People, Ponds and Water Officer Hannah Shaw shares the work going on to conserve rare wet mud plants at Ysgeifiog Moor Flagship Pond site in Pembrokeshire
I first visited this site in May last year when the gorse and willow scrub was head high and impenetrable – needless to say I didn’t see much of the site! However, knowing that in the past this site had provided habitat for the rare aquatic fern, Pillwort Pilularia globulifera, and the even rarer Three-lobed Water-crowfoot Ranunculus tripartitus (which looks like a small white member of the buttercup family) and the delicate and tiny Yellow Centaury Cicendia filiformis, I was keen to set this Flagship Pond site up and get habitat restoration works for these rare and highly specialist plants underway.
Through the Heritage Lottery Funded Flagship Ponds project, Freshwater Habitats Trust has been able to support Natural Resources Wales to get this vital work done. In the past, the trackways and gateways of the moor would have been open wet mud, trampled and poached by livestock. This disturbance is vital for wet mud specialists like Three-lobed Water-crowfoot, which require the seasonally wet bare wet mud to thrive.
Grazing on part of Ysgeifiog Moor ceased about 15 years ago. Since then the fen meadow, heathlands, and open, livestock-poached old Drovers Track and gateways have vegetated over. Smaller plants have been shaded out by the gorse and willow scrub, and tall rank grasses. The former importance of this site for nature conservation was recognised and in March 2012 Ysgeifiog Moor became a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Mary Chadwick at Natural Resources Wales has been fantastic and last winter, after she agreed the works with the landowner, she also arranged for a contractor, with a tracked Bobcat and flail, to remove the scrub from the old Drovers Track. The work has meant that the public footpath is now passable too. The clearance of the old Drovers Track and open rides through the thick gorse scrub on the SSSI will allow livestock access to the grazeable areas of the common, facilitating the regeneration of the fen meadow that has been smothered by the gorse scrub. It will also provide fire breaks.
In addition, two work parties organised by the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, with students from Portfield School and five voluntary wardens, have also cleared scrub from the site and raked up cut materials to open up the ‘new’ rides through the site to allow livestock access to the new green growth.
The next step is to install fencing and self-closing gates, and to get livestock back on the site so that the newly cleared muddy gateways can be trampled and poached to maintain the open wet mud habitats that the Pillwort, Three-lobed Water-crowfoot, and Yellow Centaury require.
It was wonderful to visit in early March 2017 and be able to walk around Ysgeifiog Moor, along the old Drovers Track and through the gateways, some of which have wonderful stone gateposts, and to see these freshly revealed habitats starting to ‘green-up’ and considering the work had not long been completed, a pleasing list of wetland plants were noted down. Marsh Marigold, Marsh Cinquefoil, Ragged Robin, and Water Mint were frequent along the margins of the Old Drovers Track, with Floating Club-rush, cotton grasses, sedges, Lesser Spearwort and Cuckoo Flower in the wetter areas in the centre of the track.
When I called in for a brief visit in early May this year, I was delighted to spot a newly germinated plant of Three-lobed Water Crowfoot growing on a cushion of wet mud, recently exposed as the flooded puddle in the old gateway ‘pinchpoint’ receded.
It’s wonderful to see the first of the three rarities that the Flagship Ponds project is helping and I am looking forward to visiting again later this month to search for more Three-lobed Water-crowfoot and also the sites other special plants, Pillwort and Yellow Centaury.