Wetland haven for woodland that doesn’t like trees

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What do you do with an area of woodland that doesn’t like trees?

That was the conundrum facing Forestry Commission Wales after trees refused to grow on an area of Bwlch Cefn Llian woodland, just north of Rhayader in mid-Wales.

Attempts some time ago to re-stock about 3.5 hectares with mixed broadleaves and sitka spruce failed due to the wet conditions, so foresters came up with the perfect answer – create a wetland haven for endangered wildlife.

Forestry Commission Wales joined forces with Environment Agency Wales and Radnorshire Wildlife Trust to improve the biodiversity of the forest by blocking overgrown drainage ditches, encouraging surface water to spread across the area.

Wetlands are fast disappearing habitats but provide sanctuaries for rare insects, animals and birds such as dragonflies, otters, warblers, wagtails and snipe.

The woodland area proved the perfect location for a wetland as it could be converted with little work and lay within the River Marteg catchment area, where the Wildlife Trust is already working on several projects.

Nick Whythe, Forestry Commission Wales Local Area Manager, said, “The area was unsuitable for commercial tree planting but, through this partnership, we have been able to increase the environmental and biodiversity value of what would otherwise be an area of unproductive woodland.

“Wetlands and their associated fauna and flora are becoming rarer all the time in rural areas due to agricultural and forestry drainage, so creating this area has been immensely satisfying.”

Conversion of the site to a wetland took about a week and involved blocking about 400 metres of drains.

The work will also reduce the risk of flooding in the River Marteg by slowing the flow of rainwater into the river, as well as slowing the release of carbon from the peat in the area by blocking off the air to the surface.

Catrin Grimstead, Biodiversity Officer for Environment Agency Wales, said, “Wetlands are very special. As well as providing habitats for some of our most threatened wildlife, they act as sponges, helping to reduce the impacts of flooding and drought, and promoting healthy environments downstream.”

Darylle Hardy, Radnorshire Wildlife Trust Project Officer, said the habitat enhancement work was “an exciting new beginning” for the former wooded area that would not have been possible without this partnership.

She added, “We look forward to seeing more wildlife using the site. Already, snipe have found the newly-wetted hollows but we’re expecting to see other wetland birds, more amphibians, dragonflies, signs of otters and maybe even water voles in the future.”

Caption: The wetland created in Bwlch Cefn Llian woodland. Picture courtesy of Radnorshire Wildlife Trust.


A total of 14.3 per cent of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Government.

Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf.

Bwlch Cefn Llian woodland is part of Coed Sarnau Forest, just north of Rhayader. For more information on woods in the area, contact Nick Whythe on 0300 068 0139, mobile 07811197370.

The Radnorshire Wildlife Trust is working on several projects in the Marteg valley (Cwm Marteg) and has a reserve and visitor centre at the Gilfach, to the north-west of Rhayader, just off the A470.

More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on

Visit News at FCWales for news, images, press office contact details and links to case studies.

Press office contact: Clive Davies on 0300 068 0061, mobile 07788 190922, email