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Upper Conwy catchment project

A view of a river surrounded by moorland and trees on a sunny day at Cwm Penmachno, with a distant view of the mountains in the background
The river at Cwm Penmachno | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

The Upper Conwy catchment covers an area of landscape over 336km² and is home to a vast range of habitats – from blanket bog, moorland and woodland to lush lowland farms, meadows and estuaries. Connecting these habitats are rivers, and we’re working with partners on a project to tackle the effects of climate change and reduce flooding in the area, for the benefit of nature, wildlife and people.

What is the Upper Conwy catchment project?

The Upper Conwy catchment project aims to tackle the effects of climate change and the loss of nature in the Conwy catchment area, for the benefit of people and nature.

Covering the size of the Isle of Wight, the catchment covers three per cent of the area of Wales, which includes 19 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), three Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and one Special Protection Area (SPA).

Increased extreme flooding, poorer water quality and loss of wildlife suggests that nature isn’t in the condition it should be, with many valuable habitats in need of restoration. Consequently, the environment is less adaptable to the extreme weather events that come with climate change.

What we’re doing to help

Working with local communities, organisations, landowners and tenants, we’re creating better, more joined up habitats, rich in wildlife and resilient to the effects of climate change.

While our work is focussed in Upper Conwy, we hope to have positive impacts downstream and beyond the Conwy catchment. Find out more about how we’re achieving our goals in this video about the project.

A view across the moorland at Cwm Penmachno with a hill in the distance and low clouds in the sky
A view across the moorland at Cwm Penmachno | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

How we’re restoring peatland

A healthy bog is one way of helping to retain water near its source. Y Migneint moor is a good example of this – the rainfall entering Y Migneint is filtered through the sphagnum mosses in the bog, which act like a sponge to slow the flow of the water.

Y Migneint is much wetter today than it was a decade ago, thanks to over 35,000 new dams and over 300km of blocked drainage ditches. In turn, this has helped to restore a precious habitat, improving its ability to store carbon and alleviate flooding downstream, and a wetter bog also helps reduce risk of wildfires and drought.

Combined, this makes Y Migneint a haven for the increasingly rare hen harriers, golden plovers and curlews.

Planting more trees

Historic tree cover has diminished in the catchment like many other parts of the country, and the project is addressing this by planting more trees. We’re doing this in a way that complements land uses by planting the right tree in the right place.

In Dyffryn Mymbyr near Capel Curig, the wettest place in Wales, we’re in the process of planting thousands of trees in this vast landscape along rivers and streams, and scattered along the hillside. As well as helping to reduce the flow of water, it will improve the ffridd habitat and provide a valuable wildlife corridor connecting the wooded landscapes of Nantgwynant and Capel Curig.

River restoration

One of the priorities of the project is restoring the rivers within the catchment, which includes 12 waterbodies over 574km².

We’ve recently restored part of Afon Machno at Carrog Farm to allow natural processes by removing an artificial embankment. This has helped reconnect the river with its natural flood plain, making more space for water and nature which helps alleviate flooding downstream.

We’re now applying techniques we trialled at Carrog Farm to other sites within the catchment including Nant y Gwryd, a river flanked by Wales’ highest peak, Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon).

A sweeping view of green fields in the valley at Cwm Penmachno with some buildings visible in the valley and a sloping hill up the mountainside, with low-hanging clouds and a dark mountain in the background
A view across Cwm Penmachno | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Tir Afon: a boost for wellbeing and nature

Another strand of the Upper Conwy project is Tir Afon, a project that aims to better connect communities in the Conwy valley with their landscape. With a strong focus on wellbeing, the project will create opportunities for people to connect with nature and explore the outdoor environment on their doorstep.

As part of the National Exercise Referral Scheme and in partnership with local health care providers, Tir Afon will provide more access to the outdoors for exercise. Electric bikes will be available to make cycling accessible for all, while guided walks will be offered to help people explore.

‘The exercise referral scheme has had such a positive impact that we’re really pleased to see the principle extended to the great outdoors. We’re excited to be part of this project to improve access to physical activity in rural Conwy – reconnecting people and nature.’

– Cllr Louise Emery, Conwy County Borough Council

Timeline of the project

24 Jan 2022

Foel comes into the care of National Trust Cymru

Hundreds of acres of hillside in the slate landscape of Snowdonia have been brought into National Trust Cymru’s care to bolster wildlife populations, tackle climate change, and increase interest in the area’s mining history. 

The area is located at the head of the Conwy Catchment, where we’ve been working with Natural Resources Wales for over a decade to slow the flow of water to reduce risk of flooding and create rich habitats to tackle climate change. This remote 1,600-acre site plays a significant role in continuing this work on a landscape scale for the benefit of people and nature.

Walker taking in the sweeping view of the valley at Cwm Penmachno, with moorland and mountains visible beneath patchy sunlight and low-hanging clouds
A walker enjoying the view of the valley at Cwm Penmachno | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Partners and funders

The restoration and conservation of this special landscape has been made possible thanks to a grant from Natural Resources Wales and a donation from philanthropists Roger and Ania Manser.

Ranger in National Trust fleece inspecting white blossom on tree in orchard

For everyone, for ever

We protect and care for places so people and nature can thrive. Find out who we are and what we stand for.

Our partners

Natural Resources Wales

Natural Resources Wales works with the Welsh Government, ensuring the environment and natural resources of Wales are sustainably maintained.

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