Carmel Jewel of Carmarthenshire

Last week I visited our nature reserve – Carmel, in Carmarthenshire. Although it feels very rural it’s only 15 minutes from the end of the M4. I havent ever tried to get there by train – it’s possible, but not there and back in one day from Dorset. It’s also very close to the National Botanic Garden of Wales.

Carmel is an amazing place – it really is. I’m not just saying that because it’s our reserve.

It’s a strange mix of ancient and modern, natural and man-made. It’s got some fantastic ancient woodland, with a very rich ground flora, including some real indicators like herb Paris and lily of the valley. Yet much of it has been worked as quarry in the past and most of the woodland is recent secondary on victorian spoil heaps. The really ancient bits of woodland clothe humpy outcrops of shattered limestone almost like limestone pavement. Meadow saxifrage seems to like sprawling around on these wooded pavement areas – no-one I’ve been in touch with has heard it behaving like this anywhere else.

Tiny meadows and glades occupy the spaces between the outcrops – many were abandoned and filled in with scrub until we have cleared them in the last few years. Some of these tiny fields were cultivated for cereals in previous centuries: the walls that surround them and create boundaries between the coppice coupes and the glades, just made by farmers clearing the limestone rocks off the glades I suspect, remind me of tiny fields I have seen in Crete. These tiny fields and glades are very flowery – some are chock full of Devil’s-bit scabious, a beautiful flower that is also food plant for the endangered Marsh Fritillary butterfly. The butterfly is not far away on nearby Rhos pastures, and we hope it will find its way to Carmel.

We’ve been busy returning the woodland to coppice management, clearing scrub from the glades and restoring the grasslands that had been given some fertiliser in the past. We’ve sown yellow-rattle in the semi-improved grasslands as a first step to restoring them. It’s come up well, thanks to the cold weather we had in the winter. Yellow-rattle seed likes to be cold-hardened – it helps germination. We had a job sowing it – the ground was frozen for ages and we couldnt make the bare ground we needed to sow it. Luckily the ground thawed just enough for the contractors to get on and disc harrow some areas in the semi-improved fields. I was a bit worried it hadnt come up but was delighted to see its familiar leaves peeking through the grass last week.

Here are some photos of one area.

The left hand photo shows a profusion of pignut flowering in a coppice coupe cut in February 2010. This coupehas a very rich ground flora including herb Paris and lily of the valley as well as blubell, wood anemone, woodruff and yellow archangel. The right hand photo shows an area where scrub was cleared 18 months ago – its a wonderful mixture of woodland flowers and meadow flowers re-appearing from the seedbank. It was scraped quite hard by woodland contractors last winter dragging timber across it – the scraping has brought lots of seed to the surface.

Charli Evans our Community Grasslands Officer has been developing a local team of volunteers who work on the reserve every saturday morning. They do all sorts of things including making our own charcoal in a charcoal oven. Charli also bring BTCV volunteers onto Carmel twice a week. Deborah Sazer has been working with us for nearly a hear now as consultant ecologist and she’s been managing the contractors who have been clearing scrub, sowing yellow-rattle and doing woodland work. She’s really getting going this year with monitoring including butterfly transects.

With the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust, our partners in a Working with Nature Project, we are organising a couple of days of bee events on the 3rd and 4th of June. We’re running training events in bumble bee identification, as well as guided walks and other activities on the reserve. Come along if you’re in the area.

Of course none of this could happen without the generous support of funders such as Biffaward and Grantscape, as well as many charitable trusts, he Lottery, and the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund who have supported our work at Carmel over the past 5 years.


About grasslandstrust

The Grasslands Trust is the only national UK charity that focuses entirely on saving grasslands that are valuable because they are rich in wildlife, history, or for other reasons.
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