Cwmcarn Forest Resource Plan

Location and setting

The new forest resource plan for the Cwmcarn covers 1911Ha and incorporates 4 previous forest design plan units: Cwmcarn, Sirhwyi/Cwm Felinfach, Machen and Llanbradach.

The majority of the forest estate area extends along the Lower Sirhywi and Ebbw Valleys close to the communities of Risca, Crosskeys, Cwmcarn, Abercarn, Wattsville, Cwnfelinfach and Ynysddu. It also includes the smaller woodland blocks and communities of Machen and Llanbradach in the lower Rhymney Valley (see location map).

The general geography of the area consists of steep sided valley sides with good soils such as Brown Earths and flatter upland plateaus with poorer soils including ironpans.

The altitude and exposure of the forest area also varies from 100m above sea level in the valley floor to 400m above sea on the upper plateaus. This is also reflected in the exposure DAMS scores as most of the forest is below 15 and only the plateau tops exceed this.

A large proportion (53%) of the forest area is Planted Ancient Woodland and has been wooded since the 1800’s.These areas and other sections of the forest area were first planted with conifer crops by the Forestry Commission in the 1930’s with further post WWII planting in the 1960’s onwards.

These plantings consist mainly of larch and pine on the lower slopes and elevations, with smaller proportions of spruce on the upper slopes. Some of these existing stands include well established mature conifers.

Broadleaf content is higher than average and intersects strongly in Planted Ancient Woodland Sites although mainly as intruded or remnant broadleaves intimately mixed with conifers. Where felling has taken place in recent years, broadleaf regeneration prevails.

The previously approved Forest Design Plans which cover the new resource plan area were completed in the early 2000’s and are now ready for renewal.

Much of the management described in those plans is focused on the LISS management of PAWS woodland containing a high proportion of larch crops. This larch now needs to be removed due to the legal requirement to fell Phytophthora ramorum infected crops in line with the Welsh Government Disease Management Strategy.

The impact of this felling is significant and compelling the need for a new plan to reflect these significant changes. The old future species map showed a dramatic long term increase in broadleaves and a reduction of Sitka spruce and larch due to the PAWS designation. Today a more pragmatic approach will be used for restocking. Future species will defined by forest types and validated against the new 2011 Ancient Woodland Inventory , and guided by FCW PAWS instruction (2013) and PAWS survey by Thomson Ecology. These will help to prioritise areas for Ancient Woodland restoration. 

Objectives and priorities

Many of the objectives and priorities below have multiple benefits including economic, operational, social and environmental. The brief will be presented with the following categories: 

Phytophthora Felling/ LTC Programming

Over the next 5 years approximately 853 Ha of larch related felling, equating to 45% of the forest area, will take place as a result of Phytophthora ramorum infection. 625Ha, 42% of the Cwmcarn forest area and 315Ha, 58% of the remaining forest blocks in Sirhowy, Cwmfelinfach, Machen and Llanbradach will be felled.

The felling will be carried out by a long term harvesting contract.  The program of scheduled felling will be flexible in nature.

This Forest Resource Plan will set out to produce a ground truthed and an accurate representation of all the areas to be felled, taking into consideration of the objectives of the brief and minimising the impacts where possible of such a large scale harvesting operation.

Normally this rate of felling would not normally be regarded as sustainable but the legal obligation to complete the felling within a given timescale overrides this. The effects will be dramatic and have long lasting effects on the following: 

Impacts on the Landscape

The area covered by the forest resource plan. Lower Ebbw, Sirhowy and Rhymney is highly visible in the landscape and such large scale clear felling will have major visual impacts on the local communities. To minimise the impact of the large scale felling the following will be undertaken:

  • an assessment of visual impact of felling will be undertaken to minimise the effects on the landscape
  • opportunities for staggered felling of  Phytophthora coupes will be investigated 

Impacts on Recreation

The importance of recreation cannot be overstated in the Cwmcarn forest area, with the visitor centre/campsite, MTB downhill, new Cognation MTB trail, and nationally known Cwmcarn Forest Drive.

The impacts of such large scale felling operations will have a major impact on the recreation, not only in the short term by the felling operations, but in the long term by the removal of tree cover. The forest provides the ‘Backdrop’ for all the recreational activities that take place in the forest and adds to the overall visitor experience. 

Forest Drive 

A recent  NRW study on the visitor experience of the ‘Forest Drive’ was carried out by the Recreation and Access Manager: Roz Owen which is summarized below:

  • Cwmcarn forest is situated in an area that holds 114 of the 190 most deprived wards in Wales
  • 35% of the population of Wales live within the catchment
  • the highest percentage of ethnic minority groups in Wales are resident in the catchment
  • visitors to the forest drive place greater value on the forest itself and the variety of trees within it than do general visitors
  • visitors to the forest drive stay much longer on site, are generally younger and are far more likely to have children with them than visitors to other forest sites
  • Welsh Government objectives for recreation and regeneration are for more people, particularly young people and families, to undertake outdoor recreational activity more frequently in places close to where they live and work 

A summary of their experience when visiting the forest drive:

91% of forest drive visitors rated their visit as very good/excellent

62% thought it was the scenery, views and

27% thought it was the peace, tranquillity and relaxation 

Unfortunately felling operations will have a major detrimental impact on both. But the most critical impact will be the operational/ Health and Safety constraints, and these have determined the closure of the forest drive from the Autumn of 2014.The future reopening of the drive will need a considerable investment to reinstate the road and update facilities, and this will be weighed against the potential visitor experience from the new forest structure in future after felling and restocking of the Phytophthora coupes. 

