Conservation of wildlife is important to us. The richness of wildlife in Valley Woods, so close to a large population of people, is recognised as one of the significant features. Having campaigned for the protection and conservation of Valley Woods for over a decade and finally taken on the leases of the 250 acre estate in April 2012, the Penllergare Trust is – and always will be – committed to conserving the wildlife value of these woods. So, what is actually being done?
In recent years we have gained valuable information about the wildlife of the woods and we are very keen to protect and enhance this wherever we can – indeed it is one of the defining features of the woods, from the carpets of bluebells, to the wide variety of birds and other animals that call the woods their home. Through a very recent link up with the Countryside Council for Wales and Swansea University ecologists, we are currently assessing the information we already have including some habitat and species reports and quite a bit of information from observations from volunteer rangers and regular walkers. This assessment will be used to develop management proposals aimed at conserving and enhancing the wildlife value of the woods hand in hand with managing public access, the designed historic landscape and the archaeology.
The works have been planned with great care and cooperation with key ecologists and environmental organisations to minimise disturbance to wildlife and to ultimately enhance the quality and diversity of wildlife for the future. Any disturbance will be kept to an absolute minimum as far as practicably possible. Here are just a few examples of what we’re doing and why:
Woodland volunteers have recently been clearing overgrowth of laurel and rhododendron. Did you know that both totally smother native woodland plants? Allowing light to reach the woodland floor will result in a much greater diversity of plants and other wildlife. In the upper terraces, we will be replanting open areas with ferns, flowering shrubs, trees and other plants that typify mid Victorian woodland garden planting.
The Upper Lake & Archimedes Screw
The Upper Lake above the waterfall will be de-silted in order to reinstate it to its historic form and prevent total reversion to marshland. On advice received from the Environment Agency Wales, we have decided to de-silt the lake in one season in 2013, rather than two. This will result in greater short term environmental impact, but a quicker recovery.
A full ecological survey has identified no European Protected Species such as water voles and otter within the proposed area of the works. Otters have however been recorded both to the north and to the south of the valley and are likely to use the river there. The ecological survey also confirmed that salmon cannot leap the waterfall and therefore only spawn downstream of the falls, eels use the river both above and below the falls and lamprey use the lake banks.
Impacts on wildlife will be minimised by:
- the use of the cutter suction dredger unit rather than an excavator
- the retention of “refuge” areas for wildlife including common amphibians, namely the reed lagoon upstream and parts of the eastern vegetated bank
- fish rescue as appropriate in liasion with the Environment Agency
- seasonal constraints on working, including prior removal of trees and shrubs, avoidance of main breeding seasons by initiating works in late summer and suspending river work during the salmon migration and spawning season (October to April)
- allowing wildlife to relocate from silt deposition areas
- the installation of an eel pass as part of the Archimedes screw unit
The Drive & Paths
We are cutting rideside growth to allow more light and air to reach the ground in wider sunny verges to encourage a greater diversity of wild flowers and also butterflies, insects, lizards and other small mammals.
Most of the work we are doing at the moment is at the north end of Valley Woods – probably affecting about 10% of the whole area. The rest of the area will remain relatively undisturbed. We are particularly keen to retain that ‘wild edge’ feel to the woods whilst ensuring the safety of visitors. The woodland in the south east will also remain a restricted access area.
In the last 5 years, we have planted over 20,000 trees in areas that had previously been burnt. The new trees have been a mixed variety of oak, ash, hazel, willow and some conifers. This year we will be focusing on physical works on the ground but we plan to plant a lot more in 2014 and beyond.
Where it is safe to do so, we are trying our best to leave dead wood within Valley Woods. Dead wood is very valuable and healthy for a woodland environment. Not only is it an aspect of the process of nutrient cycling, providing a steady, slow-release source of nitrogen, but it is also thought to play a significant role in carbon storage. Fallen logs can also increase soil stability within a woodland. Standing dead trees and fallen debris provide a fantastic array of ‘microhabitats’. One third of all woodland birds nest in holes or cavities in dead trees, and large, hollowing trees provide ideal roosting sites for species such as the great spotted woodpecker and various owls. Many bat species use tree holes for summer and winter roosts too. What’s more, it is a great home for insects, mosses, lichens and more.
Promoting awareness, access and enjoyment of the natural environment
We have started a voluntary ranger scheme. We are asking people to contact us with reports of wildlife sightings so that we can build up a better picture of the animals and birds using the woods. Several people are already doing this and we are keeping a diary so that we can monitor the changes – hopefully positive – year on year. If you could spare the time to join in with this, it would be most appreciated. We’re also running environment-focused school visits, and soon we aim to organise conservation walks and talks and activities, biodiversity training courses and more to educate the local community about the importance of conserving the natural environment.
If you would like to get involved in the “nature conservation” element of Penllergare Valley Woods, please do get in touch. We always appreciate your feedback and are happy to answer any of your questions anytime.
Upper Lake Restoration Method Statement June 2012