Many of Wales’ landscape areas and characteristics are rare, unique and valued. While 81% of the population live on the coast, Conwy and Denbighshire is actually predominantly rural. The rural areas consists of intensively farmed areas with pockets of higher biodiversity value in the lowlands, while in the uplands the relationship is reversed with more and larger biodiverse areas interspersed with more intensively farmed land and forestry.
Large areas of Conwy and Denbighshire are internationally important habitats protected as Special Areas of Conservation. The qualifying habitats which these sites aim to protect include dry calcareous grasslands & dry heaths, lime & ash woodlands, nutrient poor upland lakes, mudflats and saltmarsh. Some of these sites are in an unfavourable condition to support the qualifying features including priority species. This may be due to inappropriate agricultural land management, including over/under grazing, historical practices such as drainage of moorland, lack of scrub management, lack of removal of non-native invasive species, uncontrolled burning of habitats, and lack of natural regeneration management adjacent to forestry plantations. There is also the added pressure of access for recreational purposes.
Parts of five Special Protection Areas, classified for rare and vulnerable birds and for regularly occurring migratory species, are found within Conwy and Denbighshire. Off-shore European designated sites include the Menai Strait/Conwy Bay, Dee Estuary and Liverpool Bay which are all internationally important. The designations reflect the waters’ rich marine sediments and sheltered aspect which provide abundant habitats for a vast number of important and protected species
Sites of Special Scientific interest which are of national importance cover a good proportion of the land area of Conwy and Denbighshire. These include both European designations and national designations. These nationally important sites cover a huge range of habitats from sand dune and coastal shingle, through saltmarsh, reed bed, unimproved grasslands upland moorland habitatas and a variety of woodland types
Predominantly outside designated sites, woodlands cover 13.5% of the counties of Conwy and Denbighshire – similar to the Wales average. While a significant proportion of this area is due to the conifer plantations of Gwydir Forest in the Conwy Valley and the large Clocaenog Forest, most areas of the counties are characterised by small blocks of deciduous farm woodland with larger groupings on rural estates. Other valuable habitats are found throughout the farmed landscapes, notably hedgerows which play an important role in linking woodland habitats, marshy grasslands which support nationally populations of waders, and groups of ponds which support a variety of species including great crested newts.
The maintenance of a biodiverse natural environment with healthy ecosystems is the cornerstone of the goal of a resilient Wales. Additionally, the natural habitats of Conwy and Denbighshire play a vital role in contributing to the delivery of most of the other six well-being goals through increasing resilience to flood events, contributing to farm incomes and diversification, improving health through free-to-access recreation, reducing carbon emissions, and supporting the all-important tourism and outdoor recreation sector which are so reliant on natural landscapes.
In several areas, such as on the western flanks of the Conwy Valley and on the Denbigh Moors, areas of high to moderate biodiversity value are coincident with areas of high historical and archaeological significance and the protection of these areas promotes the goal of a Wales of vibrant culture
Forests and woodlands all have significant recreational and conservation, as well as economic interests. Clocaenog forest forms part of a strategic search area for windfarm development and is a stronghold of the red squirrel. In terms of broadleaved woodland, the woods are dominated by oak and ash and are a stronghold for dormice in some areas. There are challenges to establishing new broadleaved woods due to grey squirrel damage; little economic incentive to plant and manage woodlands; lack of available land for planting due to insufficient incentives and a low contractor base. Sensitivities also exist in the uplands between upland habitat and forest management (such as trees regenerating onto open conservation sites). Nevertheless the forestry sector is a valued source of employment in the rural areas, while the use of on-farm timber assists in keeping costs down and contributing to the viability of holdings. Woodlands and trees therefore provide a variety of benefits to well-being. They help regulate our climate, provide income & jobs from timber and other activities, store carbon; contribute to reducing flood and low river flow risk; safeguard soils; improve air quality; reduce noise; and regulate pests and diseases. They play a major role in pollination, soil formation, nutrient cycling, water cycling and oxygen production, all of which are crucial in supporting well-being.
In mid Wales, woodlands have been demonstrated to buffer surface water run off and while the Elwy valley has been the subject of studies by NRW’ the strategic planting of new woodland in the area for this purpose needs to be explored further.
Hedgerows, as well being an important wildlife habitat, also play an important role in sheltering stock and increasing farm productivity. Academic studies to demonstrate the benefits to farming of such shelter are under way.
