Creating wild woods at Pont ar Daf

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At the foot of the central peaks of the Brecon Beacons in South Wales, a restoration project is underway at Pont ar Daf.

Pont ar Daf is our most recently acquired woodland and we’re now in the process of turning this commercial plantation into a more diverse and wildlife-friendly woodland.

A prominent position

Located just off the A470, where the main road linking north and south Wales stretches over the mountain range, this woodland sits at the main access point onto the central Brecon Beacons.

The woodland was one of hundreds of conifer plantations created specifically for the purpose of harvesting timber during the 20th century in the UK. Pont ar Daf was created post-Second World War and sits on the side of what was once an open hill, home to a farm, drover’s enclosure and inn, the remains of which are still visible.

Today, we’re working to make this a healthier, wildlife and visitor-friendly wood.

Disease control

But a year after we acquired Pont ar Daf, our management of the woodland took an unexpected turn.

The wood is mostly made up of seven different species of softwood. A principal species here is larch – the only deciduous conifer in the UK, and one of the species worst hit by a fungus-like pathogen, which has been making its way across the UK in recent years.

Phytophthora ramorum will eventually kill larch. It is also easily spread when the trees shed their needles in autumn. So when the Forestry Commission issued our woodland team with a Plant Health Notice, it required us to fell the trees immediately.

A new era

It’s not all bad news though, as the loss of this larch gave us an opportunity to start improvements almost straight away.

We’ve already started replanting this area with hardwoods thanks to the Forestry Commission’s grants scheme Better Woodlands for Wales, and money raised from sales of the felled timber.

We’ve also created 'rides' (wide paths cut through the woodland, so called because they’re wide enough to ride through on a tractor) so we can easily access the parts of the wood we need to work in, as well as allowing visitors to explore every corner of the woodland and get closer to the nature that’s starting to thrive there.

Work to thin the woodland will continue over the years. This will soften its appearance in the landscape and ultimately create a brighter, more open and wildlife-friendly wood.