2013 marks the 75th anniversary of the work of WTSWW in the west of its patch. This month in our series of items exploring our archive, we head back almost thirty years to a fascinating piece about habitat loss- some challenges, it seems, never leave us.

West Wales Trust of Nature Conservation Bulletin No. 37 September 1984

WWTNC logoAre We Losing Wildlife Habitat in Dyfed?

Much of the talk in nature conservation circles these days is about habitat loss. In parts of lowland England even the most unobservant must have noticed the considerable losses in recent years, but is the problem serious in Wales, even in the green and pleasant county of Dyfed? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. But Dyfed is still largely rural and full of wildlife habitat you may say. That is true compared with many parts of Britain, but the sad fact is that good wildlife habitat is persistently being nibbled away by the advances of modern agriculture and forestry in Dyfed, just as it is in other parts of the country. The only comfort is that there is still quite a bit left and it may not be too late to save at least some of it.

Pressures on the land are such that hardly any habitat is secure. Broadleaved woodlands are being cleared for agriculture or cut for firewood, marshes and bogs are being drained and cultivated, unimproved grasslands in both the lowlands and uplands are being ploughed and reseeded and much of our moorland has been afforested or converted to pasture. Modern machinery makes light of work which in earlier days might not even have been contemplated. The rate of change from a diverse to a uniform and dull countryside is so rapid that most species of wildlife cannot cope. An exaggeration you may say, but travel the highways and by-ways of Dyfed and you will soon realise the unfortunate truth. The extraordinary fact is that agriculture is still being pursued as if Britain is facing famine!

Loss of general habitat in the wider countryside is serious enough, but loss of habitat recognised as being of very special importance is even worse. In Dyfed there have been three such instances so far. In July 1982, about 7 acres of a 26 acre proposed Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) near Llangeitho (in Ceredigion) were ploughed up whilst the NCC was carrying out consultations over its designation. The area concerned was old meadowland full of orchids and the very best part of the site. In September of that year about 4 acres of another consultation period. The remainder of this 45 acre heath, grassland and marsh site fortunately remained viable and were duly designated. The Trust now has a nature reserve agreement over about 17 acres of this SSSI, known as Comins Capel Betws.

The worst incident however was the deliberate destruction of most of a 23 acre designated SSSI in the Aeron valley, again near Llangeitho. Here an alder carr was grubbed up and some botanically rich riverside pasture ploughed for reseeding. Some waterside trees and bushes were also cut down. This case is viewed with the greatest concern by the NCC and the legal aspects are being examined.

On 26 June the NCC published Nature Conservation in Britain, its contribution to the UK’s response to the Wold Conservation Strategy. This 100 page document highlights the problem of habitat loss and puts forward important proposals. A shorter 15 page summary is available and is essential reading for all who care for nature conservation. At the launch of this major NCC initiative in London, attended by the Rt Hon Patrick Jenkin, Secretary of State for the Environment, the Council’s Chairman, Mr William Wilkinson, said “we cannot agree to more land being brought into cultivation, or cultivation on the lower grades of land being intensified”. “Nature conservation needs a higher place in national priorities and a stronger claim on the nation’s resources. Yet, if the financial structures of agriculture were changed so as to be more favourable to nature conservation, in overall terms we should not be calling for more money so much as for redirecting existing expenditure”. These are glad tidings to many of us, and they get to the heart of the matter, but the great concern is that so much habitat will have been lost by the time changes in policy have been agreed in the corridors of power.