We had a reassuring meeting with representatives of Natural Resource Wales yesterday regarding the proposed felling of the Larch trees in the forest around Tongwynlais. They are NOT going to clear all the forest and there are plans for regrowth.
The Welsh Government has said that all Larch trees in Wales have to be felled and NRW have been given until 2020 to carry out the work. Larch make up 15% of all the trees in Wales, with 6million to be felled, and are about 50% of the trees in the affected areas* of Fforest Fawr in Tongwynlais. Larch is not a native tree to the UK and all Larch trees in the country have been killed by, are dying from or are expected to die from, Larch disease (Phytophthora ramorum). The disease dies with the tree and although the Larch could be left to die, the Welsh Government have decided that this is not an option as it would prolong the breeding opportunity for the pathogen and dead trees will fall eventually and be a danger to users of the forests.
NRW looked at a number of options including closing the forest for a considerable length of time while the trees were felled, but they want people to continue to enjoy the forest. To minimise restrictions to the public, they will be felling the Larch in two phases, with the first phase starting in September 2018. There is only one small area that will be clear felled, with all the trees removed, as in most of the forest the Larch are interspersed with other species. Over the next twelve months, NRW will be planning how to extract the Larch without, where practicable, damaging the broad leaved native trees such as Birch, Oak, Beech etc. We are assured that even though half the trees will be felled, it will still feel like a wood, albeit with more space between the remaining trees.
Without the Larch, the remaining trees will have more light, as will the ground cover, and this will give them more opportunity to grow. With some of the Beech, it may even give them the opportunity to grow, eventually, to the size of some of the massive Beech trees around Castell Coch.
Preparatory works will be carried out soon, to widen and raise the clear space on the top road in Fforest Fawr, ready for the mechanical plant and trees next year. In early 2018, the quality of the track will also be improved with new stone covering etc.
It has been said that there is no plan for regrowth. That is wrong. The NRW knows from past work in the forest that it quickly regenerates and self seeds, with the clearance and opening up of the canopy allowing smaller trees at ground level to thrive and grow. From previous experience they know that within twelve months to two years, new growth will be evident and thriving with a variety of native species. They will still monitor the situation regularly and, if needed, will assist with some planned replanting after a few years. Remember, the forest will not be cleared, apart from one small area, just thinned. In some cases, a solitary tree, within trees to be retained, will be carefully felled, avoiding damage to the surrounding trees, and left on the forest floor to rot, rather than being extracted and damaging surrounding trees, flora and fauna.
Those trees that are to be extracted will be hauled to the top road in the forest and loaded onto timber lorries to be taken to the saw mills. The proposal is for the lorries to leave the top road, travel straight past the Black Cock and up to the main road. There are no plans for them to travel through Tongwynlais.
In the first phase of the felling, starting in September 2018, the work is being split into seven areas, each with a specific plan of work and all carefully worked out to minimise disruption, allowing access to many areas of the forest to continue with little restriction and ensuring the safety of the public.
The sculpture trail is well liked but over half of the sculptures are rotten and for safety will have to be removed. NRW will be working with the chain saw sculptor to create new sculptures to replace the ones that need to be removed.
We will be arranging a public meeting in late September or early October, depending on the availability of NRW representatives, to enable local residents to see exactly what is proposed and to ask any questions they may have.
*Note: updated 25.8.2017 to clarify query on percentage of trees affected. The 50% was the quoted percentage of the trees in some of the main areas where they (NRW) are felling from next year. It is not the percentage of Larch in the whole forest; phase 1, starting in Sept 18, is not the whole of the forest. Fforest Fawr may contain 200,000 trees (quoted in BBC Wales article), 4,000 are to be felled and they make up 50% of the trees in some of the areas in which the felling is to take place.