The Woodland Trust preserves some of the best-loved beauty spots in Gwent. KATH SKELLON takes a look at its work.
MANY of us visit Gwent’s ancient woodlands to discover the wildlife and enjoy a leisurely walk, but little is known about the work of the Trust which owns and manages them.
The Woodland Trust (Coed Cadw) owns eight woodlands in the Gwent area, including one of the oldest in the UK at Wentwood, near Caerwent and Cefn Ila, near Usk.
It was founded in 1972 by retired farmer and agricultural machinery producer, Kenneth Watkins who was alarmed at the decline of the nation’s woodland, spinneys and copses cleared in the drive increase production.
Mr Watkins, together with friends and family began work to address the plundering that woodlands suffered during the last century.
Within five years he had acquired over 22 woods in six counties in the south-east of England and later acquired sites across the UK.
There are now over 1,100 sites covering 50,000 acres which are open to the public. These include over 100 sites in Wales, with a total area of 3,900 acres, providing homes for thousands of wildlife species.
The Trust , which has 300,000 members and supporters, aims to create more native woods and places rich in trees, to protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future and to inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees.
Visitors can enjoy public access to its sites at Wentwood, near Caerwent, Beaulieu Wood, Monmouth, The Punchbowl at Llanfoist, Priory Grove,Monmouth, Craig y Wenallt,Risca, Coed Gwraig,Llantilo, Great Triley Wood,Abergavenny and Whitemill Common and Roughets Wood at Shirenewton.
A mile outside the town of of Usk lies Cefn Ila- a 72-acre woodland, which was once home to a maternity hospital and was acquired by the Trust in 2007.
Visitors to what is described as 'Usk’s best kept secret' will find 36,000 native trees that have been planted, an orchard and walled garden.
It is also home to a bat maternity roost, song thrushes and marsh tits and provides an important refuge for the priority species that live there.
Earlier this week it was announced that the Trust will spend a £297,700 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund on creating a Victorian pleasure grounds, walled gardens and an orchard of rare fruit trees.
Trustees hope that a new generation of visitors will now have the opportunity to discover the site’s heritage.
Barry Embling, site manager for South-East Wales, said the money will enable the trust to carry out conservation work on the site, which is designated as one of Cadw’s registered Historic Parks and Gardens in Wales, and fund a history project and exhibition.
An initiative called The Discover Cefn Ila project; will create an oral histories project to gather memories and artefacts about the old maternity and convalescence hospital, which served as a sick bay for evacuees from London during the Second World War, but was destroyed by fire in 1973.
It will also create opportunities for 23 volunteers, community groups and schools to learn about the biodiversity and social heritage of the site.
Mr Embling said:"Part of the project will look at the types of pears and apples found in the orchard and put interpretation boards in place to tell visitors about the history of the site.
He said the Trust is always looking for people to become a volunteers and get involved in helping to take the site forward in various roles.
“The project is due to begin next month and will run for three years,” he added.
Another forest under his management is Wales’ largest ancient woodland at Wentwood Forest.
In 2005, the Woodland Trust raised £1.5million for members of the public and charities to buy up 870 acres of woodland to restore it to its former glory.
An Argus campaign helped raise £100,000 in donations towards the plan, which has seen the woodland's thinned to provide space and light for its native trees to re-establish themselves.
By the end of the 1960s much of the land at Wentwood Forest now owned by the trust had been planted with conifers - with much of its broadleaf trees felled during the two world wars, although patches remained.
Now almost all of the areas in the care of the trust that had been planted with conifers have been thinned, allowing the trees a chance to re-estabish themselves.
The Trust chooses to thin the wood slowly rather than felling large areas of the forest, as doing so could kill off rare and vulnerable woodland ferns.
The scheme continues to fund itself by selling the timber from the thinning process, and from continued fundraising.
Barry Embling, who is responsible for the management of the wood, said tens of thousands of tonnes of conifer trees have been removed, improving the habitats for wildlife such as dormouse, pipistrelle bat, song thrush and bullfinch.
"It's a real privilege to have the opportunity to restore Wales' largest remaining ancient forest.”
Last year the Trust carried out major work to chop down larch trees affected by the disease Phytophthora ramorum and is now awaiting inspection from Natural Resources Wales.
To find out more about the Woodland Trust and its sites visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk