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Thursday, 23 October 2014
Heathlands – walking the talk
During the morning of 8th
October, in a jam-packed Rhiw Village Hall, we heard lots about heathlands, as
you’d expect in a seminar titled ‘Heathlands
for the Future’. Then in the afternoon and the following morning we got to walk
the talk; seeing and experiencing some of the work underway to restore 5
coastal heathland sites in Llŷn. This is part of 26 projects within the much
larger HLF Llŷn Landscape Partnership (Partneriaeth Tirlun Llŷn).
of NRW and Arwel Jones, the project manager for Partneriaeth Tirlun Llŷn,
explained that what started off 10 years ago as a conservation project has now
taken on a community and economic dimension with a diverse range of partners.
The initial funding of £500K from 2004-09 was followed by £1.7m from 2009-15
and hopefully there will be more beyond. Listening to the speakers it sounds as
though Llŷn, the triangle from Nefyn to Pwllheli to Bardsey, is ahead of the
game in ‘integrated natural resource
management’, the new wave of conservation strategy. The partners are pursuing
an ecosystem approach and have demonstrated great achievements; but ecosystems
need long-term nurturing and now is the time to drive on with it. You can get a
flavour of the diverse range of projects from the Llŷn AONB website.
heathland ecologist for NRW, and Hilary Kehoe, the heathland project
co-ordinator, set the heathland scene. Coastal heathlands, and their dependent
species, are in decline due to changes in land use and farm economics. What’s
left on Llŷn is a narrow strip of varying quality constricted by improved land;
but things here are getting better. 522 Hectares of land have been embraced by
the project achieving improvements in vegetation structure through cutting and
grazing. Instead of a dense mass of leggy heather and gorse there is now a varied
structure which not only looks good but benefits prized species such as chough,
linnet and the adder.
heath was investigated as a possibility but the conclusion was that the gorse
returned rapidly at the expense of heather and other vegetation. Cutting with a
flail was better and even more so after a low cut when the cuttings were
varied from site to site; whereas Mynydd Tir Cwmwd had lots of heather seeds
Mynydd Bychestyn had barely any. Seeds were collected and spread with the help
of local schoolchildren – what looked like a Somme battlefield two years ago has
regenerated with masses of heather and minimal gorse. As if to prove a point an
accidental fire on a nearby patch had the opposite effect and has seen a resurgence
3 year old heathland bedding
As well as
agreeing plans for reduced burning and more grazing, which benefit nature,
there has been a lot of work to investigate how to improve the economy of the
farms. To add local value 19 farmers undertook training in food hygiene and
butchery and 5 of these have gone on to process and market their own produce.
By-products from the heathland management include heathland bedding which saves
time and money and you can read more about this here.
tea break Sharon Parr wowed us with what’s going on in the Burren LIFE Project
on the west coast of Ireland. There are many parallels with the work here on Llŷn
with lots of common sense ideas for making things work on the ground - you can read more about this here.
Fortified with sandwiches and cakes galore we heard a short
presentation from Reg at the RSPB about the UK chough survey and the importance
of Llŷn which is home to 14% of the UK population. Llŷn chough do not exist in
isolation and their destiny is inextricably linked to the populations in
Snowdonia and Ynys Môn. The extent of the research and conservation work is
immense – this is truly a landscape scale species. You can read more about this here.
Lichenologists don't mind a drop of rain
As the storm
clouds gathered we wrapped up in waterproofs and headed across the road to
Mynydd y Graig and Penarfynydd Farm. Unfortunately Thomas Jones the farmer was
unable to show us around and by the time we reached the trig point on
Penarfynydd the lightning was all around with heavy horizontal rain lashing us.
Some descended quickly back whilst others plodded on to see the Golden Hair
Lichen. The large rocks on which it grows have been fenced in to prevent the
ponies getting too close and in particular to stop them scratching their flanks
on the extremely rare Lobaria Amplissima.
quite the dream day to visit this stunning farm but you can learn more about it here and see a film of Thomas Jones talking about different aspects of
dinner we all had a chance to look around the excellent £1m Porth y Swnt
visitor centre which opened last June and is home to the 2 tonne optic recently
removed from Bardsey Lighthouse. Dinner in Tŷ Newydd was complete with ‘son et lumière’ as the thunderstorm
continued and high tide waves rolled up to the hotel.
Tim Jones from
NRW had the challenging task of talking to us after the feast of local produce.
