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Welsh Wildlife during lockdown ‐ survey reveals how nature responded

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Logo: Snowdonia National Park
Cwm Idwal path looking towards the mountains (Ben Porter Photography)
Cwm Idwal path (Ben Porter Photography)

In Spring 2020 a so-called period of ‘anthropause’ led to reduced air and noise pollution in urban areas which enabled the sound of birdsong to permeate areas usually filled with the sound of traffic. Reports hit the headlines of goats descending from the Great Orme into the town of Llandudno and Harbour Porpoise swimming up the river Severn. Yet, how wildlife was responding was largely constrained to anecdotal records from the few able to be in these areas, including local farmers and land managers. Therefore before the lifting of lockdown measures in early July, Natural Resources Wales, the National Trust and the Snowdonia National Park Authority came together to contract a specialist to undertake surveys across seven sites, to assess exactly what was going on and how nature had responded to these unprecedented events. These surveys would serve as a baseline so that future repetition would allow comparisons to be made.

Ring Ouzel in Cwm Idwal (Ben Porter Photography)
Ring Ouzel in Cwm Idwal (Ben Porter Photography)

A total of seven different sites across Snowdonia and north Wales were chosen for these surveys. Four of these sites were the upland, mountainous areas of Yr Wyddfa, the Ogwen Valley, the Carneddau and Cader Idris; whilst three sites were the more wooded, lowland sites of Coed-y-Brenin, Coed Llenyrch and Niwbwrch (Newborough Warren). Within each of these large areas, a series of transect routes were chosen following main footpaths, along which a variety of surveys took place. Broadly, the surveys along these ‘transect’ routes included recording breeding birds, vegetation condition along pathways and at popular gathering points, mammal activity and litter abundance. Any other additional notes or sightings relevant to the study were also recorded, including insects, the presence of people and notes on grazing levels in some of the upland sites. For each of the surveys, a handheld GPS was carried to record the transect route and mark any useful waypoints, which enabled the later digitisation of the route and specific location for any rare or noteworthy sightings.

Herring Gull on Snowdon summit (Ben Porter Photography)
Herring Gull on Snowdon summit (Ben Porter Photography)

Naturalist Ben Porter carried out the surveys on ten days between 6th June and 26th June 2020 to cover the seven sites and enable more than one transect in some of the larger upland sites. The surveys were spread out across this period due to changeable weather conditions and the need for appropriate weather to survey the higher altitude, more mountainous areas.

A remarkable diversity of plants was recorded along usually well‐trodden paths – such as the mossy saxifrage, wild thyme and stagshorn clubmoss in abundance on the ascent from Cwm Idwal.

Mossy Saxifrage (Ben Porter Photography)
Mossy Saxifrage (Ben Porter Photography)

At all three of the lowland sites, nesting birds were found in places where they most likely would not have been in usual circumstances. Ringed plovers do nest on the beaches on and close to Llanddwyn Island regularly, but they have successfully reared good numbers of chicks this spring for the first time in many years, because lockdown left these normally busy beaches peculiarly quiet. In upland sites birds were found breeding on and near usually well‐trodden paths, where plants and wild flowers could now flourish. Less litter and picnic left‐overs meant fewer predator species – such as herring gulls and foxes ‐ which is likely to have given breeding birds a helping hand. Insect life was also in abundance, due to the warm weather as well as the lockdown conditions.

Logo: Natural Resources Wales
Logo: National Trust

Reflecting on the study, Ben Porter said: “It was an almost surreal experience to witness the absolute silence that pervaded the landscape in most of these sites, save for the sound of birdsong, trickling water and the odd bleating sheep or goat. One of the most obvious observations was the sheer abundance of species like meadow pipit and wheatear along the main pathways. Birds normally averse to the presence of people ‐ such as common sandpiper and ring ouzel ‐ were seen nesting close to paths too. Herring gulls were virtually absent from their usual nesting colony on Snowdon. They usually subsist on food waste from visitors, so lockdown probably impacted their ability to exist in the area this season.”

The intention is that the same surveys will be carried out again at the same time of year in 2021 in order to compare results.

Angela Jones, Partnerships Manager, Snowdonia National Park Authority and Ben Porter, Naturalist and Photographer https://www.benporterwildlife.co.uk/

Read the full report: https://www.snowdonia.gov.wales/authority/wildlife-in-lockdown

Watch Ben Porter’s ‘Lockdown wildlife’ slideshow on YouTube

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