ABOUT THE PROJECT
Cambrian Wildwood is a community woodland and habitat restoration project run by the charity Wales Wild Land Foundation.
Set in the northern part of the Cambrian Mountains in West Wales, the project is restoring native woodland and other natural habitats to the area and planning to 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 site is 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 expand the wildwood area with further land purchase and by other landowners participating to make 7,500 acres (3,000 hectares). Bwlch Corog lies 3 kilometers from a woodland Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and adjacent to a woodland SSSI.
The project has started with planting around 1,000 native trees across three areas in thick bracken. The next stage is to plant another 2,000 trees across the site using ‘no-fence’ planting methods. These will provide a seed source for the natural colonization 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. During the summer of 2019 contractor Peter Watkin was busy with his machine up on the moorland blocking the drainage grips that crisscross the site: the series of dams has created about 1,100 small ponds and raising the water table will gradually enable the swathes of purple moor grass to revert to blanket bog in the wetter areas. With light grazing by our wild horses, the drier areas will revert to heather moorland. Having carried out interventions to establish favourable conditions for the development of a natural ecosystem, the plan is to allow nature to take its course and see how the habitats develop without having set targets. Actions will be principally around the management of herbivore numbers, and the guiding principle here is to enable an increase in tree cover for the foreseeable future. In the long term, we expect to see a combination of closed canopy woodland, wood pasture, young woodland at thicket stage, moorland with scattered trees and shrubs, and open land of blanket bog and montane heath.
Through the habitat restoration work, the project will create the right conditions for the return of some of the native animal species that are currently absent from the landscape. Species restoration can be achieved through natural colonization, as bird and invertebrate species will migrate to the area in search of their favoured habitats. After the creation of the small ponds during the summer of 2019, there was almost immediate colonisation by pond skaters, and a few weeks later southern hawker dragonfly. Following the introduction of grazing by horses there has been an increased diversity of birds species: in 2019 skylark returned to the moorland, snipe are now seen regularly, and other highlights have been merlin, grasshopper warbler and red grouse. For less mobile species, reintroduction programs will be researched for feasibility. Our current plans are for red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) once conditions are favourable due to the increase in pine marten (Martes martes), following the Pine Marten Recovery Project of The Vincent Wildlife Trust. Similarly, the water vole (Arvicola terrestris) could be living at Bwlch Corog and we will be looking at the feasibility of this species. In the longer term we will consider species such as mountain hare (Lepus timidus) and wild cat (Felis silvestris).
Grazing is an important and natural part of an ecosystem, and Cambrian Wildwood 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 in the longer term the project will evaluate the case for the return of red deer (Cervus elaphus) to the wider area.
Following purchase of Bwlch Corog in May 2017, surveys have been carried out to establish what birds, plants, mammals and invertebrates are present – providing baseline data to see how things change over the years. The site will be monitored annually to map habitat changes. 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 access the wildwood on foot and on horseback, and wild camping is permitted. The project includes a program of activities for primary schools and a program of youth camps. We hold regular volunteer work days at Bwlch Corog, generally once a month. And we are developing a program of events and courses on site. With the site being remote, it will not attract a large volume of visitors. Instead, the activity programs 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.
We are currently – in 2020 – completing a shed using roundwood timber framing with larch trees thinned from our woodland, straw bale walls and turf roof construction methods. It will be used for storage and workshop space and as a base for people to shelter from the elements while they are working on the land. The visual impact in the landscape will be kept to a minimum with the shelter nested into the hillside at a former stone quarry. A compost toilet was constructed in 2019. Planning permission has been granted for the compost toilet and two sheds: we will ascertain whether a single shed is adequate before embarking on construction of a second shed.