An area of Welsh woodland that provides a haven for native wildlife has been improved for its local community, thanks to a group of Welsh learners who teamed up with local activists to protect the ecosystem and create a thriving natural habitat.
There had been plans to build housing at the site of Tynant Woodlands and Common, which is designated as a SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation), but a campaign by local residents has so far seen off the planning permission. In the meantime, local volunteers began to clean up the site and improve its biodiversity.
After hearing about these activities, learners at Coleg y Cymoedd joined forces with local volunteers, Julie Barton and Carys Romney, to restore the land and develop a community wildlife pond at the site. Their aim was to create a flourishing natural beauty spot to highlight the importance of the woodland to the area and deter future development.
Completed in early March, the pond – which is teeming with wildlife – was an immediate success with locals and has proven to be an invaluable outdoor resource for people in the area during the lockdown. Many people have discovered the area for the first time while others have returned to the site after not visiting it for years.
Original plans submitted by housebuilders to create 125 properties at the woodlands were strongly opposed by locals, including campaigners Julie and Carys. Opponents argued that as well as being a much-loved area of greenery, the land is also a haven for a variety of animal and plant species indigenous to Wales.
Wanting to prove the value of the woodland to the local community, Julie and Carys set out to rejuvenate the land, which had become overgrown and neglected, in order to showcases its beauty and highlight the thriving wildlife that it houses.
Julie said: “Having lived near Tynant Woodlands for over 20 years, I am passionate about the nature and wildlife that we have here on our doorstep. There is a lot of unspoilt beauty and the woodlands are homes to a number of rare species of plants and animals that are important to protect.
“Carys and I had previously worked on litter picking projects in this area and we knew the community couldn’t bear the thought of losing it to housing. We wanted to create a space that people would value and it was great to have the students at Coleg y Cymoedd get stuck in with helping us. They have done an amazing job.
“We now have a beautiful, clean natural spot for local people to enjoy. Lots of families have come to visit the community pond during lockdown and it’s also become an important educational resource for schools and other community groups to teach young people about the environment and the lifecycles of animals such as tadpoles.
“I definitely think that there will now be ever stronger public opinion against any future development proposals.”
The collaboration with Coleg y Cymoedd came after Val Smith, a tutor at the college, encountered Julie and Carys Romney while walking through the woodland. Hearing about their plans to restore the land, she suggested learners on her course get involved and help support efforts as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Award.
Learners studying on the Vocational Access to Sports and Public Service courses helped at the site on a weekly basis for over six months and were responsible for clearing paths and woodland, planting saplings, litter picking and helping with general maintenance of the area to preserve woodland. A key part of their role was to create a brand-new wildlife pond to save the lives of hundreds of tadpoles and frogspawn who were previously dying due to the three smaller ponds in the area drying up as the weather warms up.
Learners on the entry level course come from a variety of challenging backgrounds with many of them having to deal with medical conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, Valerie has found that learners have thrived during their outdoor work.
Valerie said: “When I heard about Julie and Carys’ work, I knew that learners on my courses could make a valuable contribution to this important cause. They have to take part in outdoor activity as part of their Duke of Edinburgh qualifications and I thought this would be the perfect outlet to do this while making a real difference to the local community. Our learners have thoroughly enjoyed their experience and are proud to be involved in something like this.
“This initiative has also highlighted the importance of outdoor learning to me. Many of my learners typically have more obstacles than most to education and tend to be disinterested in traditional educational settings. Yet, during this project, they have been transformed and it has been amazing to see to them flourish.”
Following the success of the scheme, Coleg y Cymoedd is hoping to continue work on the Tynant woodlands and common with future learners. The college is also in talks with Julie, Carys and Rhondda Cynon Taf council to begin work on a similar, larger-scale project at the Cwm tips.