Key points he made were the need to get community and economy into
environmental projects and this was clearly the case on Llŷn. Instead of
looking at sites in isolation we need to look at and work on whole landscapes
and the newly announced ‘area natural resource management trials’ at Dyfi, Tawe
and Rhondda were looking to learn from Llŷn.
later we were back in the same restaurant for breakfast and once more the tide
was up, with big waves rolling in. No surfers but a seal, treading water,
bobbing up and down whilst looking into the hotel, just metres away. Earlier
some guests had seen a baby seal on the slipway – presumably the only safe
place to be parked while mum got on with the fishing.
We took the
O Ddrws i Ddrws Llŷn Coastal minibus to Bryn Poeth where Kevin Roberts talked
to us about heathland bedding and then walked around the coastline to see the
Ryetec flail collector in action. Along the way we saw areas where the heath
had been improved, areas where bracken used to be rampant and which were now
clear of it thanks to initial spraying and subsequent grazing by cattle. There
was a marked difference between the two sides of the fence where cattle can and
can’t graze – the side without the cattle was a dense mat of vegetation,
several inches deep and not receptive to seeds. As we walked into another field
it was explained how this used to be heathland up until the 1970s but that it
had been ploughed up just days before being designated as an ESA
(Environmentally Sensitive Area) – ironic that legislation to protect should be
a catalyst for damage.
the Pembrokeshire heathlands, Llŷn has few plants that are given the chance to
flower, due to the uniform grazing of sheep, but there had been a big increase
at Bychestyn this summer through grazing with cattle. It was great to see the
Welsh Blacks on the edge of the coast with the wild sea and Bardsey beyond. Obviously
it was the wrong time of year for us to see flowers but we did get to see Prostrate
Broom on the edge of the windswept cliff at Pen y Cil.
ended on Mynydd y Gwyddel which is farmed by John Williams. The top of the
mountain is popular with people coming from the nearby car park to enjoy the
view and maybe have a picnic. It’s also where you can see the Spotted Rock
Rose, very rare, found just here and on Anglesey. The mountain is grazed only by
sheep at present but if the fencing and water supply was improved, then John
would graze it with cattle from October to July taking them off for calving and
bulling during the busiest time for visitors.
explained that he would not be going into Glastir as the rules prescribe just 37 sheep during the winter whereas he has a flock of over 150; at this stocking level the unit would
not be viable and the site would become overgrown. 37 might be an appropriate
stocking level for inland, mountainous areas, but Llŷn has its own climate with
resultant vegetation growth; what we need is an area-based approach as opposed
to a ‘one size fits all’. The intention of Glastir is to improve the landscape
but if John followed the rules he would be rewarded for damaging it! This is
one of those situations, as in The Burren, where farmers need to make
the decisions and be rewarded if and when they deliver a positive outcome such
as species rich grassland. An arbitrary number at an arbitrary date makes no
sense in this situation. This site would benefit from a higher level scheme
that would reward positive management, such as the scheme in place on Penarfynydd.
Putting structural diversity into the heath
Aberdaron, after sandwiches and soup, we wrapped up the seminar with a
discussion. 64 people had signed up for the seminar and most of them had been
able to attend at least part which goes to show that ‘heathlands for the future’ is a popular topic. Jon Hudson from NRW
said that he had plenty of ideas that he wanted to take back to Pembrokeshire.
discussed and we agreed that we needed to lobby for positive change through
farmers and if possible take a roadshow to Cardiff. Having said that we felt it
would be a good idea to get Carl Sargeant to visit while he is new in post. There
was agreement that the partnership should be using the work as a case study to
show to politicians and to help shape and influence future environmental
funding for Llŷn was discussed. The ecosystem approach has been trialled and
now we need a long term project to drive this agenda forward. Landscape management
is not only good for nature, it can also help develop the tourism offer and
contribute to maintenance issues around the coastal path. What we’ve got is
‘ready to go’, a solution and not a pipedream.
been promising words from the Fund for Nature but nothing concrete yet. LIFE
funding had been considered and this may be a sensible route for future funding.
Interreg was discussed without much enthusiasm – it’s a shame that The Burren
is not on the east coast.
It was felt
that Llŷn should aspire to having a Pembrokeshire level of branding; this is
slowly happening through the #Ecomuseum brand. See also www.ecoamgueddfa.org
All in all
an excellent seminar, a catalyst for networking bringing many parties together,
well organised by Hilary Kehoe and members of Partneriaeth Tirlun Llŷn (Llŷn