Cae Blaen-dyffryn

Location: near Lampeter, Carmarthenshire

Grid Reference: SN 605 443

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On a ridge above Lampeter, Cae Blaen-dyffryn is a remnant of the flower-rich grassland once abundant in Wales.

Visitors can marvel at butterfly-orchids and waxcap fungi, and spot the elusive moonwort fern.

Cae Blaen-dyffryn is a single large field – Cae means field in Welsh – sloping upwards, gently at first and then more steeply before levelling off at 340m above sea level.

The upper slopes are dry grassland, with typical species like red clover, common knapweed, common bird’s-foot-trefoil, and cat’s-ear. Drainage is poorer lower down, where a mire community characterised by big tussocks of purple moor-grass also includes ragged-robin, marsh thistle and common valerian.

Ups and downs

Each year, Plantlife Cymru volunteers survey the key species on the reserve. This is one of the few places where the very similar lesser (pictured opposite) and greater butterfly-orchids can be compared and contrasted. A clue is to look at the pollen sacs, or pollinia, in the flowers: these are parallel in the lesser but diverge like an upturned V in the greater butterfly-orchid. Numbers vary, but the lesser is generally commoner than the marginally taller greater species. Together more than 5,000 flower spikes have been counted in some years, the largest mixed population of these orchids in Wales.

Much more difficult to spot is the delicate moonwort fern, just two or three inches tall with two fronds (compound leaves): a lobed, vegetative frond forms a protective shield around the nobbly, spore-producing fertile frond. Its location in the reserve was unknown until a chance rediscovery in 2005. Since then numbers have fluctuated from a high of 18 in 2009 to none in 2010. Sharp eyes and a hands-and-knees search are needed to find them.

This is one of the few Plantlife reserves where fungi are recorded as a special feature, with five species of waxcap, best seen on the reserve from September to November. Pink waxcap is uncommon and only grows on grasslands not affected by modern agriculture.

In total, more than 160 flowering plant species have been recorded on the reserve, which is managed by light cattle-grazing to stop taller, fast-growing species overwhelming the more delicate grassland specialities.

Purchase of the reserve was made possible by Unilever (Timotei).