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.