Wales’ Celtic rainforests will get a new lease of life this autumn with £8.6m of funding backed by the European and Welsh Government. Through the eradication of invasive alien plant species and the implementation of proactive management the aim is to bring these woodlands back to their former fertile state.
Celtic rainforests, which are mainly found in the UK, are considered of European importance owing to their open structure, and the mild and humid conditions within them that provide a perfect habitat for a wealth of vegetation.
The woodlands are currently in an unfavorable condition and are continuing to deteriorate. The spread of theRhododendron ponticum is primarily responsible for the deterioration because it alters the soil condition, prevents sunlight from reaching the woodland floor, and outcompetes and suppresses the regeneration of native vegetation. Other factors that affect the woodlands are over or under grazing, lack of management and atmospheric nitrogen pollution.
Four areas within Wales, including Snowdonia, Cwm Einion, Cwm Doethie and the Elan Valley, will benefit from funding by the EU LIFE programme, the Welsh Government’s Green Infrastructure Capital Grant and other partners to address these issues. The Snowdonia National Park Authority will lead the project on behalf of its partners that include RSPB Cymru, Natural Resources Wales, Welsh Water, the Woodland Trust, and the National Trust. The €9.5 million project will run between August 2018 and July 2025.
The project’s main aim is to improve the habitat of lower plant assemblage such as mosses and liverworts within these woodlands by tackling the issue of invasive species, especially the Rhododendron ponticum, that threaten the conservation status of the woodlands. The project will also develop active management of the woodland including demonstrating active grazing and woodland restoration techniques which in turn will improve habitat condition, demonstrate best practice, increase resilience and enhance the woodlands’ ecosystem function.
Emyr Williams, Chief Executive of the Snowdonia National Park Authority explained:
“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”.
The Environment Minister, Hannah Blythyn, said:
“Woodlands are a valued natural asset to us here in Wales. They’re vital to our environment, protecting against flooding, improving our air quality and providing shelter for livestock. I congratulate the Snowdonia National Park Authority and RSPB Cymru on their successful project which is now one of three projects in Wales receiving money from the EU LIFE programme. The project aims to improve the condition of key woodlands in Wales significantly, helping us meet our European and international obligations for biodiversity and deliver important social and economic benefits for local communities.”
Katie-jo Luxton, Director of RSPB Cymru said:
“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…”