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Wildlife and Habitats

Page history last edited by Julia 5 years ago

~Wildlife and Habitats~

The Woodland Co-op  
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Wildlife and Habitats  

Coed Panteg is 24 acres of land in South Carmarthenshire. It is close to the mouth of the Towy estuary and to Carmarthen Bay. When we bought the land, it consisted of 8 acres of woodland and a 16 acre field. The woodland is adjacent to the road and slopes down northwards to a small stream. The field is on the other side of the stream. At this point it is about 60 meters above sea level, and soon starts to rise fairly steeply in a long, south facing slope to reach 130 meters above sea level at the top of the hill. The convex hill top is fairly level. A narrower width of land slopes gently down the northern face of the hill top. This area of about 3 acres has been planted as new woodland.


The underlying rock is old red sandstone resulting in a fertile, free-draining, red loamy soil. The exception to this is the higher part of the wood adjacent to the road which is on a glacial deposit of boulder clay which is grey and wet, being completely impervious to water.


The climate is fairly mild, being close to the sea. The rainfall amounts are moderate compared with much of the higher interior of Wales, although enough to keep the countryside lush and green most of the time. Standing at the top of our hill, it is often noticeable that we are on a boundary between different weather types: it is often sunny and bright to the south over Carmarthen Bay and the coast towards Pembrokeshire, but dark and grey to the north over the hills on the other side of Carmarthen. The hill is quite exposed to south westerly winds, indeed to most winds as it is higher than most of the surrounding countryside. However the valley is fairly well sheltered, especially from northerly winds.


The surrounding countryside is mainly fairly intensively farmed beef and dairy land. It is good productive land, with the fertile soil and clement weather, resulting in lots of improved grassland with only a few small areas of woodland and little unimproved pasture. The valley in which Coed Panteg is set is somewhat of an exception though. A strip of woodland extends almost continuously down the valley for a mile to Ferryside. The grounds of the once grand house of Iscoed Manor have much to do with this. This, along with our own new planting and a large area of new tree planting in the field on our southern border, make the largest expanse of woodland in the immediate area.


Our field, and the remaining fields of Panteg Farm from whom we bought the land, are among the very few areas of relatively unimproved, not intensively managed grassland around. Whilst not particularly special as grassland goes, they make a change from the monoculture silage fields that make up the bulk of the remaining countryside. That is not to say that the surrounding area is totally devoid of wildlife interest: good hedgerows are maintained and relatively well managed banks and verges are full of wildflowers and here and there small pockets of woodland survive.


The Towy estuary, and the two other estuaries that merge with it at its mouth, barred from the sea by the spectacular beaches and dunes of Pembrey and Pendine are surely its most spectacular feature: square miles of mud flats, salt marsh, tidal sands and wild dunes, much of it fairly inaccessible due to a military bombing range and a lack of roads. It is teeming with birdlife which occasionally use the top of our hill to stop off, feed, or nest.


Coed Panteg, though relatively small, has a diversity of habitats, which we hope to conserve and improve with our management plan, and hope will continue to play its role as part of the beautiful patchwork of ecosystems and human land uses that make up the countryside of Wales and Britain. These are a few of the habitats that we have identified and aim to conserve:-


The Existing Woodland.

The existing woodland did not seem very spectacular at first glance, but the more time we spend exploring it, the more we find. It contains an impressive range of habitats for such a small area. There is some debate about how old the woods are. There are no trees much more than a hundred years old apart from on the boundary banks where some fairly large, old oaks are present. However, there is much flora on the floor of parts of the wood which indicate an ancient woodland. The earliest O.S. map we can find from 1850 shows it was rough scrubby land, so my guess is that it has maybe been woodland for 150 years. It may be that it was so wet and boggy in places that it was not properly cleared and made in to a field.


The woodland is of two main types: Alder/Ash wood on the wetter ground and Ash/Hazel wood over the remainder. There is also a large clearing which is filled with Meadow Sweet, Hemlock Waterdropwort, Fleabane, Rushes and other wet area wildflowers. This is gradually being recolonised around the edges by Bramble, Sallow, Oak and Alder. The woodland has a range of other species present including quite a lot of Hollies and large old Hawthorns and a scattering of Wych Elms. There is one area with a large concentration of Aspen, and a few Beeches and Oaks have sprung up throughout the woodland. They are all young trees, apart from those on the boundary banks. The bank alongside the road to the South is dominated by Sycamore but they are not widespread in the rest of the wood.


