AFTER five years of felling to combat a deadly tree disease, and a summer beset by deliberate fires, staff at Cwmcarn Forest Drive are looking forward to a brighter future.

And on Saturday, they invited members of the public to tour the woodland – closed to vehicles since 2014 – to find out more about Natural Resources Wales' plans to regenerate the popular tourist spot.

Children's play areas, striking sculptures of wildlife, and even outdoor yoga sites are among the ideas proposed by NRW for the first stage of their project.

It's a welcome relief for the members of the local community who eagerly await the re-opening of the forest where vast swathes of trees had to be cut down to halt the spread of larch tree disease P. Ramorum.

Around 70 per cent of Cwmcarn forest had to be felled, NRW's Peter Cloke estimates.

"Under legislation, we had to stop the disease spreading," Mr Cloke said. "We looked at felling while keeping the forest open [to public vehicles], but the scale of the work meant we couldn't.

"For five years, we've been busy clearing the forest, but now we've got to the end and we have an opportunity to re-open it."

This work will involve the planting of countless native trees, to repopulate Cwmcarn's ancient woodland, but NRW is also looking to improve the forestry and restore it as a tourist hotspot.

On Saturday's tours, NRW's project manager for Cwmcarn, Geminie Drinkwater, showed the public how parts of the forest drive would be transformed into picnic areas, play facilities, and the most amazing viewpoints – from which visitors can see down into Newport and beyond.

The plans impressed locals who were on the tour.

"It's a lovely idea, and it'll be nice to see [the forest drive] open again," Cwmcarn resident Amanda Haines said. "They've worked really hard and put a lot of thought into it."

The restoration of Cwmcarn would have been at a more advanced stage, were it not for a spate of deliberate fires set in and near the forest drive in the summer of 2018, which killed many of the newly-planted saplings on the hillsides.

"They were the biggest forest fires in South Wales for 20 or 30 years," Mr Cloke said. "Arson is really irresponsible behaviour. It's heartbreaking when you see all your work going up in flames."

But now the NRW team can look forward – they hope to complete the first phase of the project and have Cwmcarn Forest Drive open as soon as possible in 2020.

On September 18, Friends of Cwmcarn Forest Drive group will host a public meeting at the the Cwmcarn Working Men's Club and Institute from 7pm to 8.30pm.