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Bluebells Scwd Gwladys (c) Charles Hipkin Woodland NPT LNP

Woodland

Oak woodland, wet alder/ willow woodland, riparian corridor woodland, plantation, scrub, hedgerow

The State of Nature of Woodland in Neath Port Talbot

Woodland and hedgerows provide habitats for almost 40% of the priority species in NPT. Their value for biodiversity is enormous. Fortunately, there have been few major changes in the diversity, extent and connectivity of this habitat in the county in the last 20 years and the large area of woodland represented is particularly significant. However, there are important concerns about the occurrence of INNS such as Rhododendron in some woodland habitats, which precludes an assessment of excellent. Accordingly, the resilience and state of nature in woodland in NPT has been assessed as good.

OVERVIEW

Woodland accounts for 40% of the land area of NPT making it one the most wooded counties in Wales. Most of this is conifer plantation, but a considerable amount of ancient deciduous woodland survives, particularly in the Vale of Neath. Significantly, over a third of NPT's Priority Species occur in its woodland.

Conifer forests have a poor diversity of flowering plants but some mature Sitka Spruce coupes have a luxuriant bryophyte ground flora of species normally associated with upland oak woodland. In addition, many species of birds have benefitted greatly from conifer plantations in NPT. Clear-felled and pre-thicket areas provide breeding habitat for Tree Pipit and Nightjar while mature conifer forests support breeding populations of Common Crossbill, Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Goshawk and Honey Buzzard.

 

In contrast, the wooded corridors along the main river systems often support a diverse flora with Wych Elm, Small-leaved Lime, Ash, Alder, Sycamore and Hazel and colourful vernal, ground floras populated by lots of ancient woodland indicator species such as Bluebell, Primrose, Wood Anemone, Yellow Archangel, Sanicle, Toothwort, Pignut and Ramsons. Cwm Du Wood near Pontardawe and much of the riparian corridor between Aberdulais and Glynneath provide good examples. In the Vale of Neath, Meadow Saxifrage occurs along the shaded riverside edges of these woods where it was known back in the early 19th Century.

Sessile Oak woodland with Holly and Rowan predominate on the steeper sides of the Neath, Afan and upper Tawe Valleys. Good examples in the Neath Valley can be seen above Baglan, Tonna, Cadoxton and Cilfrew. Although these woodlands support a less diverse ground flora than those along the rivers, they provide important habitats for woodland mammals (e.g. Badger), birds (e.g. Wood Warbler) and invertebrates. Of particular note is the remarkable discovery of a Blue Ground Beetle population in Maesmelin Wood and more recently in some other Sessile Oak woodlands in the vicinity. Nationally important assemblages of Atlantic bryophytes are found in the woodlands, waterfall areas and ravines in the Pyrddin and Nedd Fechan Valleys, parts of which are in NPT. Upland, valley oak woodlands in the vicinity also provide habitats for the few Pied Flycatchers that still breed in the county. The steep, wooded ravine of the Melincwrt Valley supports ancient Sessile-oak Woodland with a rich flora of lower plants, which includes a small population of Tunbridge Filmy-fern.

 

Ancient species-rich hedges occur throughout NPT, typically on raised banks along old parish lanes. Good examples can be seen along the Bwlch Road between Cimla and Cwmafan, along Fairyland Hill between Llantwit and Mosshouse Reservoir and in numerous places in the northern sector of the county, e.g. Cilebebyll, Godre’r graig, Rhyd y Fro and along the Gwrhyd Road. They form an important connectivity network for wooded habitats in the county.

Woodland Habitats in NPT (c) NPT LNP / NPTC
Bluebells Scwd Gwladys Charles Hipkin NPT LNO

Actions for the recovery of
Woodland 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.

european-pied-flycatcher-gd11a33f9b_1920 from pixabay, royalty free
Charles Hipkin fungi woodland habitats
NPT Blue Ground Beetle Vaughn Matthews Wales

PIED FLYCATCHER

The Pied Flycatcher is an iconic bird of Sessile Oak Woodlands in western Britain. It was once a frequent summer breeder in NPT but numbers have declined drastically in recent decades and our records indicate that very few Pied Flycatchers breed in the county at present. The exact reason for the recent decline is not understood since there are suitable woodland habitats in the county. The species may be retracting its range northwards in response to climate change.

WOODLAND FUNGI

Woodlands are important habitats for fungi and local conifer forests support a large diversity of these fascinating organisms. More than 130 species of macrofungi have been found in Sitka Spruce forests in NPT and Beech woods, such as those in Briton Ferry Woods and Glyncastle Forest, often contain diverse communities.

BLUE GROUND BEETLE

The Blue Ground Beetle has declined dramatically in Britain over the last 100 years, but it seems to have a stronghold in South Wales. The recent discovery of this striking beetle in Maesmelin Woods and a few other oak woodlands in the Neath Valley is a significant success story for biodiversity in NPT. It seems likely that more populations of this beetle will be discovered in the county.

Woodland Projects in NPT

CASE STUDY

Biodiversity in the Welsh Government Woodland Estate (WGWE)

The Biodiversity in the WGWE project grew out of a webinar given by Dr Charles Hipkin, which highlighted that the plantation landscape has largely been neglected by species recorders. The biodiversity of these plantations, which contain large areas of open, species-rich, non-forest habitats, is currently managed in accordance with the best evidence available. However, this is largely dependent on and limited by habitat and species surveys by specialist recorders, which needs to increase.

The aim of this project was to draw links between Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the array of local experts in NPT and Rhondda Cynon Taff and, although the relationship between the land management sections of NRW and the project are still being forged, the contacts made during the project have helped to build a strong, collaborative foundation in Welsh best practice and sustainable management of the WGWE. The project had a wide reach through a well-received webinar on the Distribution and Dynamic of Biodiversity in the WGWE which was joined by over 200 people from a range of sectors and counties.
 

The project identified key areas of habitat within the WGWE including willow scrub supporting important epiphytic, hyperoceanic bryophyte and lichen communities, remnant broadleaved woodland, biodiverse roadside verges and deep peat. The importance of the WGWE in supporting key indicator and priority species such as Ivy-leaved Bellflower, Alpine Clubmoss, Stag’s-horn Clubmoss and Fir Clubmoss was also highlighted.

 

Closing remarks in the webinar (reproduced below) sum up some of the outcomes from the project:

'Although this was a brief, pilot-scale project, it has delivered on lots of important outcomes. Not least among these has been the assessment of what we know about biodiversity in the WGWE and, equally, where the gaps in our knowledge are. Given the extent of the coniferised WGWE in counties like NPT and Rhondda Cynon Taff, it is clearly of great importance to make these assessments and fill in the gaps. Furthermore, the project has brought to the attention of lots of people, the role of the WGWE as a refuge for species that are declining in the South Wales bio-landscape and/or at the edge of their biogeographical range. More detail is required going forward.’

Dr Charles Hipkin, Chair of the NPT Local Nature Partnership

Swansea Bay from Cregan NPT LNP
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