Afan Forest Resource Plan
Location and setting
The new forest resource plan for the Afan Valley covers 3,940 Ha and incorporates 5 previous forest design plan units: Craig Emroch, Foel, Afan (Michaelston) and Penhydd, Glyncorrwg West and East.
The forest estate area extends for 12 miles along the Afan Valley from Cwm Afan in the West to the head of the Afan river in the East. It also includes the north bank of Cwm Dyffryn, the south bank of Cwm Pelenna and the lower Glyncorrwg Valley (See Location Map).
The upper Glyncorrwg valley which formed the old Glyncorrwg North FDP area, has not been included as the majority of the area is part of the current CDM for Pen y Cymoedd Wind Farm. It will be renewed as part of a separate Forest Resource Plan for the whole of the wind farm area.
The general geography of the area consists of steep sided valley sides with free draining, but often poor soils due to the mining heritage of the area, and flatter upland plateaus with poorer draining soils including areas of deep peat.
The altitude and exposure of the forest area also varies greatly from 50m above sea level in Craig Emroch on the West to 550m above sea level at the head of the Afan Valley. This is also reflected in the exposure DAMS scores varying from 5 to over 20 across the resource plan area.
The majority of the forest area was first planted with conifer crops in the 1950’s and 1960’s with further planting in the 1980’s. These plantings consist mainly of larch and pine on the lower slopes and elevations, with spruce on the upper slopes and higher elevations.
Some of these conifer crops include well established second rotation conifers ready for thinning eg Michaelston plateau. Existing broadleaf content is low at about 5% and feature along the lower banks of the Afan and Pelenna rivers which are Ancient Woodland Sites.
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 restructuring the forest in the upper elevations in order to break up even aged conifer stands. Management of predominantly Larch crops on the lower slopes and elevations was to be by Low Impact Silvicultural Systems (LISS). The future species showed an increase in broadleaves and a reduction of Sitka spruce, with many of the larch crops to be extended. However, since the advent and widespread infection of Phytophthora ramorum in large areas of the larch crops has resulted in them being felled instead, at the expense of restructuring on the upland plateaus.
Objectives and priorities
Many of the objectives and priorities below have multiple benefits including economic, social, environmental and operational. The brief will be presented with the following categories:
Effects of Phytophthora felling
In the past 4 years over 650 Ha of larch and associated crops have been felled as a result of Phytophthora ramorum infection in line with the Welsh Government disease management strategy. This equates to well over 15% of the forest area in the Afan Valley. Approximately 230 Ha of both mature and young larch still remain and are to be felled as soon as operationally possible. This equates to a further 6% of the forest area.
Under normal optimal management this rate of felling would be regarded as unsustainable in the long term. The result is a number of opportunities and impacts which are addressed by this FDP:
- increase in restocking program, with an potential opportunity to restock with a range of species which will add to the diversity of the forest
- rationalising of the remaining larch and associated crops to windfirm boundaries ASAP
- future reduction of felling coupe sizes, numbers and timber volumes
- retention of crops which may have been considered for felling sooner if P. ramorum had not infected the larch crops
Future forest management and silviculture
The removal of larch will have major effects on the long term management plan of the forest. One major influence will be the potential increase in adjacency issues in existing felling coupes. These will need to be redesigned or removed in the new FDP and agreed with harvesting. It is also a priority to compensate for the large amount of felling in recent and coming years.
Existing crops are to be managed by LISS/CCF wherever conditions such as soils, slope, aspect and exposure dictates. This type of management will be dependent on good silvicultural practice and the thinning of existing crops to be carried out on time.
A thinning plan for the forest indicating potentially thinnable crops in the 10 year life of the resource plan is included in the new FDP. It will reflect existing district planning team tactical thinning programmes.
Areas not suitable for LISS management such as the upper plateaus of Glyncorrwg forest will continue to be clear felled. Restructuring of the forest in these areas is a priority and will resume once the peak in felling has abated. This will help to break up and fragment the large scale even aged Sitka spruce stands. Smaller clear fell coupes in upland areas are desirable for increasing biodiversity to support priority species such as nightjars.
Pine areas are also to 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 condition of the crops.
