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Types of habitat

Farmland

Carmarthenshire’s agricultural landscape of fields and hedgerows is one of the distinguishing features of the county. Species-rich hedgerows with mature hedgerow trees can be important habitats for butterflies, moths, birds and small mammals. Some hedgerows were created when land was enclosed in the late 1700s and early 1800s; others are much older, perhaps formed from woodlands as these were first cleared for agriculture.

In the past, before the more intensive use of chemicals and increased mechanisation of farming, wild flowers grew amongst the crops. Today they are largely confined to the field margins which are also an important refuge for small mammals. These more natural edges can have benefits to the farm as well, encouraging insects like ladybirds, which prey on some crop pests.

Traditional orchards can be good habitat for rare lichens and invertebrates and are an important part of our heritage and landscape, often occupying the same piece of land for centuries. Traditional orchards are rare in Carmarthenshire but the Tywi Valley seems to have been important in the past. Research shows that this area was once known for its spring blossom with over 100 orchards shown on the 1905 Ordnance Survey map between Llandovery and Llandeilo. There are three historical varieties of apple tree local to Dinefwr alone. Saint Teilo, after whom the town is named, is called the patron saint of apples.

Species that use farmland habitats: bat species (incl. Common pipistrelle bat), polecat, brown hare, dormouse, yellowhammer, common cuckoo, hedgehog, brown hairstreak butterfly

Want to find out more about why these habitats are important? Then visit: 
Hedgelink 
PTES Orchards survey.

Brownfields

Brownfield habitats include land that is or was once used by humans, by industry for example, but which has now become disused or derelict (in some cases they may still be in partial use). Such sites might include former colliery sites, disused quarries, spoil tips and demolished or derelict factory sites.

After no use for many years these undisturbed areas can develop a mosaic (patchwork) of habitats, from bare ground to grassland, scrub and woodland and be recolonised by a range of wildlife, especially plants, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles and invertebrates. These areas often provide alternative habitats for many species that have declined due to loss of their native habitats in the wider countryside.

Over recent years gardens and allotments have become increasingly important habitats for wildlife and they can also be important ‘wildlife corridors’ (areas of habitat connecting wildlife populations separated by human activities). In our towns, a large amount of wildlife habitat is provided by gardens, which are the 'green lungs' of our urban environment. Gardens also allow people to have close contact with Nature as gardens provide a refuge for a huge variety of birds and insects. Other species such as hedgehogs and amphibians may increasingly rely on urban back gardens for food and shelter.

Parks and green spaces in urban areas can include highly managed more formal areas and natural less managed areas. Parks can be islands of nature, supporting biodiversity and providing a habitat for plants and animals in urban areas. Appropriately managed urban open spaces can be places where local communities can enjoy nature in an urban setting, relax and take exercise.

Species that use brownfield habitats: Brown hare, grayling butterfly, slow worm, bird’s nest.

Key sites to visit:
Brownfield sites: Pwll Lagoon SSSI and Ashpits Pond Burry Port; Morfa Berwig Water Vole site, Bynea; Mynydd Mawr Woodland Park, Tumble; Nant-y-Ci Recreation Park. Parks: Parc Howard, Llanelli, Betws Park, Ammanford; Penlan Park, Llandeilo, Millennium Coastal Park, Llanelli.

Want to find out more about why these habitats are important? Then visit Buglife’s website.

Coastal

Almost all of Carmarthenshire’s entire coast is made up of important habitats creating one of Carmarthenshire’s most distinctive landscapes and contributing to the character of the county. They are the changeover from the land to the sea and can be very dynamic, changing with time.

Coastal vegetated shingle (an accumulation of pebbles) is found above the reach of the waves and is a rare habitat where specialised plants (such as the horned poppy) and invertebrates can live. In Carmarthenshire it only occurs in three places (see below)

Found mostly in sheltered estuaries where sediment can settle and accumulate, saltmarshes are the upper, vegetated parts of mudflats that are exposed between the tides.

The specialist plants that grow in saltmarshes are adapted to regular immersion by the salty tides. Different plants can tolerate different amounts of salt water so the saltmarsh is divided into ‘zones’.

Saltmarshes provide important high-tide roosting areas for wading birds and wildfowl that feed on adjacent mudflats. They also provide breeding sites for birds and provide winter feeding grounds for large flocks of wild duck and geese. They also provide sheltered nursery sites for several species of fish to rear their young.

Saltmarshes are capable of dispersing the energy of the waves and can therefore help greatly in protecting the coastline from flooding and erosion.

A large area of Carmarthenshire’s coastline is dominated by sand dunes, but a there areas of sea cliff as well. They are not home to the huge colonies of sea birds like those found in Pembrokeshire but there are scatterings of gulls, fulmars and even the predatory peregrine. Carmarthenshire’s cliffs are often vegetated, sometimes with uncommon species such as the native maiden-hair fern.

