Snowdonia's wonderful woodlands

Sabine Nouvet, Ecologist Sabine Nouvet Ecologist
Sun coming through woodland in Snowdonia

Trees and woodlands offer people and wildlife a natural sanctuary. Our rangers are working hard to protect, maintain and enhance these special habitats.

From the summit of the mountains, to the banks of tumbling salmon rivers, trees and woodlands add beauty to the landscape of Snowdonia .

High up, old scattered hawthorns dot the mountainsides, or “ffridd” in Welsh; these provide valuable cover and food for birds like the Thrush and Cuckoo, and shelter for the grazing cows and sheep. 

In the valleys, old woodlands harbour hundreds of species of plants and animals, many of which are now rare in the UK, like the Pied flycatcher and Lesser horseshoe bat.

Trees under threat

The largest intact woodland in Wales is found in Snowdonia, it’s called the Meirionnydd Oakwoods, and is protected by law because of its habitats and rare species. Our Rangers spend a lot of time and funds looking after these and other important woodlands.

No matter how old or strong they look, trees are under a lot of stress. Extreme weather events, invasive species, and overgrazing threaten the long-term prospects of woodlands.

Our approach to conservation can be summed up by three terms: Bigger, Better, and More Joined Up.

Bigger woodlands

The easiest way to increase woodland cover is to fence out an area and plant it with trees, or let natural regeneration do its thing. Since the 1990s, many new woodlands have been planted, especially on the Ysbyty Estate.

Reducing grazing animal numbers can also lead to trees popping up beyond the woodland edges, like on the slopes above Beddgelert.

With effort and skill, tall saplings can also be planted amongst grazing sheep. Simply called ‘sabre planting’, this is an innovative approach developed by an observant naturalist in Snowdonia, which is now used across Wales.

Better woodlands

Invasive Rhododendrons smother the undergrowth and prevent new trees from growing. Every year, hundreds of hectares of mature woodlands are cleared of invasive Rhododendron seedlings and shrubs. In their place, heather, billberry, and young trees grow, forming the next generation of woodlands.

In Dolmelynllyn, the clean air and longevity of the woodlands are testament to the number of sensitive and rare lichens growing on old trees.

There, careful management of the woodland is aimed at keeping it airy, but shady so that the tree trunks retain their lush diversity. This is done by careful thinning around key trees and also with the help of a few gentle conservation graziers, the ranger’s highland cows.

Myfi tiptoeing through the bluebells at Ganllwyd
Highland cattle walking through the bluebells at Ganllwyd, South Snowdonia
Myfi tiptoeing through the bluebells at Ganllwyd

More joined up woodlands

Connecting woodlands helps species move around and builds resilience against climate change.

Dyffryn Mymbyr is a grassy, upland valley which currently divides two large woodlands. To transform this “barrier” into a “bridge,” our rangers, volunteers and young groups are planting 5000 trees across stream gulleys within the valley to extend the ffridd habitat.

With work like this, it’s possible to believe in a day when pine martens or even red squirrels will be able to move into and across Snowdonia successfully.

Inspiring the next generation

Get to know a beautiful woodland. Spend time in it, sitting, walking, playing. In Snowdonia, look out for paths in the Meirionnydd Oakwoods including Dolmelynllyn. Time spent in a woodland is healthy for the mind and body. 

Help from Outward Bound Trust groups staying at Ogwen Cottage to plant trees near the ranger base
Two young volunteers planting a tree sampling in amongst the heather outside our Ogwen Cottage ranger base, Snowdonia
Help from Outward Bound Trust groups staying at Ogwen Cottage to plant trees near the ranger base

How can you help?

Fancy contributing actively to conservation? Many woodlands require annual thinning of saplings and rhododendron seedlings. Get in touch to find out if we have any volunteer days organised. 

Also, remember to avoid planting Rhododendrons at home: most garden varieties have been grafted on hardy rootstocks called ‘ponticum’, which is the invasive species threatening woodlands across Snowdonia.

Rhododendron ponticum
Rhododendron ponticum
Rhododendron ponticum