Ancient woodland sites
Although not a major component of the forest area at 7% (280Ha), Planted Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) will be restored to at least 50% native broadleaf content for partial restoration, and where the potential exists, 80% broadleaves for complete restoration as per FCW ‘Ancient woodland Instruction’ 2013. This does not rule out elements of conifer planting or content in these areas in the future.
Management of crops in PAWS will be through Low Impact Silvicultural Systems (LISS) where operationally possible. Invasive species such as Western Hemlock and rhododendron will be removed by clear felling. Connectivity with other broadleaves and native woodland outside the estate boundary is essential for creating a permanent native woodland structure in the Valley.
Future Forest Species and Habitats
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 in Afan Valley. Greater broadleaf connectivity is to be established along riparian corridors linking them with Ancient Woodland Sites. Overall it is envisaged that future restocking should be approximately one third broadleaf and two thirds conifer. Diversification of species will be a key driver in future species and restock programs (FCW ‘A Guide for increasing tree species diversity in Wales’ 2010) in order to attain a robust and resilient forest for the future. More suitable species, provenances mixtures and nurse crops will be encouraged. Large scale monocultures will be avoided. Larch and ash will not be replanted under disease management guidance for the WGWE. Existing areas of fire effected sites such as ‘Sunnyside’ and ‘Blaengwynfi’ will be allowed to naturally regenerate.
Deep Peat/ Open Habitat Restoration
Priority open habitat restoration is an important and major component of the Afan Valley Forest resource plan.
An area of open heather habitat restoration is already identified and was part of the previous FDP on the Foel. This will remain as part of the new FDP. Since 2013 policy guidance on peat soils suggests surveying areas of deep peat over 50cm deep for suitability for restoration.
Areas on the upland plateau of Michaelston near the Pen-y-Cymoedd windfarm CDM area and in Glyncorrwg West and East have peat soils and have potential for restoration in the long term.
Recreation, landscape and community benefits
Recreation plays an important role in the forest in Afan Forest Park and the wider Afan Valley. The forest estate provides a superb backdrop for many recreational activities in the valley. Mountain biking is still the major visitor attraction in the area and tourism is an important economic benefit to the local community. The large scale felling has had an impact on the landscape, visitor experience and potentially visitor numbers. Many of the above priorities address the long term improvement and resilience of the forest landscape as a whole.
Community consultation resulted in the following recommendations:
- increase broadleaf cover and natives
- provision of permanent viewpoints (not just transient)
- reduce clear felling
- increase Thinning and CCF
- reduce risk/liability with neighbouring landowners
- keep harvesting sites tidy
- more ponds and wetland areas
- more seasonal colour and mixtures
- enhancement of geological features
- increase benefits from tourism
- increase recreation opportunities
- improve forest entrances
All the above will have positive effects on the forest and so will benefit recreation in the long term. Many of the requests listed will be addressed by good forest management practice and priorities already mentioned in the brief.
Smaller scale open space at a micro-design coupe level will play an important role for recreation and biodiversity. However open space will also be identified at the FDP scale especially for Scheduled Ancient Monuments, powerline wayleaves, landscape amelioration and to open up important viewpoints in the forest.
The River Afan and Pelenna Catchments are failing water bodies due to mainly historic reasons associated with the former coal mining industry and its legacy.
All felling and restocking operations within the scope of the plan will be assessed under current Water Framework Directive guidance. In real terms this may mean that individual felling/restocking operations may require re-scheduling to avoid felling more than 20% of a catchment area (primary/secondary or tertiary) within a 3 year period (where the catchment exceeds 100Ha).
The Forest and Water guidelines version 5, 2011 and Forests and Water section of the United Kingdom Forest Standard (UKFS) will provide guidance and support. In addition, the new water management system which has just been introduced in 2014 as part of the coupe planning process will not only ensure that high risk coupes are identified early in the process but all coupes will be thoroughly assessed in terms of the risk to water quality.
Members of NRW’s environmental quality team have been consulted as part of the stakeholder consultation process.
The Afan valley already has a sufficient road network to facilitate ongoing operations. Some roads may require upgrading with associated tracks, but there will be no new roads proposed within this renewal period.
Comments or feedback
If you have any comments or feedback, you can contact the Forest Resource Planning team at firstname.lastname@example.org