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Plans released to support nature at Welsh castles, abbeys and industrial sites

Blaenavon Ironworks. Credit: Cadw

Following months of national and local coronavirus lockdowns, the lack of footfall at Wales’s historical sites has allowed nature to thrive — and today (07 December) Cadw has revealed specialist plans to continue maximising onsite plant and animal life after its staffed monuments re-open.

Designed to support ecological growth, Cadw’s planned environmental works will take place at Caerphilly Castle, Rhuddlan Castle and Blaenavon Ironworks next year.

From the planting of wildflower meadows and pollinator havens to the installation of bat and bird boxes in surrounding trees, the planned works will mark an ecological awakening at some of Wales’s most iconic historic monuments — with Caerphilly Castle to receive the first improvements in coming months.

Working in partnership with independent ecological consultancy, BSG Ecology, Cadw has identified a number of opportunities that will enhance the natural surroundings of Wales’s largest fortress — for the benefit of both new and existing species, as well as future visitors.

The bespoke plans include the reintroduction of native wildflowers to the vast greenery of Caerphilly Castle — which has grown significantly since the closure of the site over recent months. Coupled with plans to further limit grass-mowing across the summer, this will help to attract essential pollinators to the urban site, from butterflies to bees.

Meanwhile, a visual transformation of the water-filled moat is planned. Weakened by erosion in recent years, the banks will be strengthened by plans to grow native pond-edge plants, such as Yellow Flag Iris and Purple Loosestrife — adding a splash of colour to the fortress grounds.

Wildlife will also benefit from the planned works, with the introduction of water-side perches to increase foraging opportunities for Kingfishers, floating rafts on the surface of the moat for nesting, as well as the addition of bat and bird boxes nestled among the trees.

Senior Ecologist at BSG Ecology, Caroline O’Rourke, said: “The main challenge was to identify biodiversity enhancement measures which were both flexible and appropriate to this magnificent fortress, respecting the archaeology and striking a balance between the different uses of the castle. We have worked closely with Cadw to achieve this.

“Although it will take a few years to see the real benefit of the planned ecology works at Caerphilly Castle, we hope that the implementation of the agreed plans will help to create an attractive, diverse, and ecologically resilient space for education and amenity, where visitors can both enjoy and interact with nature whilst exploring the Castle.

“Once it’s safe to do so, we also hope to invite the local community to assist with a series of hands-on tasks, such as building bee boxes and planting wildflowers around the grounds.”

Similar opportunities have been identified at a number of other heritage sites across Wales. These include letting the grass grow to re-establish wildflower meadows on the riverbanks of Rhuddlan Castle and sowing wildflowers along the borders of Blaenavon Ironworks.

Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Lord Elis-Thomas, said: “As Wales and the wider world experiences this unprecedented pandemic, it is wonderful to know that meanwhile, nature has thrived — not only at Wales’s historic sites, but around the globe.

“Flora and fauna are a natural part of the history of our sites — and this recent period of decreased footfall has offered a perfect opportunity to plan for nurturing their influence.

“Therefore, I hope that as we continue to safely re-open some of our staffed heritage sites across Wales, Cadw’s ecological efforts — combined with the public’s new-found appreciation for nature — will significantly enhance the visitor experience, all while effectively delivering our biodiversity obligations for Wales’s future.”