Wildlife during lockdown: findings from North Wales


During lockdown 2020, I was commissioned by the Snowdonia National Park and Natural Resources Wales to undertake a series of surveys in a number of iconic areas in North Wales, with the aim of assessing how the wildlife and landscape of these areas had responded to the lack of people during such an exceptional period. These areas usually play host to tens of thousands of people visiting every year, and so the lack of human disturbance during such a key time of the year provided a unique opportunity to investigate our impact upon these special places. The full report on the findings of these surveys are available on the Snowdonia National Park website here, with a photographic overview of the findings below. 

A Carneddau Pony poses on the slopes of Yr Elen in the Carneddau

Birdlife

The birdlife in most areas flourished in the absence of disturbance from people: meadow pipits, pied wagtails and wheatears were found nesting along pathways normally well-trodden by people; timid species such as common sandpipers and ring ouzels were found breeding in places where the usual level of human presence would not enable them to do so, such as around the lake of Llyn Idwal where three pairs of common sandpiper and a great crested grebe pair were nesting. In the woodland areas, the nests of species like wood warbler and redstart were found right beside paths along usually busy stretches of footpaths such as at Coed y Brenin. Herring gulls were likely the only species negatively affected by this period, with fewer birds breeding around Yr Wyddfa in the absence of the usual food scraps on which they depend, taken from the maligned tourists and leftovers at the summit café.

  • A male Common Redstart in Ceunant Llennyrch woodland

  • A male Ring Ouzel breeding close to the footpath near Cwm Idwal

  • Meadow Pipits took advantage of quiet pathways to nest in the lush grass alongside

  • A fledgling Pied Flycatcher in Ceunant Llennyrch

  • Herring Gulls abandoned some upland sites in the absence of their usual food discards from visitors

  • A Wood Warbler beside a usually busy pathway in Coed y Brenin

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Plantlife

Footpaths normally compacted and trodden upon by countless thousands of people were awash with plantlife: grasses, ferns and flowering plants springing up along the path edges and from between the cracks of rocks, almost obscuring the paths themselves in areas such as Cader Idris. Scarce species such as Starry saxifrage, Mossy saxifrage and the Dwarf willow Salix herbacea were also found to be benefitting from this reduced trampling, especially in some of the upland sites such as around Y Garn and along the Miner's track to Yr Wyddfa. At Llanddwyn Island and Newborough on Anglesey, the flowering plantlife in usually busy car parks and along the paths was remarkable: species such as Bloody cranesbill and Viper's bugloss exploding in a burst of vibrant colour. 

  • Starry Saxifrage, a scarce alpine-arctic plant, benefitted along pathways with the reduced footfall

  • Looking skyward from beneath the canopy of Atlantic Oak woods in Ceunant Llennyrch

  • Mosses and ferns benefitted along gorge sides where they are usually vulnerable to activities such as gorge walking

  • Bell Heather along the edge of Llyn Idwal

  • Heath Bedstraw and Wild Thyme flourishing along the pathway around Llyn Idwal

  • Bloody Cranesbill flowers and grasses along the footpath around Ynys Llanddwyn on Anglesey

  • Bracken obscuring the Minffordd pathway ascending to Cader Idris

  • A Lemon-scented Male Fern emerging from within the cracks of the footpath on Cader Idris

  • Bog Asphodel flowers up-close

  • The delicate Starry Saxifrage emerging from the centre of a normally well-trodden footpath

  • Tree Mallow taking over one of the litter bins in the popular beach car park on Newborough Warren

  • The tiny Dwarf Willow (Salix herbacea), a species benefitting from lessened footfall along some paths

  • Mossy Saxifrage near Twll Ddu above Cwm Idwal

  • The vegetation emerging along the path beginning towards Cwm Idwal

  • Viper's Bugloss proliferating amongst many other wildflowers in Newborough's beach car park

  • The miniature Alpine Clubmoss on Cader Idris

  • Juniper clinging to boulders beside the Watkin path on Yr Wyddfa

  • Bryophyte assemblage beside the Fox track below Cader Idris

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Litter

Even in the absence of regular visitors in these popular areas of Eryri, there was still a surprising amount of litter along many of the footpaths. For example, a total of 75 items of 22 different types were found around Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon), although only eleven pieces of litter were found around Cwm Idwal, five around Cader Idris and just two on a transect survey over the Carneddau. Sadly this situation did not persist after the release of lockdown, with some of the worst littering ever seen in these areas over the summer of 2020, highlighting the dire need for increased education of visiting tourists and the ability to enforce appropriate fines for this intolerable behaviour in our precious outdoor areas. 

  • A plastic bottle carelessly tossed aside on the Watkin path on Yr Wyddfa

  • A dog poo path left along the path circling Llyn Idwal

Take-aways

Whilst in reality many of the wildlife species and habitats in these areas (particularly those upland sites) are primarily governed by the forces of those grazing animals which are used to manage them, we must critically examine what impact we ourselves have on the wildlife and landscape that make places like North Wales so special. These surveys provide a way of evaluating our impact upon the natural world, and a base on which to examine how we could minimise this for the benefit of the environment. I hope organisations such as the Snowdonia National Park are able to use these data from the surveys to help manage the fine balancing line between providing access for people to these areas whilst safeguarding its special inhabitants into the future. Find out more about their work at the following link, and what steps you can take to 'tread lightly' when you visit these areas of Eryri.

  • A feral mountain goat at the base of Tryfan

  • A Bilberry bumblebee on Wild Thyme

  • Cottongrass and a Welsh black cow near Llyn Llydaw (Snowdon)

  • Jo Porter scanning the nearby ridge on Y Garn for birdlife

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