3 km hedgerow ‘super-highway’ created for wildlife in Eryri
A super-highway for wildlife, made up of three kilometres of new hedgerows is being created at Y Foel in Eryri, one year since National Trust Cymru became custodians of the remote hillside landscape.
Forty people including members of the local Cwm Penmachno community, National Trust staff, and representatives from Natural Resources Wales, Eryri National Park and Llais Y Goedwig came together earlier this month to help plant a mix of native broadleaf hedges on the hillsides.
Stretching to the length of 30 football fields, once finished and established, the hedgerows will benefit nature, people and climate by connecting habitats, capturing carbon and helping to reduce flooding in the local area.
The hedges will create corridors that connect the landscape at Y Foel to larger woodland spaces and offer a lifeline to a host of woodland species such as Lesser Horseshoe Bats, who use hedgerows as ‘commuter routes’ after dark to find their way to feeding areas and roost sites.
The remote 1,600-acre site in the historic slate landscape of Eryri (Snowdonia) in North Wales, was brought into the care of National Trust Cymru a year ago to boost wildlife populations, help tackle the climate emergency, and safeguard the landscape’s remarkable cultural heritage.
Twelve months on and Will Bigwood is now settled into his new position as Farm Manager at Foel, caring for a place which has mountain streams, precious peatland, as well as an old Roman road, three former slate quarries and the Snowdonia Slate Trail running through its heart.
Reflecting on his first year caring for Foel, Will Bigwood says: “My role here at Foel is about both farming and conservation in an extraordinary landscape. We continue to graze sheep and cattle while also making more space for nature. There is huge potential for nature to thrive here and our aim is to create a rich mosaic of grass and heath lands, meadows and blanket bog.
Since beginning work at Foel, I have been re-establishing fence boundaries across the farm’s lower fields and we’ve now started creating a network of hedgerows. We are putting native trees like silver birch, sessile oak and hawthorn in the right places to provide shelter for livestock, homes for wildlife and become a wonderful food source for many species as the hedges grow.”
Hedgerows are vital for birds and wildlife, and these hedges could benefit species including tree sparrow and cuckoo, the National Trust said. Both species feature on the Red List (in decline) in the recent Birds of Conservation Concern Wales report which shows that more than one in four birds in Wales are in decline.
Dunnock, bullfinch and fieldfare are included on the Amber List – meaning they are of moderate concern of decline – and could also benefit from these hedgerow habitats. Foel can provide these birds and many others with places to nest and feed.
In the future, rare mammals such as Dormouse and Pine Marten as well as more common animals like hedgehogs, weasels and field mice could benefit from the new hedgerow highway habitat.
Looking ahead, Will continued: “Along the upper reaches of Foel, we’re planning to improve the heath and moorland habitats. These places will become an ideal nesting and feeding place for other Red List birds like the hen harrier, golden plover and red grouse.
On the ffridd fringes the National Trust plan to introduce cattle to graze the slopes. The cattle are experts at keeping vegetation like bracken low, allowing for other plants to grow. This is a great and natural way to maintain the habitat and ensure a wider variety of wildlife.”
As a fully restored habitat, the ffridd and hedges will become excellent carbon stores and will also help to alleviate flooding in the local area. Together, they could help to slow the flow of water from the peat covered hilltops to the lowland valleys and communities below.
This will complement National Trust Cymru’s Upper Conwy Catchment project – the largest scheme of its kind in Wales. Foel is located at the head of the Upper Conwy Catchment area, where the National Trust Cymru and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) have been working together for over a decade to slow the flow of water to reduce risk of flooding and create rich habitats to tackle climate change.
Trystan Edwards, General Manager for Eryri (Snowdonia) at National Trust Cymru added: “Foel provides a canvas for us to heal climate harm and create wonderful spaces for nature to thrive at a time when our society needs it most.
“The new hedgerows will criss-cross the landscape, echoing the historic land boundaries, and have huge benefits for wildlife.
“An exciting future lies ahead for Foel, with plans for nature-friendly grazing, blocking man-made ditches in deep peat allowing them to function naturally to store carbon rather than release it, and restoring rivers.
“Our close working relationship with the community and partner organisations paves the way for Foel to play a leading demonstrative role in land management. Creating hedgerows is just the beginning, and I want to thank everyone who came to join us for the hedge planting day.”
National Forest for Wales
The saplings were given to Foel through the My Tree Our Forest initiative. In partnership with Coed Cadw, the Woodland Trust in Wales, and Llais Y Goedwig, the Welsh Government are offering a free tree to each household in Wales.
Through the Plant a Tree for Me scheme, the Trust is planting trees on behalf of people who don’t have the space to plant their own.
The hedgerows at Foel, and other projects taking place through My Tree Our Forest, will also contribute to the National Forest for Wales.
A mix of native, broadleaf saplings including silver birch, sessile oak, hazel and field maple were planted along the field boundaries. Hawthorn, blackthorn and crab apple will blossom each spring, bringing beauty for the local community and those walking the hillsides.
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