The National Forest Exemplar Sites – Why they’re special and how we manage them

“Among the very best woodland in Wales”

That’s how Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs described the 14 forests chosen as exemplar sites of the newly launched National Forest for Wales.

The National Forest is a long-term project aimed at combining and enhancing existing forests with plans to plant new woodland across Wales. This will create connected woodlands across the length and breadth of Wales.

Why are the exemplar sites special?

The exemplar sites are forests that are carefully managed by Natural Resources Wales staff. We have a dedicated network of forestry, land management, environment and recreation officers who care for, develop and maintain these special sites.

Situated across the length and breadth of Wales, the exemplar woodlands cover over 43,000 hectares of some of the best scenery the nation has to offer.

High forestry standards

Like all NRW managed forests, the exemplar sites are maintained to meet the UK Forestry Standard and the UK Woodland Assurance Standard. This means that these forests are high quality and support sustainable forest management.

The forests support local biodiversity, help us tackle the climate and nature emergencies by storing carbon, benefit the soil and water in their areas while still maintaining the historic environment and landscape, and support local communities.

Great places to visit

The exemplar forest sites offer varied and wonderful visitor experiences where people can connect with nature. Some of the sites offer tranquil forest walks while others offer breath-taking vistas.

Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest near Aberystwyth is renowned for the daily spectacle of the feeding of 180 red kites; visitors are treated to the dramatic sight from a bird hide only feet away from the swooping birds. The site, along with Coed y Brenin near Dolgellau and Afan Forest Parks in Neath Port Talbot are also magnets for thrill seeking mountain bikers.

The exemplar forest sites offer great family days out. Some have visitor centres, cafés and play facilities for children.

Essential parts of local communities

These forests are more than only parts of their communities. Many of them have been the backdrops to entire communities and ways of life in years gone by.

Many of the sites are productive woodland which produce sustainable timber and support rural families and communities.
Other sites are younger – but no less vibrant. The Spirit of Llynfi Woodland is located on the eastern slopes of the Upper Llynfi Valley, nine miles north of Bridgend and five miles south east of Afan Forest Park.

Recently established on a former industrial site, this community woodland offers local people access to greenspace on their doorstep and has a range of facilities for all to enjoy.

The nation’s forests have also gained greater prominence during 2020 as more people took the opportunity to connect with nature during the Covid-19 pandemic. Local forests provided a sense of escapism and renewal to many people who took the opportunity to boost their well-being discover new places as part of their daily exercise.

How does NRW manage the sites?

We aim to champion the natural environment in everything we do to help people make the most of the benefits it offers as well as valuing it for its own sake now and for future generations.
We manage our sites in line with the principles of the Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR). The principles are:

  • Adaptive management - manage adaptively by planning, monitoring, reviewing and where appropriate, changing action
  • Scale - consider the right scale for action.
  • Collaboration and engagement - promote and engage in collaboration and co-operation.
  • Public Participation - make the right arrangements for public participation in decision-making
  • Evidence - take account of all relevant evidence, and gather evidence on uncertainties
  • Multiple benefits – appreciate the benefits and intrinsic value of natural resources and ecosystems
  • Long term - take account of the short, medium and long-term consequences of actions
  • Preventative action - take action to prevent significant damage to ecosystems
  • Building resilience - take account of the resilience of ecosystems

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