Biffa Award funding helps restore beautiful upland reserve

Llyn Fach Nature Reserve near Rhigos

Llyn Fach Nature Reserve near Rhigos

Over the last two years funding from Biffa Award has allowed WTSWW to carry out a range of vital work at Llyn Fach Nature Reserve near Rhigos, on the border of Neath Port Talbot and Rhondda Cynon Taff Local Authority boundary. Llyn Fach is a relatively new addition to our reserves list; it is owned by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and is part of the Craig y Llyn SSSI and consists of the southernmost montane lake in the British Isles. The lake is overlooked by dramatic steep cliffs and scree and is surrounded by a mosaic of marshy grassland, bog and heathland along with a 5ha area of clearfell forestry to the east which is slowly developing a similar mosaic of natural habitats. The north-western edge of the lake borders a large area of mature conifer plantation which is just outside the boundary of the reserve but is home to crossbill and other woodland species, with hunting goshawk and sparrowhawk frequently seen.

The site has suffered from a lack of management in recent years however, with conifers encroaching around the lake and high on the cliffs, willows spreading unchecked and invasive non-native species becoming established to the detriment of sensitive habitats and rare native species. With the help of a group of hard-working, dedicated volunteers and Biffa Award funding WTSWW has been tackling these issues and consequently improving conditions to allow native animals and plants to flourish. The main task during winter months has been to remove conifer regeneration which has been spreading throughout and shading out native plants and drying out marshy habitats. Our Wildlife Trust Officer for the Valleys and her volunteers have cut back large areas of young conifers with the cut material being used to create numerous habitat piles around the reserve (see picture below). These habitat piles provide nesting sites for birds such as wrens (which have already been seen in residence), small mammals and a range of invertebrates which rely on deadwood. The piles also provide hibernation sites for the palmate newts, frogs and toads which breed within the lake and the lizards which are present in the surrounding marshy grassland. Contractors were called in to tackle the large conifers up on the steep cliffs where rare plants such as Wilson’s filmy fern were at risk of being out-competed. Another non-native species present at Llyn Fach was Rhododendron; this is a plant which can rapidly come to dominate areas such as this so it was imperative to remove it and treat the stumps to prevent regeneration. We will continue to monitor the reserve to ensure any plants we missed don’t get out of hand. There are also areas of willow which needed managing before they shaded out more sensitive habitats. We have not attempted to remove all the willow however as it is a good nesting resource and also provides food for invertebrates.

Two iconic species which this work will hopefully help are nightjar and water vole. Nightjars will benefit from the heathland which will be allowed to regenerate without the threat of the spread of conifer and water voles’ marshy grassland habitat will not be dried out and shaded by conifers, willows or rhododendrons. We will monitor the reserve over coming years to assess how these species and others are reacting to habitat improvements. Other species surveying and monitoring has also been carried out over the last two years and will continue in the future. The species list has been greatly improved by surveys such as the moth trapping that is pictured below and other specialist surveys such as lichens and fungi amongst others. A number of nest boxes have also been installed to provide extra breeding habitat to some of the birds that occupy the woodland around the edge of the reserve.

So while there’s plenty more we hope to achieve at Llyn Fach in coming years, we’re really pleased with the progress so far and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of our volunteers, local experts and enthusiasts and of course funding from Biffa Award – thanks to you all!