Heroes for a heroic woods
Coed Ffos Las
Coed Ffos Las is a young woodland bursting into life, planted on the slopes of the Gwendraeth Valley as a memorial to lives lost in the First World War. The Woodland Trust purchased the site near Llanelli in 2014. As part of the Centenary Woods project, we planted 90,000 trees to create a new haven for wildlife. The centenary wood tells the stories of the First World War and the vital role woods and trees played during this conflict, marked by a commemorative feature and interpretive trail across the site.
The site is a combination of rolling landscape, panoramic views and wonderful woodland. As it develops, the woodland will include areas of coppiced trees and high canopy trees. A series of hedgerows around open grassland will provide ideal habitats for ground-nesting birds as well as hunting territories for owls and other birds of prey.
History of Coed Ffos Las
The site once formed part of Dyffryn Maes Gwilym Farmholding and is still sometimes known locally as Maes Gwilym. The farm was demolished in the 1980s as part of open cast mining activity and some of the land was used for storage of ‘over-burden’ and machinery from the mine next door where the Ffos Las racecourse is located today. As the race course is situated directly on top of the old mine, it is extremely well drained is less prone to get boggy than other race courses.
Helen Simmonds and her husband David, have been volunteer wardens at the site for nearly two years. They have eight adopted rescue dogs who roam the woodland with them every day.
As wardens, the pair acts as custodians for the site. As well as opening and closing the car park gate and picking up litter (they also volunteer for Keep Wales Tidy), they often engage with other visitors to the site, sharing their knowledge and passion for the woodland and the wildlife it supports. People from Carway, the local village, and those from further afield are still discovering the site and meeting our dedicated wardens is part of the experience.
When they first moved to the area three years ago they were completely new with no existing contacts in the area. Now people know them and their role at the woods and people really appreciate them.
The task of opening and closing the gate for the car park is very important for the site. When the car park was left open there were issues with unsavoury behaviour. Restricting access helped curb these issues. Unfortunately, the first lockdown also led to a peak of disrespectful behaviour such as littering, dog fouling and leaving BBQs. This led to the gate being locked full time to restrict access to the site.
Helen and David have already seen much change on the site. The saplings are growing up nicely; some are already 8 foot tall!
Skylarks were a very common sight and Helen reports that their numbers are down. Whether this is due to the increase in tree cover or the increase in dogs roaming off the lead is unknown. There are signs up to ask people to keep dogs on the lead during nesting season, as well as our ambassadors on site to explain the importance of dogs on leads to avoid disturbing ground nesting birds.
Other birds are also present on site: Snipe, barn owl, red kite, stonechats and even a report of a White tailed eagle. The neighbours enjoy the reassuring chorus of geese overhead and ‘clatter’ of jackdaws every night. As the trees and other habitats develop the range of wildlife is expected to bloom. Bats, hares, voles, grass snakes, toads and frogs are set to move in.
These special people are willing to stand up for the woods and protect it. They deeply care for their special place and are able to share that enthusiasm with their fellow visitors. They are natural custodians: protective of this beautiful area on their doorstep. We are very grateful to all of our Woodland Warden volunteers across Wales.
Written by Martha Boalch, Wales Volunteer Development Officer.
With thanks to Helen and David Simmonds, Woodland Warden volunteers and Chris Matts, Site Manager for South West Wales.