Volunteers have spent years transforming Rabbit Hill woodland from a fly-tipping hotspot to an enjoyable natural space, but are still battling antisocial behaviour and excessive littering. ROWENNA HOSKIN finds out more.

IN THE heart of Duffryn estate lies Rabbit Hill, a beautiful woodland that has long been used for flytipping and antisocial behaviour.

Keep Wales Tidy and Duffryn Community Link are working with volunteers to make the site welcoming with its Woodland Routes to Wellbeing scheme.

Project co-ordinator Morgan Nichols said: “We planted a hedgerow a couple of weeks ago, and by the following week someone had set fire to the middle of it.

“It gets quite frustrating, this behaviour has reduced compared to what it was like before we started, it is getting better – but behaviour change takes a long time.

South Wales Argus:

Burnt rubbish at the entrance to Duffryn wood

At the entrance of the woodland Ms Nichols pointed out the painted blocks that had been set alight last week, as well as a trampoline left in the reen and shopping trollies.

Suzanne Colwill, 59, of Coedkernew, who volunteered at the start of the project, said: “The fly-tipping and fire-starting constantly offends me, but once you get into the woodland and past that, it’s just so great to see all the volunteers getting together.”

Ms Nichols explained that the fly-tipping and anti-social behaviour moves to the edges of the woodland when the community group have a big presence.

South Wales Argus:

Some of the flytipped rubbish

“This unfortunately means that the entrances are intimidating, and it puts people off using the woodland because it doesn’t look welcoming,” she said.

The volunteers meet every week to make the woodland a more welcoming place, having cleared excessive amounts of greenery that blocked the light.

Volunteering sessions usually last around four hours depending on the work that needs to be done, sometimes whole days are necessary.

“It’s a shame so much rubbish has to be cleared, that’s time and money that could be spent on enhancing the woods,” said Ms Nichols.

Lloyd Davies, 21, of Merthyr said: “I drive for 50 minutes to get here to volunteer because I care about the children who enjoy these woods, I want it to be safe for them.”

“I’ve come in before when we’ve spent the entire day clearing the rubbish from the firepit and woods the day before and then the next day there’s 4ft of rubbish.

“I had a moment the other day when I had to just take myself away from the group because I was so angry, I just couldn’t believe that after all we are doing, people still treat the woods like a dumping ground.”

South Wales Argus:

Volunteer Lloyd Davies

Mr Davies added that he is aware that this type of behaviour upsets residents too.

Mr Davies and the other Play Rangers work with primary schools to engage the local children with nature.

The group is looking to connect with secondary schools to expand the reach of the project and encourage them to see the woods as an asset.

“It is important to play in nature for your mental health and development,” said Mr Davies

Mr Davies said that the wood occupies the children for hours, with activities ranging from den-building and arts and crafts to the very popular rope swing.

He pointed out that the rope swing wasn’t put up by the Woodland Routes to Wellbeing, but by residents.

“It’s really uplifting to see that they have come into the woods to spend time and enjoy it," he said. "You connect with nature by being in it.”

“Its hard to accept but I think that everyone gets more done if you accept that these things are slow and gradual.”

South Wales Argus:

Duffryn wood looking clean and welcoming

The project, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, has been going since 2016 and will finish in 2024.

Ms Nichols said she hopes that volunteers from the community will run the group after that point, with support from them.