Meirionnydd Oakwoods, Gwynedd

Deep in the heart of the ancient Kingdom of Meirionnydd, large remnants of oak woodland hug the valley sides. Shrouded in mists and revelling in a metre of rain each year, the surface of every tree and rock in this temperate rainforest is cloaked with mosses, liverworts and lichens. This is a world of miniature wonders.

As well as the wet, mild climate, the diversity of lichens and bryophytes is helped by the wide range of trees growing here. Some prefer the acidic bark of oak, birch and alder, while others grow on the less acidic bark of ash, hazel and sycamore. Of global significance, these woodlands are recognised as an Important Plant Area.

But the way these woodlands are managed has changed. In the past, they provided food and shelter for livestock, as well as a source of wood for fuel and timber. But many are now fenced off and left untouched. As a result, they become overgrown with brambles and crowded with thickets of saplings, holly and invasive Rhododendron, while veteran trees become clothed with ivy. Without sufficient light, even lichens and bryophytes die.

Working with a wide range of partners, we’re tackling these issues in some very novel ways. The aim is to bring in more light to the woodland so that veteran trees can support their precious cargo of lichens and bryophytes, and manage the habitat carefully to ensure that selected younger trees can go on to be the veterans of the future.

Our goals:

- Map in detail where the rarest and most threatened lichen are growing, so we know which individual trees support them

- Selectively clear the densest areas of sapling growth, allowing light back down to the woodland floor

- Fell individual trees to create open rides and glades, letting more light in below the canopy

- Control the growth of invasive non-native Rhododendron

- Reintroduce cattle grazing to carefully control undergrowth and tree regeneration.

Under threat:

Tree Lungwort (Lobaria pulmonaria)

A spectacular, large and leafy lichen, this species can clothe trunks and branches with its shaggy, hanging lobes. The distinctive network of ridges give it a lung-like appearance, hence the name. Although scarce and declining, this remains the most frequent lungwort lichen in Wales. It is very sensitive to changes in woodland structure and woodland management, and to atmospheric pollution. Photo © Trevor Dines/Plantlife.

Black-eyed Susan (Bunodophoron melanocarpum)

This beautiful lichen produces whitish-grey coral-like branches arranged in tiers on the surface of trees and rocks. When fruiting, thicker, more upright branches appear, each of which curves over at it tip and carries a single mass of black spores. Often you only see these ‘black-eyes’ when you crouch down and peer up at the lichen from below. Photo © Trevor Dines/Plantlife.

Blobby Jelly-skin Lichen (Leptogium brebissonii)

This lichen swells up when wet and shrinks when dry. When wet it looks like a small olive green lump of jelly, as the name suggests. When dry, its distinctive ridged and folded growth can be seen. It is a very rare lichen, only known from one or two sites in Wales, both in Meirionnydd, which are also the only UK sites south of the Scottish Highlands. Photo © Anna Griffith.

How's it going?

2013

With funding from the Ashley Family Foundation and the then Countryside Council for Wales, work is undertaken at Dolmelynllyn to thin dense tree regeneration and repair fences at two other sites to facilitate the reintroduction of controlled grazing.

Local land managers and advisors receive training on how to look after their woodlands and rare lichens.

2014

Following funding from Natural Resources Wales, a number of woodlands are surveyed in detail, including Dolmelynllyn, Coed Crafnant and Coed Felinrhyd.

Management work is undertaken to thin a plantation of ash trees at Dolmelynllyn where rare lichens, including the rare Blobby Jelly-skin Lichen are colonising.

More local land managers and advisors receive training on how to look after their woodlands and rare lichens.

2015

After 18 months of surveying an area of woodland equivalent to 1000 football pitches, the richness of these sites is revealed. Discoveries include a barnacle lichen that’s never been seen in Wales, a species of felt lichen last seen in the 1800s and a species of tree flute thought to be extinct in England and Wales.

Training and demonstration continues with local land managers and advisors learning how to look after woodlands for their rare lichens and bryophytes.

Management work is extended to other sites, including thinning of dense tree regeneration at Coed Garth Gell and Coed Crafnant.

A small herd of Highland Cattle (from Geraint and Eleri Hughes) are introduced to the woodland at Dolmelynllyn. They do an excellent job of grazing bramble and ash tree saplings, which would otherwise shade out the ground flora.

2016

With the help of the National Trust and Geraint and Eleri Hughes, careful grazing with Highland Cattle continues and livestock are moved regularly into different areas of the woodland. As a result, the cattle keep in good condition and have a remarkable positive impact on the woodland.

In the autumn a very important tree at Dolmelynllyn, a large veteran ash tree covered in rare lichens, sadly blows down in a gale. We translocate a good number of lichens from this tree to others in the wood, with help from National Trust, Natural Resources Wales and expert lichenologist Ray Woods.

Who are we working with?

The National Trust (landowner)

Natural Resources Wales

RSPB (landowner)

The Woodland Trust (landowner)

The North Wales Wildlife Trust (landowner)

Snowdonia National Park Authority (landowner)

Private landowners and farmers


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