The bulk of the wood has quite a dense canopy so the shrub layer is suppressed, although there is an abundance of Honeysuckle and a fair amount of Bramble. Wild Raspberry, Geulder Rose and Blackthorn bushes are scattered throughout the wood. The floor of the wood has a carpet of ferns and Bluebells, and areas dominated by Dogs Mercury. There are patches of Wood Anemone, Bugle and Yellow Pimpernel; some areas have drifts of Early Purple Orchid and there are a few Primroses here and there, as well as Red Campion and Violets.


The clearing has its own flora in addition to those already mentioned. Common Spotted Orchid, Ragged Robin, Scabious and several types of Thistle are all found there. Possibly the most unusual plant we have identified so far is Narrow Lipped Helleborine, a fairly rare orchid that we have found several specimens of under scrubby growth at the edge of the clearing.


In the wood we have had a sighting of a Dormouse (inadvertently disturbed whilst hibernating during woodland management activities), as well as finding numerous hazelnut shells with the characteristic hole gnawed in them under Hazel trees throughout the wood. This is not surprising as the wood is an ideal habitat for dormice, containing Hazel and Honeysuckle: the two plants most important to them, and having a dense, tangled structure that they like.


There is a badger sett in the bottom corner, at the edge of the meadow in the bank by the stream. Their paths radiate out through the wood and meadow, but they are seldom seen, although they are often heard at night. Also resident are a fox, mice, voles, shrews and bats. We have seen many species of bird, including Greater Spotted Woodpecker and Pied Flycatcher seen in the woods. Buzzards are common, and Owls are often heard at night. A full species list of birds and other wildlife seen at Coed Panteg can be seen by following the link.


The woods are also teeming with other wildlife. Numerous toads are found whenever we move a pile of logs, along with the occasional lizard. Butterflies have increased since the coppicing began with many Speckled Wood butterflies seen this year. Dragonflies are commonly seen in the clearing and coppiced areas. Countless beetles, spiders and other invertebrates abound that we have not even begun to survey yet.


The coppicing that we are introducing to part of the woodland is creating new habitat and we have already noticed the difference. The most obvious is the spread of flowers: Bluebells, Primroses and Early Purple Orchids all made a stunning display, particularly in the second spring after coppicing. Enchanter’s Nightshade, a normally inconspicuous little flower flourished and formed a spectacular carpet in some areas. In the second summer, the coppiced area was a tangle of Bramble, but other plants such as Honeysuckle, Briony, Raspberry and Willowherb were all increasing and fighting for light in the fast growing tangle.



The Field

The field also has importance as a habitat. We think the grass is unimproved and there are a multitude of different types. If anyone would like to come and survey them it would be interesting. Around the edges, the hedgerows are varied: in places they are of Gorse, in others of Blackthorn and in others they are a mixture of Hawthorn, Sallow, Holly, Hazel, Elder, Ash and Oak. On top of the hill, they have been well cut back while at the bottom the boundaries have been allowed to grow a bit. We have allowed the grass to grow on most of the field which has seen an explosion of life over the three years. The long grass has provided cover for many mice, shrews and voles which has attracted a fox and a kestrel. There are also thousands of frogs and toads, especially in the damper grass near to the stream. The top of the hill is frequented by Skylarks, with Snipe and Curlews in the winter, as well as the occasional visitor from the nearby estuary, such as Geese.


The real population explosion has been in insects. Clouds of butterflies rise up as you walk through the grass in the summer: Meadow Browns, Skippers, Small Coppers, and Blues. Spider’s webs hang between clumps of grass; beetles, grasshoppers and crickets, spiders and caterpillars are everywhere. Swallows and Martins patrol our field in preference to the surrounding fields and a variety of dragonflies hawk across it, especially on the margins of the wood and stream. Particularly numerous are Meadow Pipits that flock there and move restlessly over the grass.


The field has some wildflowers including Birdsfoot Trefoil, Restharrow, Knapweed, Mouse Ear and a few others scattered about. Although we do have plans to do some other things with parts of the field, we plan to conserve part of it as a grassland habitat, occasionally cutting or grazing it and allowing parts of it to turn to scrub. This is already happening around the edges as the hedges grow out and Brambles, Gorse and trees invade. The new woodland, orchard, gardens and other projects will remove some of this habitat but will provide new ones.


Hopefully, our management plan will enable us to increase the diversity and value to wildlife whilst still allowing us to use the land for productive and sustainable projects.


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