Working towards a cleaner, healthier catchment

Project
Llyn Serw with yellow lilies on the Migneint, Snowdonia

The Upper Conwy Catchment Project

The entire Conwy catchment covers over 574 km2 - an area the size of the Isle of Man. Rivers travel the entire length of the landscape connecting habitats and homes with the source of water up on the Migneint to the sea at Conwy.

While our work is focussed in the Upper Conwy, we hope to have positive impacts downstream and across the entire Conwy Catchment, as shown in the map below. 

Conwy Catchment
Map illustrating Conwy Catchment project boundaries in North Wales
Conwy Catchment

Slowing the flow

As extreme flooding events become a regular feature in our lives, the need to slow the flow has never been more apparent. The frequency of flooding events may also be a symptom of the fact that the state of nature isn’t what is should be. Many valuable habitats are fragmented and in poor condition. Consequently, some of the wildlife relying on these habitats is also struggling and the environment is less adaptable to the increase in harsher, more extreme weather events that come with climate change.

Floods at Capel Curig, Snowdonia
Floods along a river at Capel Curig, Snowdonia
Floods at Capel Curig, Snowdonia

Tackling the problem, at its source

By working with local communities, organisations, landowners, and tenants we can create better, more joined up habitats, rich in wildlife and resilient to the future we face. 

The focus of our work will take place in the Upper Conwy, home to the start of 7 main tributaries along with one of our largest estates in Wales, the Ysbyty Ifan estate. This estate includes 51 hill farms and 8,000 hectares of high, wild open moorland and blanket bog on the Migneint. 

There’s more to bog that meets the eye

Cotton grass on the blanket bogs of the Migneint in Snowdonia
White fluffy cotton grass signifies blanket bog at the Migneint, Snowdonia
Cotton grass on the blanket bogs of the Migneint in Snowdonia
" Blanket bog is rarer than the rainforest and more effective per acre in storing carbon than the Amazon - incredibly 4% of the entire globe’s deepest and most effective peatland, the blanket bog is in Wales. "
- Dewi Davies, Upper Conwy Catchment Project Manager

A healthy bog is one way of helping to stem the flow of water near its source. Rainfall entering the Migneint gets cleaned and filtered through the sphagnum mosses in the bog, which act a bit like a sponge and slow the pace of the water down.

The Migneint is much wetter today than it may have been some 6 years ago. This is thanks to 30,000 dams being built and 300km of drainage ditches being blocked, which has helped restore this precious habitat, improving its ability to store carbon and alleviate flooding downstream.  There’s still a long way to go and we can’t rely on one habitat to do all the work.

Identifying opportunities downstream

Certain natural features are known to help alleviate flooding. For example, one study found that wooded riverbanks helped increase the intake of water into the soil and keep it in the soil for longer.

" What we found was that soil infiltration rates were 67 times faster and surface runoff volumes were reduced by 78 per cent under trees compared with grassland. "
- Dr Miles Marshall, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Bangor

In Dyffryn Mymbyr near Capel Curig, the wettest place in Wales, we’re in the process of planting 5,000 trees along the ravines. As well as helping to reduce the flow of water, it will improve the ffridd habitat and provide a valuable wildlife corridor connecting woodlands in Nantgwynant and Capel Curig.

Trialling a new approach

If we can better understand how these natural features help reduce the risk of flooding, we may be able to inform a new way of thinking that benefits people and wildlife. We’re looking into the possibility of trialling a new kind of payment scheme for farmers, based on the costs they could help avoid.

Each year, flooding events cost millions of pounds, if we can divert some of that money towards natural flood prevention and improving water quality, the benefits may include:

  • Creating a healthier, beautiful, more resilient landscape which people can enjoy
  • Supporting farms to diversify and receive credit for helping to maintain a healthy landscape
  • Our communities will experience fewer severe flooding events
  • With time, savings made on flood prevention and response will free up public funds for other priorities
  • Reduced costs of water treatment could mean lower bills for customers

If you’d like more information, or would like to get involved contact us