The woodland was one of hundreds of conifer plantations created specifically for 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.
Creating a wildlife rich woodland at Pont ar Daf
We’ve been busy improving the conservation value of Pont ar Daf since acquiring the woods in 2010, with the aim of creating a place for nature to thrive and visitors to enjoy.
A new era for Pont ar Daf
Several years on, we have harvested nearly half of the 14-hectare site, replanting as we go. Most of the planting is of natural upland species such as birch, rowan, oak and alder, with willow in the wetter flushes. These trees provide a great seed and food source as well as helping soften the woods position in the landscape. Lots of this planting work has been completed with the support of volunteers. In 2017 as part of Hay Festival’s 30th Anniversary celebrations, we planted an acre of trees at Pont ar Daf.
The remaining conifer is providing shelter to these newly planted areas whilst it continues to mature. Once mature, these trees provide an in-house resource across our properties as gates, boardwalks, building repairs, benches – all sorts really. This is also why we are replanting with some conifers to help maintain a sustainable timber source into the future.
A woodland coming alive with wildlife
Spending time in the woods doing this vital conservation work, we’ve seen a great rise in the wildlife we spot. One of the highlights would be the number of dragonflies, attracted by open water and plentiful fly population to feed on. Their increase has been such that they have attracted specialist predators such as the Hobby that catch them on the wing. Kestrels have also been taking advantage of the open felled areas and woodland fringes to spot their prey of mice and voles.
" The woodland fringe is the sprinkling of trees and shrubs that once linked woodlands with open land. We’re used to seeing hard edges to forests and woods, where livestock graze right up to fences. These unnatural straight lines aren’t good for wildlife as birds and animals prefer it when when tree cover thins gradually. That way, they get shelter from the worst of the elements, cover from predators and more open areas to display and feed. This is what we have created at Pont ar Daf, by thinning out the edges of this once commercial plantation, creating a nature-rich woodland in its place. "
There are also more of the basic things like frogs and toads breeding in the wetter areas. We’re also seeing smaller and under storey plants too with heather, bilberry and even bluebells. Most of these have been given the chance to thrive through the basics of allowing more light to the forest floor and the disturbance of the ground to give a foot hold.
Work to thin the woodland will continue over the years, softening its appearance in the landscape and ultimately create a brighter, more open and wildlife-friendly wood.
National Trust acquire the 14-hectare commercial conifer plantation
An unexpected turn for our woodland management and disease control
The wood was mostly made up of seven different species of softwood. A principal species at Pont ar Daf being larch – the only deciduous conifer in the UK, and one of the species worst hit by a fungus-like pathogen, which had been making its way across the UK. Phytophthora ramorum will eventually kill larch. It's also easily spread when the trees shed their needles in autumn. So, when the Forestry Commission issued us with a Plant Health Notice, it required us to fell the trees immediately.
Beginning to create the ride
In 2012 we begun creating the ride through the woods to allow us better access to manage Pont ar Daf. The first part of this included a traffic free pedestrian access between Storey Arms Activity Centre and Pont ar Daf car park which, now, many walkers tread to start their ascent of the soaring peaks of Pen y Fan and Corn Du. At this time, we also created a timber stacking area off the car park.