Sand dunes form where dry sand is regularly blown towards land from the beach and is deposited above the high-tide mark. It is then trapped by specialised grasses (e.g. marram grass) that help build the dune, before eventually being colonised by other plants that help to stabilise the sand and ‘fix’ the dune.

Sand dunes can support an extremely diverse range of plants and animals and provide a habitat for a variety of specially adapted species, including a number of uncommon plants, fungi and invertebrates. Orchids, bees and butterflies all thrive in this habitat. Carmarthenshire has more dunes than nearly all of the other Welsh counties.

Species that use coastal habitats: skylark, herring gull, marbled white butterfly.

Key sites to visit:
Coastal vegetated shingle: Three stretches of coastal vegetated shingle occur in Carmarthenshire: at Penrhyngwyn, Machynys to the south of Llanelli, Morfa Bychan to the west of Pendine and at Cefn Padrig, immediately east of Burry Port.

Saltmarsh: National Wetlands Centre, Wales, at Penclacwydd and from the Millennium Coastal Park at North Dock Local Nature Reserve.

Sea cliffs: Cliffs west of Llansteffan; cliffs along the Amroth–Marros–Pendine length of coast.

Sand dunes: Two major sand dune systems occur, namely Laugharne–Pendine Burrows and the Pembrey Coast SSSI; there are also smaller examples at Llansteffan, Ferryside, Burry Port and Llanelli.

Want to find out more about why these habitats are important? Then visit the Wildlife Trust’s website.

Freshwater

The county has a rich and intricate network of rivers and streams, ranging from narrow, steep-sided upland streams to the gentler, winding lowland stretches of the rivers such as the Tywi. This network of watercourses acts as corridors for wildlife movement throughout the county, linking wetland sites and bringing wildlife into the heart of our urban centres. The wildlife value of the county’s rivers is recognised at a European and national level through the designation of the Tywi and Teifi, together with the Taf, Gwendraeth and Loughor estuaries, as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). The Tywi, together with its tributary the Cothi, and the Teifi, are famous as salmon and trout rivers. The streams of the upland valleys are important spawning and nursery areas for these fish.

Beds of shingle, bankside vegetation and exposed ‘cliffs’ provide a variety of habitats for species such as little ringed plovers, otters and sand martins and many invertebrates, whilst the waters harbour fish such as salmon, trout and the prehistoric looking lamprey.

In contrast to the fast-flowing upland streams are the lowland drainage ditches on the coastal flats of Carmarthenshire. They are important for a range of wildlife including the increasingly threatened water vole.

A unique and mysterious freshwater habitat is Wales’ only example of an aquifer-fed naturally fluctuating water body or turlough. These are temporary lakes and found in areas of carboniferous limestone rock. Turloughs have no visible inlet or outlet streams but are fed from groundwater (water located beneath the Earth's surface in fractures (spaces) in the rock). They can support rare wildlife. In Carmarthenshire Pant-y-llyn turlough can be found at the eastern end of Carmel Woods SAC. It is usually empty by June–July and fills again from October to December.

Ponds and lakes have value for wildlife, particularly invertebrates, birds and amphibians. Carmarthenshire does not have large numbers of natural lakes and ponds, many have been created as a result of industry, e.g. Machynys Ponds in Llanelli created as a result of digging out clay for bricks in the nineteenth century. Some of our ponds have recreational value and are stocked with fish, e.g. Cwm-yr-Oernant ponds at Carmarthen and Old Castle Pond in Llanelli.

Species that use freshwater habitats: otter, water vole, salmon, foraging bat species, little ringed plover

Key sites to visit:

Rivers and streams: Look at the county walks in the Cothi Valley

Lakes: Talley Lakes SSSI (SN631337), Llyn Pencarreg SSSI (SN537456) and Llyn Llech Owain SSSI (SN568151).

Ponds: Sandy Water Park and in Llanelli, Bishops Pond (SSSI) at Abergwili is one of the best examples of open water in the county – it is a cut off oxbow lake from the river Tywi, Cwm-yr-Oernant, Carmarthen. Pwll Lagoon SSSI and Ashpits Pond Burry Port.

Want to find out more about why these habitats are important? Then visit the Wildlife Trust’s website.

Grasslands

Our varied grasslands contribute to the rich landscape and habitat diversity within the county and are the habitats of some of our most important and declining species. Our natural grassland habitats were much more widespread in the past and have suffered significant declines.

Once a familiar sight in our countryside lowland meadows are typical of traditionally managed farmland and are often rich in wildlife. They include pastures grazed by livestock as well as meadows cut for hay and can also occur in churchyards and on roadside verges. They typically occur on soils which have not been heavily fertilised or reseeded and contain a range of species – good examples of this grassland type have 25–30 (or more) different plant species in an area only 2 x 2 m2! They can also be important habitats for insects (e.g. butterflies), birds (e.g. skylark) and mammals (e.g. brown hare and foraging bats).

