Delfryn Meadows Background
These “woodland clearing” meadows were once woodland belonging to Pen y Bryn farm.
The 4.5 acres must have been cleared from the surrounding woodland at some point, although we don’t know for what purpose. They may have been lightly ploughed during the wars for crops – perhaps potatoes – but the presence of waxcap fungi indicate that they are unlikely to have been “improved” with the use of nitrates and other chemicals.
They are designated UB4 semi-acid grassland, differing in designation even from fields very close by.
For many years until 2017 the meadows were grazed by sheep, which crop the grass too short and eat most flower species, and so very flora little was visible.
However, the largely undisturbed soil holds an ancient seedbank of woodland flowers and with removal of the sheep and carefully managed grazing by ponies (whose mobile lips avoid grazing flowers) the earth is sufficiently kicked-up to bring these seeds to the surface for germination.
It is notable that gorse thrives on lines of earth that have been disturbed for the installation of 33KV overhead electricity-line poles and by the installation of a water utility reserve water tank.
Gorse is reappearing in some of the areas of the surrounding woodland that are being managed for natural regeneration, and these seeds must have lain dormant in the soil for many years.
We removed some of the most persistent areas of soft rushes, and the ponies manage the rest by eating the new shoots. There is almost no soft rush remaining on the meadows now. Bracken and brambles have been the most time-consuming species to manage and removing these reduces competition for light and space to allow the flowers to increase each year.
We have seen new species appear each year since 2018 and continued pony-grazing keeps the sward short enough for flowers to emerge without competition. This tight but selective grazing also encourages fungi such as waxcaps, which are a species-marker for unimproved soil, and many new fungi species have also appeared over the years.
We allowed the fields to lie fallow in 2018 and introduced pony-grazing by two Section A Welsh cobs – Twt and Non – in 2018. They are hardy creatures who don’t need a rich diet, and so they sometimes need to be helped out by larger ponies when the amount of pasture gets a bit much for them!
Each year since has provided different flower species, and in greater frequency. For example, we had almost no bluebells in the fields in the first year, and now spring-time sees wider and wider areas of them in the fields.
In addition to the increase in flowering plants we are seeing more and more species of fungi appearing which is really exciting. Waxcaps were identified in the first autumn after grazing as a key indicator species of unimproved pasture.
The hardest part of the management has been reducing bracken and brambles. We pull, scythe and strim different areas of bracken; pulling seems the most effective form of control, but is very labour intensive.
The bracken has significantly reduced in height and frequency, but we think it will take another three or four years to eradicate it from the fields, making a total of seven to eight year’s work. However, it has been really worth it in terms of creating space and light for different flowering plant species.
We try to keep thistles and docks to a minimum and pull out the occasional ragwort in order to reduce the risk of poisoning the ponies. However, we keep ragwort on the wilder parts of our land to encourage cinnabar moths.
The removed bracken has been placed in piles, some has been used as mulch and low-nutrient compost, and some has been left as a habitat for slow worms and grass snakes, which we sometimes see on a hot day.
We received funding from the Dolau Dyfi scheme to install 135 metres of new fencing. We slightly redrew the old fence boundaries to make grazing management easier and allow access for timber management where we are managing our PAWS woodlands (plantation on ancient woodland) for natural broad-leaved regeneration to slowly replace the larch and spruce.
We were able to replace the old fence between us and our neighbouring farm’s sheep pasture which they were pleased with too. The Dolau Dyfi scheme also supported us to install a new water trough for the ponies which fills automatically. This has been a Godsend, saving us a lot of work in providing water twice a day and ensuring that the ponies never go thirsty.
The new, strong trough is also more difficult to kick over than the old buckets, which is Twt and Non’s favourite game, and this is a great improvement too!
We’re looking forward to seeing all the new species thrive in the meadows, and to not have to manage the bracken and brambles so much, but despite all the work it’s been a real joy to restore an increasingly rare and valuable habitat.
Unfortunately there is no public right of access to the land, and this would be difficult with the changing livestock, but some of the meadows can be seen from the Wales Coastal Path.