animal species that are currently absent from the landscape. 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 will migrate to the area, in search of their favoured habitats. For less mobile species, reintroduction programmes will be researched extensively for feasibility. We hope to see red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) leaping through the wildwood, mountain hares (Lepus timidus) boxing on the mountainsides in spring, water voles (Arvicola terrestris) messing about on the riverbanks, and the elusive pine marten (Martes martes) slinking down the tree trunks. Wales has recently seen successful introduction programmes, 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 hopes to contribute to this pioneering work.

Cambrian Wildwood, following rewilding principles, has introduced wild horse (Equus ferus) as a close relative of the now extinct tarpan. We will introduce other native large herbivores at suitable stages in the project, for example Highland cattle (Bos taurus), a close relative of the now extinct aurochs. We expect roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) to migrate into the area, and the project will discuss the case for the return of red deer (Cervus elaphus) to the wider area.

Following purchase of Bwlch Corog in May 2017, surveys are being carried out to establish what birds, plants, mammals and invertebrates are present – providing baseline data to see how things change over the years. Survey reports are available on our web page Our Land – Bwlch Corog.

We have improved access to the land through footpath and bridleway maintenance and creation. Members of the public can roam across the moors, camp in the wildwood, picnic by the tinkling streams, observe unfettered nature and glimpse the wild animals. The project includes a programme of activities for primary schools and a residential programme on site for teenagers. We hold regular volunteer work days at Bwlch Corog, generally once a month. And we are developing a programme of events and courses to be held on site. Two shelters along with compost toilets will be constructed to provide storage, workshop and site welfare facilities to assist with site management, or provide space for schools and other educational activities, basic accommodation for the youth camps or other visitors, or space for training and cultural events. With the site being remote, it will not attract a large volume of visitors. Instead, the activity programmes and facilities will encourage and enable a smaller number of people to spend longer periods at Bwlch Corog, with the remoteness being a feature of the experience. Managing the project to attract smaller numbers of visitors prevents potential issues with regards to volume of traffic.

An initial planning application has been submitted for shelters in the style of a Celtic roundhouse, but this might be revised to something more like an earth shelter, following ongoing discussions. The initial application is for agricultural use, with a view to applying for change of use at a later date to include the educational and accommodation uses. This is a procedural consideration to obtain planning permission more quickly, as funding for the project is being held up pending the planning process. Meanwhile, it is difficult to finalise the requirements for the shelters without staff in place and adequate financial resources. In other words, an amendment to the plans is highly likely, requiring a further planning application, so the idea is to keep the initial application as simple as possible. If an application for accommodation use is unsuccessful, the requirement for site management purposes still holds, so it makes sense to use a two stage process from this perspective as well. The low impact design of the structures using natural materials is applicable whatever the use, as a construction of concrete and steel uses unsustainable materials and visually would desecrate a wonderful landscape. We have been consistently transparent about our plans for the shelters, and there is no intention to mislead the planning authority or any other stakeholder.

There are rewilding projects going on in England, Scotland and Wales. You can find out all about them at Rewilding Britain.