An £8.6-million project, jointly funded by the Welsh Government and the EU, is hoping to restore swathes of ancient temperate rainforest in the Welsh countryside.
Known as Celtic rainforests, these woodlands are characterised by their mild climate and humid conditions, with forests in Snowdonia experiencing more than 200 days of rainfall a year. These conditions provide the ideal home for a vast array of different species of vegetation and are considered ecologically significant.
However, these forests are under threat and experiencing deterioration, largely due to the spread of Rhododendron ponticum (common rhododendron). This invasive species alters the soil condition, prevents sunlight from reaching the forest floor and suppresses the growth of native flora and fauna, particularly vegetation like the Pyrenula hibernica lichen and tree lungwort, and animals such as the pied flycatcher and the lesser horseshoe bat. Inconsistent grazing practices, poor management and nitrogen pollution are also contributing the the woodlands’ downfall.
In order to reverse these trends and protect a vital part of the Welsh countryside, the restoration project will focus on four areas in Wales – Snowdonia, Cwm Einion, Cwm Doethie and the Elan Valley – and will be funded by the EU LIFE programme and the Welsh Government’s Green Infrastructure Capital Grant, as well as other funding sources.
The project will be led by the Snowdonia National Park Authority, with support from partners including RSPB Cymru, Natural Resources Wales, Welsh Water, the Woodland Trust and the National Trust.
With £8.6 million of funding, the project will run from August 2018 through to July 2025 and will target invasive species such as the Rhododenron ponticum in order to improve the habitat for low-lying plants such as mosses or liverworts. Attention will also be given to developing better woodland management techniques and strategies, including grazing practices, to regenerate the forests and improve the health and resilience of these ecosystems.
The project will also seek to attract more visitors to the forests, which have been the setting for folk tales and legends over hundreds of years, including the Mabinogion, the earliest collection of prose literature in Britain, which mentions Coed Felinrhyd, one of the locations in Snowdonia set to receive funding from the project.
Regardless of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the project’s funding will be safeguarded to ensure it runs until completion.
Commenting on the project, Emyr Williams, Chief Executive of the Snowdonia National Park Authority, said: “These woodlands are one of Snowdonia’s most valuable assets in terms of wildlife and culture. Thanks to this funding by the EU LIFE programme and the Welsh Government we can restore and safeguard our woodlands, and nurture amongst the people of Snowdonia and Mid and South Wales an appreciation and pride in them so that they are safeguarded for future generations”.
Katie-jo Luxton, Director of RSPB Cymru, added: “Our beautiful, biodiverse and bewitching oak woodlands are some of the least known treasures of rural Wales. These natural forests feature strongly in Welsh folklore, but have become undervalued and degraded in recent times. Now, thanks to a strong partnership and the funding support of the EU LIFE programme and the Welsh Government, the mysterious Celtic Rainforest and the vast array of wonderful wildlife that calls it home, will at long last get the attention it deserves.
“This project will help us restore these mysterious and special places, and encourage the people to celebrate and enjoy these places – and hopefully inspire a new generation of Welsh folklore writers.”