Guest post by Rhys Evans, Policy Officer, RSPB Cymru

Work is underway in Wales to restore an endangered section of our countryside - the Celtic rainforest.

The Celtic Rainforests are regarded as the ‘temperate rainforests’ of Europe, owing to their open woodland structure, mild and humid conditions, and rich plant assemblages. These wet and humid forests - typically dominated by sessile oak, downy birch, ash and hazel, in an area crisscrossed by tumbling streams and waterfalls - provides us with a host of benefits. These include providing a home for rare and wonderful wildlife, protection against flooding, improving our air and water quality and important social and economic benefits for local communities.

Image: www.rspb-images.com

However, the conservation status of this important habitat is currently unfavourable. The open structure of the rainforests traditionally allowed mosses and liverworts to thrive, but the invasion of non-native plant species, especially the shrub Rhododendron ponticum, which alters light and soil conditions, outcompetes native flora and suppresses regeneration, has threatened the biodiversity of the woodlands.

Among the other threats are over- or under-grazing, a lack of management, and atmospheric nitrogen pollution. The decline has put stress on precious flora, especially lichens and tree lungwort, birds including the pied flycatcher, redstart and wood warbler, and mammals including the lesser horseshoe bat, otter and dormouse.

The Celtic Rainforest Project, which is a partnership involving Snowdonia National Park Authority, RSPB Cymru, Natural Resources Wales, Welsh Water/ Dŵr Cymru, the Woodland Trust and the National Trust, will see almost £7.5m invested on restoring this iconic Welsh habitat. Work will involve eradicating invasive non-native species such as Rhododendron ponticum, and woodland restoration to replace conifers and non-native broadleaf trees.

Image: Andy Hay www.rspb-images.com

We will also be working with local land owners to develop active woodland management such as grazing to improve habitats, resilience and ecosystem functions, supported by local partnerships. The project work across 5 SACs (Special Areas for Conservation) and covers over 65% of the Celtic Rainforest resource in Wales.

The project also seeks to build awareness and increase the cultural, wildlife and natural capital value of the Celtic rainforests within local communities and beyond for the benefit of future generations.

Katie-Jo Luxton, the 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. 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.” It has provided a fantastic opportunity to work closely with a wide range of partners to deliver benefits for nature on a landscape scale.

The project will run until June 2025 and the Welsh Government has guaranteed funding will continue regardless of the UK's relationship with the EU after Brexit.

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