Scattered throughout the county and concentrated especially around the Cross Hands area and Gwendraeth Valley, marshy grassland pastures can be full of wildlife, including a variety of grasses, sedges, rushes and flowering plants such as whorled caraway, meadow thistle, ragged robin, devil’s-bit scabious and orchids. Often heather can be found growing amongst the tussocky grassland.

Birds such as the skylark, curlew and reed bunting use the grassland for nesting and feeding, and frogs, toads, lizards and small mammals all live here. A variety of insects use marshy pasture, including the uncommon and declining marsh fritillary butterfly, now one of the most rapidly declining butterflies in Europe.

In upland areas such as Mynydd Du and Mynydd Mallaen acid grassland occurs over large areas, often in amongst areas of bog and heathland and rocky exposures. These open upland areas are important for bird species such as golden plover, curlew.

Species that use grassland habitats: marsh fritillary butterfly, grass snake, Cinnabar moth

Key sites to visit:
Meadows at Carmel Woods, Caeau Blaen Dyffryn (Plantlife Reserve), Caeau Ffos Fach (BC Reserve), Gelli Aur Country Park, Mynydd Mallaen, Mynydd Du, Mynydd Llanllwni.

Want to find out more about why these habitats are important? Then visit the Wildlife Trust’s website.

Upland heathland (habitat dominated by heather species) occurs on poorer soils in upland areas (above the limit of agricultural enclosure). It includes both ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ heath and often forms a mosaic (patchwork) with other habitats such as blanket bog, grassland, bracken, scree and woodland.

The total extent of upland heathland in Carmarthenshire is relatively small. Much of the upland heathland is concentrated on Mynydd Mallaen in north Carmarthenshire (this site is part of a Special Area of Conservation for its dry heath vegetation). Mynydd Llanllwni, north of Brechfa, is another important area.

Upland heathland in Wales can support a range of uncommon birds including merlin and red grouse; the habitat may also be important for invertebrates and mosses and lichens.

Lowland heathland occurs below the upper limit of agricultural enclosure, and is generally found below 300 m. Characterised by heather, bell heather, cross-leaved heath and western gorse, on nutrient-poor soils it is often associated with acid or damp grassland. Nightjars, skylarks and linnets all use this habitat and it can be important for reptiles and invertebrates.

Lowland heathland is less common and is mostly wet heath associated with marshy grassland. Good examples occur at Carmel, Mynydd Llangyndeyrn and Mynydd Ystyffalau-carn. Lowland dry heath occurs around the upland fringes with small scattered stands also occurring along the millstone grit ridge in the south of the county.

Species that use heathland habitats: Dry heath is characterised by a high cover of species such as heather, bell heather, bilberry, crowberry and western gorse. Wet heath is dominated by mixtures of heather, cross-leaved heath, purple moor-grass and deer grass, alongside carpets of mosses (notably Sphagnum species).

Key sites to visit:
Llyn Llech Owain Country Park, Mynydd Llangyndeyrn, Mynydd Mallaen, Mynydd Du, Mynydd Llanllwni, Marros Mountain and Ragwen Point, near Pendine.

Want to find out more about why these habitats are important? Then visit the Wildlife Trust’s website.

Wetlands

Fens, bogs, reed beds and grazing marsh are all wetland habitats that occur in the county. Wetlands are one of our most important natural resources. They support many native wildlife species including important wetland plants, invertebrates, including dragonflies, birds, otter and water vole. They form part of a healthy, living landscape. Wetlands are also important for people. They provide us with fresh water by filtering out pollution and can act as water storage areas that help reduce flood risk.

Grazing marshes are generally grasslands that flood periodically, often with ditches that maintain the water levels, containing standing brackish (salty) or fresh water. These ditches can be especially rich in plants and invertebrates. Almost all areas are grazed and some are cut for hay or silage. Sites may include areas of fen and reedbeds.

Grazing marshes are particularly important for a number of breeding waders such as snipe (Gallinago gallinago), lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) and redshank (Tringa totanus), and for the wintering wildfowl they support.

Significant areas of grazing marsh occur around the Burry Inlet and Carmarthen Bay area and floodplain grazing marsh occurs along the lower reaches of the major river valleys, especially the Gwendraeth, Taf and Tywi valleys. This is part of a once more extensive area within the county which is now greatly declined. The most important areas of coastal grazing marsh occur in the lower Gwendraeth and Pendine areas. Here the marshes are relatively intact and retain significant wildlife interest – Pendine is important for wintering golden plover.

Species that use heathland habitats: adder, skylark, tree pipit, foraging bat species.

