A major operation to remove diseased larch trees from forestry in the Sirhowy Valley will begin mid-February.
Natural Resources Wales (NRW) estimates that a total area of 70 hectares – roughly the equivalent of 70 rugby fields – of larch will need to be felled. This includes forestry bordering the Sirhowy Country Park, and near Cwmfelinfach on the opposite side of the valley.
The trees are infected with Phytophthora ramorum, commonly known as larch disease. In 2013, surveys identified that the disease was spreading rapidly across forestry in Wales, sparking a nationwide strategy to remove diseased trees to stop it spreading further.
At nearby Cwmcarn Forest, a five-year operation to remove diseased larch has just drawn to a close. But unlike the complex operation at Cwmcarn, contractors working on behalf of NRW intend to remove the diseased larch from the Sirhowy Valley quickly, within a number of months rather than years.
To allow them to do this safely and efficiently, NRW will need to temporarily close the forestry off for visitors. Sirhowy Country Park will remain open.
Jim Hepburn, Forest Operations Team Leader for NRW said:
“We don’t like to close off access to our forestry, as we know how valued it is by local people, but in this case it’s the best solution to get the work done quickly without delay.
“We’ll do everything we can to limit the disruption caused by the work, and where it’s safe to do so, we’ll reopen areas of the forest as the operation progresses.
“Larch disease has had a dramatic impact on our forestry in Wales, and nowhere is this more prominent than nearby Cwmcarn Forest where we are now making preparations to reopen the Forest Drive.
“It’s unfortunate to have to fell trees, but it does provide us with an opportunity to redesign the forest for the future. After the felling is complete, we intend to plant new trees, including a mixture of native, broadleaf species, which will start the regeneration of those parts that were once ancient woodland. These will make the forest more resilient so it can continue to be enjoyed for many years to come.”
Once the felling begins, NRW is asking people to please adhere to footpath closures and follow signs and diversions for their own safety. Failure to do so can result in delays to the work taking place and in reopening the forest.