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Made of some of the oldest exposed rocks in Southern Britain, Stanner Rocks, near New Radnor, is a distinctive rounded hill clothed in part by woodland of native trees and pockets of important grassland.
It is the only location in Britain where the obscure winter-flowering Radnor Lily has been found, with its very occasional small yellow blooms, along with several other rare species including mosses. They flourish on the relatively arid rocky outcrops and thin soils that create a marginally suitable environment for a selection of wild plants that more typically would grow in northern Mediterranean regions.
Sites like Stanner Rocks deserve special treatment – and that’s just what the management plan devised by Forestry Commission Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales has been delivering.
Because Stanner Rocks is home to a number of rare plants and wildlife that demand plenty of light to thrive, the management plan identified the need to fell blocks of non-native trees and to manage the undergrowth in order to encourage these species to flourish. So a lot of shade was removed from the hill top, thus providing new areas for some rarities to spread.
Selected groups of beech, pine, red oak and larch trees have been felled and flocks of Herdwick sheep, Welsh Mountain sheep and Welsh Mountain ponies have been brought in to graze two separated areas of the hill to help manage the more rampant vegetation.
In providing suitable conditions for the variety of uncommon native flora and fauna to thrive, Stanner Rocks also finds it is home to the Hazel Dormouse – a European Protected Species, and the Southern Wood Ant, for instance.
The dormouse’s woodland habitat, particularly food and shelter, is provided by plants such as hazel, bramble and honeysuckle that flourish here where there is sufficient light.
The felling of some heavily shading trees has allowed light to reach towards the woodland floor, such that hazel nuts and blackberries can ripen for food.
Felling and removing trees at such a sensitive site is not without problems. For example, the risk of disturbing dormice or wood ant nests has to be firmly addressed, however on the wooded slopes brambles grow quickly and tend to smother the brash – the branches and tree tops left behind after trees have been felled – providing an excellent food resource and aerial routes for the shy dormouse.
Nick Whythe, Local Area Manager for Forestry Commission Wales, explains, “We needed to remove the brash on the hill top to encourage the spread of rare plant species in the open, but leave the brash on parts of the site’s steep wooded slopes for the benefit for dormice.
“We therefore came up with the idea of pulling the brash into small heaps at the top to give enough space to encourage plants to grow on the exposed rocky outcrops that provide an excellent habitat for some of these rare plants.”
Stanner Rocks has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and it is home to a National Nature Reserve (NNR) managed by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW).
The opportunities now for some of the rare species to thrive and expand their range excites Andrew Ferguson, CCW’s Senior Reserve Manager for Stanner Rocks.
He said, “Not only is this good news for many of the special wildlife features of this site, it also provides an outstanding viewpoint for the public from the top of the hill. Walkers can freely access the top via public footpaths that lead from the A44 trunk road without entering very sensitive and potentially hazardous parts of the NNR.
In order to protect the rare and delicate plants, the NNR beyond the levels parts of the quarry floor and below the top of the hill is not open to the public. Access within the NNR should be arranged in advance through the Countryside Council for Wales Enquiries desk: 0845 1306 229.
NOTES TO EDITORS
Forestry Commission Wales
About 14% of Wales is covered by woodlands. Of this, 38% (126,000 hectares/311,000 acres) is owned by the Welsh Assembly Government.
Forestry Commission Wales is the Welsh Assembly Government’s department of forestry and manages these woodlands on its behalf.
Forestry Commission Wales provides advice on forestry policy to the Minister responsible for forestry. It provides grant aid to the private sector and regulates forestry by issuing felling licences.
Forestry Commission Wales is also part of Forestry Commission GB and contributes to the international forestry agenda.
More information on the woodlands of Wales is available on www.forestry.gov.uk/wales
Press office contact: Clive Davies, firstname.lastname@example.org, 0300 068 0061.
The Countryside Council for Wales
The Countryside Council for Wales is an Assembly Government Sponsored Body, working for a better Wales where everyone values and cares for our natural environment www.ccw.gov.uk.
Press office Contact: Brân Devey, email@example.com, 02920 77 2403.