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people walking past heather heathland and moorland habitats NPT LNP

Heathland and Moorland

Marshy grassland, heathland, moorland and ffridd (coed cae)

The State of Nature in Heathland and Moorland in Neath Port Talbot

Heathland and Moorland provides habitats for almost one fifth of NPT's Priority Species, but only a small proportion of it is in good condition. Large amounts of habitat have been lost due to land use changes and neglect and, apart from the northern sector of the county, overall connectivity is poor.

 

Marshy grassland and rhos pasture in particular have suffered badly and many species that were once widespread are now very scarce. In some places invasive non-native species are a significant problem. There is insufficient data available at this time to assess the health of our surviving ffridd habitats, but much has been lost to forestry plantation.

 

In view of these issues the resilience and state of nature of heathland and moorland in NPT has been assessed as poor.

OVERVIEW

This broad habitat category consists of marshy grassland, acid grassland/ heathland and moorland and ffridd (coed cae).

 

The upland landscape of NPT has changed significantly over the last 70 years. Much of the moorland and heath that was once extensive there has been planted with conifers and other parts have been converted to improved grazing land. However, some significant areas of moorland remain, particularly in the northern sector of the county, e.g. Gwrhyd, Sarn Helen. These habitats are often dominated by Purple Moor-grass, Sheep’s Fescue and other calcifuge grasses/ sedges with areas of dwarf shrub heath containing Heather and Bilberry. Petty Whin and Dyer’s Greenweed still survive in a few places and wetter areas often contain colourful swards of Bog Asphodel.

 

Marshy grassland (including rhos pasture) is an important specific habitat in this category which can support unique and diverse communities of plants with Devil’s-bit Scabious, Saw-wort, Meadow Thistle, Heath Spotted-orchid, Whorled Caraway, Ivy-leaved Bellflower and Bog Pimpernel. A few marshy grasslands in the northern sector have Marsh Fritillary meta-populations. Where there is base-rich flushing, these habitats may also contain Butterwort, Marsh Valerian and Fen Bedstraw, which are all scarce species in NPT.

 

Ffridd habitats have largely been planted with conifer plantations. They are important for bird species such as Cuckoo where they exist and invertebrates such as Dark Green Fritillary.

Heathland and moorland fauna of conservation importance in NPT include Brown Hare, Skylark, Linnet, Cuckoo, Adder, Grass Snake, Hornet Robber-fly and a number of bees such as the Moss Carder Bee.

 

The resilience of heathland and moorland in NPT is under pressure from lack of appropriate management, broken connectivity and invasive non-native species, e.g. Rhododendron, Sitka Spruce.

Heathland and Moorland Habitats in NPT (c) NPTC / NPT LNP
people walking past heather heathland and moorland habitats NPT

Actions for the recovery of
Heathland and Moorland habitats in NPT

Responsibility for these actions lie with all of us and as such, we have not sought to assign actions to particular organisations or groups. Instead, it is our hope that this document will provide the guidance and inspiration for anybody, or any group or organisation, to undertake the actions that are within their capability to deliver. The Secretariat of NPT LNP (NPT Council) are providing a facilitation role to support, collate and monitor work towards these actions. If you would like to discuss your potential involvement in delivery of these actions, please get in touch with biodiversity@npt.gov.uk.

Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia Richard Smith Species Heathland and moorland NPT LNP
Wahlenbergia hederacea Upper Melncwrt Valley 10e Charles Hipkin Ivy Leaved Bellflower NPT LNP
Adders RR NPT LNP Heathland and Moorland Species

MARSH FRITILLARY

The Marsh Fritillary butterfly has undergone a significant decline in numbers in Wales and this picture is reflected in the dramatic loss of populations from NPT over the last 50 years. Its favoured habitat in the county is marshy grassland or rhos pasture with Devil's-bit Scabious, which the caterpillars feed on, and plants that provide nectar for flying adults, e.g. Meadow Thistle. Loss of appropriate habitat followed by broken meta-population connectivity have probably played a major role in the decline.

IVY LEAVED BELLFLOWER

Due to the large losses of its native habitats which have occurred in the last 100 years, Ivy-Leaved Bellflower is an endangered species of some concern. In NPT, it is found in a few unimproved marshy grassland and heathland habitats but also in humid banks above streams and ditches in conifer plantations where it is protected from intense grazing. The plight and conservation of this charming species has been ignored in Wales while it has continued to shrink in its abundance due to habitat loss. Populations in NPT require careful consideration and management.

ADDER

The Adder is the only venomous snake in the UK but is not an aggressive species. Adders are mostly found in areas of rough countryside with edge habitats. They are variable in colour but always have a distinctive dark zig-zag down the spine. The best way to find them is to move slowly along the edge of a path through bracken but even then you will need to be very quiet and have a keen eye to spot them. Adders unfortunately still suffer from some persecution in NPT.

Heathland and Moorland Projects in NPT

CASE STUDY

Monitoring and conservation management of Marsh Fritillary in NPT

Historical records indicate that the Marsh Fritillary was widespread in NPT 50 years ago, with colonies scattered in both the northern and southern sectors of the county. At that time, species-rich marshy grasslands with Devil's-bit Scabious, Meadow Thistle, Heath Spotted-orchid and other significant species were more common in our landscape than today.

 

The Marsh Fritillary has a limited dispersal ability and requires a network of connected habitats and colonies that allow some interchange between otherwise discrete colonies. At any one time within this meta-population network some habitats may not be occupied, but their presence and potential for colonisation is nevertheless a major factor in Marsh Fritillary meta-population dynamics. The significant losses of marshy grassland habitat that have occurred in Neath Port Talbot in the last 50 years have not only removed breeding grounds for this colourful butterfly but have also broken the habitat connectivity that is crucial for dispersal and meta-population maintenance. The availability of suitable marshy grasslands in an appropriately connected landscape is key to the success and conservation of the Marsh Fritillary in NPT.

 

Under the leadership of Butterfly Conservation and a dedicated group of organised volunteers, a large amount of effort has been put into finding, surveying and monitoring Marsh Fritillary sites in NPT and neighbouring areas of Carmarthenshire. It has become clear that the Marsh Fritillary is largely, if not entirely, confined to the Dulais and Amman Valleys, in the northern sector of the county. Each year known and potential breeding sites in these areas are monitored for the presence of larval webs and their condition is assessed. Butterfly Conservation have also worked in partnership with Natural Resources Wales to reclaim and manage marshy grassland suitable for Marsh Fritillary in the Dulais Valley, on NRW owned land previously planted with Sitka Spruce or intensively grazed. An important part of the conservation management strategy throughout has been the organisation of sympathetic grazing regimes to keep habitats in a condition favourable for Marsh Fritillary. At present we have 7 occupied Marsh Fritillary sites in NPT as well as a number of suitable sites that have not been colonised. There are strong populations in the Dulais Valley in the vicinity of Blaendulais but the largest populations are found in the Amman Valley and particularly near Tairgwaith and Cwmgors. Connectivity analysis reveals that these habitats are parts of larger, complex meta-population networks that reside mainly in Dyfed and Powys.

Marsh Fritillary Larval Web Tairgwaith NPT LNP
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