Other Recreation Facilities 

The Visitor Centre will remain open and new links into the forest are being investigated by Caerphilly Council from the visitors centre. The newly opened Cognation MTB trail will remain open as long as possible whilst felling operations take place in other parts of the forest including the ‘Forest Drive’/Medart side of the forest.

Flexibility in the felling program and good visitor communications will aid a continuing visitor experience in the forest during the next five years.

Overall the new Forest Resource Plan will try to minimise the impact on the visitor experience in the long term by creating a new forest structure for recreational activities to take place in. This will mainly be achieved through species diversity and a variety of silvicultural management techniques across the remaining forest 

Future Forest Management and Silviculture

Generally the long term impact of the large scale felling of infected larch crops on forest management will result in the following:

  • future reduction of felling coupe sizes, numbers and timber volumes
  • further mopping up remaining larch and windblown crops to windfirm boundaries
  • retention of crops which may have been considered for felling sooner if P. ramorum had not infected the larch crops
  • an increase of thinning of more marginal crops to help maintain forest cover

As mentioned above the removal of larch will have effects on the long term management plan of the forest. One major way to compensate for the large amount of felling in the coming years is to manage remaining crops by LISS/CCF wherever conditions such as soils, slope and exposure allow. This type of management will be dependent on good silvicultural practice and the thinning of existing crops to be carried out on time.

This is also important in Ancient Woodland Site management.  A thinning plan for the forest is essential to go hand in hand with any future management and will form part of the proposals in the FDP.

Pine areas will be assessed for suitability for long term retention or natural reserves where recreation and conservation benefits are high.

Thinning of pine where possible is essential to help prevent/reduce Red Band Needle Blight infection and improve the long term health of the crops. In Planted Ancient Woodland Sites, thinning of pine will be essential to promote broadleaf regeneration in the long term. 

Ancient Woodland Sites 

These are a major component of the forest area at 53% (1017Ha).

Previous management was through slow transformation and restoration of Planted Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) by thinning /CCF operations. However the Phytophthora larch fellings will result in a large proportion (approx. 50%) of the PAWS being felled in very short timescale.

The remaining crops in PAWS will be managed through Low Impact Silvicultural Systems (LISS) where operationally possible.

Having such large areas of Ancient Woodland Sites to potentially restore in such a short timescale means areas will be prioritised.

This was done by considering all relevant site information including the AW instruction, Ancient Woodland Baseline Survey Data and AW prioritisation data.  Where high potential for restoration exists at least 50% native broadleaf content for partial restoration, and, 80% broadleaves for complete restoration as per FCW ‘Ancient woodland Instruction’ 2013.

This does not rule out future conifer planting or content in future in these areas. Areas of higher conifer content may be considered in areas of low priority for restoration as nurse crops where access for thinning is acceptable, or for longer conversion to BL over time or in the next rotation.

Invasive species such as Western Hemlock will be removed by clear felling to reduce seeding potential into PAWS sites. Connectivity with other broadleaves and native woodland outside the estate boundary is essential for creating a permanent native woodland structure.

Future Forest Species and Habitats

The large scale felling of larch crops will lead to an opportunity for greater diversity in both conifer crops and productive broadleaf crops in the long term.

Greater broadleaf connectivity will be created with Ancient Woodland Sites both within and outside the forest area as a result of implementing the PAWS policy. 

Diversification of species will be a key driver in future species and restock programs as per FCW ‘A Guide for increasing tree species diversity in Wales’ 2010. Large scale monocultures will be avoided. Suitable species, provenances mixtures and nurse crops will be encouraged.

Larch and ash will not be replanted due to Phytophthora ramorum and Chalara fraxinea.

Existing fire affected sites such as ‘Cwm Felinfach’ and tip areas in Machen forest, will be allowed to naturally regenerate into naturalised wooded areas achieving 20% woodland cover.

Smaller scale open space at a microdesign coupe level will play an important role for recreation and biodiversity. However open space will also be identified at the FDP scale especially for  Heathland/grassland restoration, Scheduled Ancient Monuments, powerline wayleaves, landscape amelioration and to open up permanent viewpoints in the forest. 

Other conservation and heritage considerations

  • Schedule 1 Goshawks prevalent  on Craig Fapi. Consideration to scheduling of felling operations must occur
  • far north of Cwmcarn to be felled in year 5 of the LTC as funding for the new trail is dependent upon it being open until the end of financial year 2017
  • consider ‘Mynydd Maen’ common and links with outside heathland habitats
  • there are 24  Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) covering the new resource plan area
  • there are no designated sites (Special Areas of Conservation, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, and Special Protection Areas or RAMSAR sites), peat restoration areas or acid sensitive catchments within the new resource plan area, therefore HRA’s are not applicable 

Water

The water catchments relating to this resource plan area are not acid sensitive and therefore do not require an acidification assessment. 

Access and Haulage

New options for roads are to be investigated in the Medart and Cwm Felinfach for haulage. Also new extraction routes to part of Sirhowy and part of Machen.

Public Consultation

Public information will be provided by the local area team to local communities with regards closure of the ‘Forest Drive’ and the ‘Larch Removal Program’.

Comments or feedback

If you have any comments or feedback, you can contact the Forest Resource Planning team at frp@naturalresourceswales.gov.uk

Related document downloads

Location map PDF [6.5 MB]
Forest types map PDF [5.8 MB]
Management systems map PDF [5.9 MB]
Thinning map PDF [6.0 MB]
Last updated