Peatland habitats can similarly play an important role in water management, slowing down flood waters and naturally reducing flood-risk downstream. By slowly releasing water during dry periods, peatland helps to reduce the impact of droughts on water supplies and on river and stream flows. Healthy peatlands are also an important carbon sink. Projects to restore peatlands have been carried out in both the Conwy and the Elwy upper catchments.
Our experience and interaction with natural landscapes has been shown to have a positive effect on our health and well-being. Attractive landscapes, natural beauty, cultural heritage and tranquillity provide opportunities and benefits for healthy communities, recreation, tourism and economic activity.
Natural landscapes provide settings within which opportunities for access and enjoyment can be found, enticing people and contributing to healthy lifestyles and reducing stress in all age groups. Natural play improves child development and patients in hospital with a view of greenspace and nature recover more quickly. Landscapes provide places and opportunities for access and enjoyment, enticing healthy lifestyles and reducing stress in all age groups. Studies have shown that there are significant positive associations between mental and physical well-being and increased trees and greenspace in urban areas. Children living in areas with more street trees, for example, have lower prevalence of asthma. Local natural areas can provide an important link to our sense of national pride, culture and local identity. Path networks, urban woodlands, coastal areas and other green infrastructure aimed at enhancing the quality and accessibility of the local environment all play an important role in improving the health and well-being of people in Wales. While both Conwy and Denbighshire have a number of Local Nature Reserves and other accessible sites in and around urban areas their promotion to and use by hard to reach groups is an on-going challenge. Many outdoor recreational activities are free at the point of use, enabling participation across and between communities. The outdoors can offer opportunities for everyone; and appropriate promotion, facilities and access opportunities can improve social inclusion.
As well as health benefits, walking and cycling can play a key role in serving local transport needs. What are sometimes classed as ‘everyday journeys’ to work by foot or bike cost less and help to keep people fit as well as being enjoyable. This type of journey is now described as ‘active travel’. This method of travel also contributes to helping address the issues of congestion, pollution and climate change associated with car dependency.
There is an economic value in natural landscapes as destinations for visitors, but also as places for communities to prosper. Welsh landscapes are worth £8 billion/year (with £4.2 billion from tourism), and Forestry based industries are worth over £400 million per annum to the Welsh economy, despite the fact that we still import 63% of softwood and 94% of the hardwood timber. If we want to realise the benefits that woodland & trees provide we need to create more new woodlands or manage existing woodlands in a way which can both produce timber which is used more locally in products and construction – supporting jobs and the economy, and at the same time deliver community health and biodiversity benefits.
Conwy and Denbighshire has a rich natural heritage and variety of habitats like the windswept coastal sand dunes, majestic heather moorland and wide sweeping rivers. Conwy and Denbighshire is home to many protected and special species and habitats; some species that can only be found in this area. Protected species and their habitats such as the lesser horseshoe bat, otters, great crested newts, the natterjack toad, sand lizards. Special species include: black grouse and the little tern.
Unfortunately, many of these species are under threat. “The Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures trends in selected species populations, shows an overall decline of 52% over the last 40 years.” (The World Bank Group. 2015). In Conwy and Denbighshire the picture is just as bleak as elsewhere. Our natural environment today is poorer and more depleted than in our grandparents’ time. The need to halt this loss of biodiversity is just as important here, at this local level, as in the Amazon rainforest or the tropical reefs. The main threats to biodiversity are:
Habitat loss and degradation due to changes in agricultural practices, development pressure, logging, commercial forestry and so on
Over-exploitation of natural resources such as over-fishing
Invasive non-native species
Human population growth
As a means of safeguarding and protecting biodiversity, sites deemed to be important internationally, nationally and / or locally for their habitats and species have been designated under the auspices of a variety of wildlife legislation.
People wish to see a natural environment that is protected and provides tourism and leisure opportunities; renewable energy; and food for local consumption.
People would like to see:
• Increased accessibility to green spaces; important links to tourism
• Work to protect communities against climate change and flooding
• Expansion of the outdoor leisure offer that makes use of countryside assets
• A strong local food economy where agricultural land is used to its potential
• New technology and scientific solutions – recycling, reducing plastic packaging, renewable energy
People told us that they love the natural environment and see it as a key asset to be used to attract tourists, provide leisure opportunities, produce food and generate income. Ecological concerns such as biodiversity and carbon storage are seen as key to protecting this asset
Respondents to the consultation felt that Conwy should be doing more to maximise their natural assets but at the same time balance nature conservation with development.