  • Reed beds/ Fen: Ffrwd Fen near Pinged.
  • Grazing marsh: Pendine – Ginst point

Want to find out more about why these habitats are important? Then visit the Wildlife Trust’s website.

Woodlands in Carmarthenshire

Woodlands and forests cover about one-seventh of Carmarthenshire. Most are non-native conifer plantations but native woodlands make up 30%. They are scattered throughout the countryside, often on land that was too difficult or too poor to clear for agriculture. Many are the remnants of the native, broadleaved woodland that once covered much of Wales. Oak is the commonest tree, with ash, beech, sycamore, birch and alder making up most of the rest.

The various types of woodlands and forests are valuable for wildlife. The woodlands vary depending where they are growing and the type of soil they grown on. Most of the ash woodlands grow on carboniferous limestone in the south of the county, on the fringes of the South Wales Coalfield. Here you can find other trees such as hazel and plants such as bluebells, wood anemones, dog’s mercury, primrose and wild garlic.

Oak woods occur mainly in the north of the county have other tree species such as birch, sycamore, holly and rowan as well plants such as bluebells, ferns on richer soils, to grassy swards where grazing is more intense. Heather, bilberry and mosses dominate on more acidic soils. Some are particularly rich in mosses, liverworts and lichens. They also have a distinctive range of breeding birds with redstarts, pied fly catchers and wood warblers.

Red squirrels survive in the conifer forests in the north of the county.

Wet woodland occurs on poorly drained or seasonally wet soils, usually with alder, birch and willows as the predominant tree species, often alongside rivers and streams or around the edges of fens and bogs and lakes. Wet ground and plenty of dead wood often favours the development of rich bryophyte (moss) and invertebrate communities. Wet woodland can also provide cover and breeding sites for otters and feeding flocks of redpolls and siskins.

Wood-pastures and parklands typically consist of large, open-grown trees – many of which are of veteran age – over a grassland habitat often grazed by cattle, deer or, sometimes, sheep. Veteran trees can be some of the oldest living organisms in Carmarthenshire, normally at least 250 years old with girths over 3 m. Veteran trees are often of high ecological importance. The range of invertebrates associated with decaying timber can be very diverse and often of exceptional value for conservation. The range of lichen can also be of importance, particularly where sites are free from atmospheric pollution.

Lowland mixed deciduous woodland is usually dominated by oak or ash. In these woods you may come across trees not often found in the uplands – wild cherry, sweet chestnut, small-leaved lime and field maple. Following centuries of management for timber, coppice products, and firewood many of these woods are now neglected. Carmarthenshire has a good proportion of this habitat in Wales. These lowland woodlands are excellent for breeding birds including great spotted, lesser spotted and green woodpecker, treecreeper, nuthatch, and tawny owls.

Woodlands and forests are also places for recreation and education and are an important part of the Carmarthenshire landscape. They generate employment and, by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide, play their part in fighting climate change.

Species that use heathland habitat: red squirrel, bat species, willow tit, dormouse

Key sites to visit:
Ash woodland: Carmel the National Nature Reserve.

Oak woodland: Dinas Nature Reserve, Allt Rhyd y Groes NNR in the upper Tywi Valley.

Wood-pastures and parklands/veteran trees: Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo, Gelli Aur Country Park.

Lowland mixed deciduous woodland: Castle Woods in Llandeilo, Tregib Woods, Llandeilo, Greencastle Woods, Carmarthen.

Want to find out more about why these habitats are important? Then visit the Wildlife Trust’s website.

Marine

Our entire coastline is of significant importance for its wildlife and is protected under European legislation as the Carmarthen Bay and Estuaries European Marine Site (EMS) which extends from Tenby in the west almost to Oxwich Point in the east and includes the Burry Inlet/Loughor Estuary and the Taf–Tywi–Gwendraeth (Three Rivers) estuaries. The habitats making up the EMS include the marine and coastal habitats (mudflats, saltmarsh) and coastal/marine birds, including common scoter sea duck and overwintering wildfowl and waders that feed in the saltmarshes and on the intertidal areas. Our coastline has larges estuaries including those of the Rivers Loughor, Taf, Towy and the Gwendraeth and extensive areas of intertidal mudflats and sandflats are dominated by bivalves, including cockle beds, which are economically important to the county.

The coastline around Carmarthenshire also has some of the most significant sea fisheries of the UK. The whole of the inter-tidal shoreline and inshore waters from Loughor Bridge in the east, to the county boundary west of Pendine, sustains an economically locally important fishing industry and provides employment for a few hundred local people.

The Carmarthenshire marine and coast is one of the defining landscapes of the county, contributing significantly to its overall character and if of importance for our local economy drawing visitors and inward investment.

Key sites to visit: all along the Carmarthenshire coastline!

Want to find out more about why these habitats are important? Then visit the Wildlife Trust’s website.

Page updated on: 03/05/2016

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