Translation of Issue 59 pages 29-31 Eryri – mwy na mynyddoedd: Ffair Biomarywiaeth Eryri

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Snowdonia – more than mountains

The Snowdonia Biodiversity Fair

Gethin Davies knows better than most how the experience of spending time in the open air, and enjoying the wide Welsh beaches, can influence what interests a person, and even his choice of career. That is one reason why Snowdonia National Park Authority’s annual Biodiversity Tour, which intends to concentrate on the Park’s marine habitats this year, is so close to his heart. In this article he explains more about the background of the annual Biodiversity Tour and gives us a taster of what children from three coastal primary schools can look forward to during June 2016.

In an age dominated by games consoles, smartphones and tablets, we hear too often about the lack of contact between young people and nature. You only need to read publications like the National Trust’s Natural Childhood to be convinced that there is more than a grain of truth in the phenomenon described as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’1.

In order to tackle this, Snowdonia National Park Authority (SNPA) has been hosting a Biodiversity Tour around the schools of Snowdonia for the past four years. The aim is to try and educate pupils about some of the natural wonders of this small, but very special, corner of Wales. The tour is usually held in June, to coincide with Wales Biodiversity Week, and the theme changes annually. Freshwater habitats, woodlands and soil have been studied in the past and in 2015 we concentrated on the night-time environment, as we tried to raise awareness amongst Park residents about the Authority’s Dark Sky initiative (see NC 55). This year, the focus will be on the marine environment, when we will take pupils from some of Snowdonia’s coastal schools out to learn about their local maritime environment.

Some 37 miles of Snowdonia National Park’s border is coastline, and it’s a very important area from a conservation perspective. Indeed, the whole of the National Park’s coastline has been designated as a Special Area for Conservation (SAC), and it forms a substantial part of the Pen Llŷn and Sarnau SAC. This stretches from Nefyn to Aberystwyth, more or less, and the area was designated because of the vast array of habitats and species, which are important on an European level. This is one of the biggest SACs in Britain!

You can discover many natural wonders in Cardigan Bay. If you went for a walk under the water along Pen Llŷn and the Sarnau, within half an hour you would pass rocky shores covered with limpets, hermit crabs and goby, before swimming across a sandy sea floor peppered with flounders, weever fish and sea mice. You could peep into dark caves, their walls covered with anemones and baked bean sea squirts. You might even glimpse a conger eel, or see some lounging grey seals!

You could go through the deep open waters and chance upon ten-foot-long basking sharks, sifting plankton with their gigantic mouths, and dolphins and porpoises leaping above the waves. And then you could wade out of the water onto one of the rocky reefs of the Sarnau or relax with the sea bass or the young mullets, which skulk in the shelter of the bays and creeks of the coastal river mouths. And remember, there are several other designated areas along the Snowdonia coast as well as the Pen Llŷn and Sarnau SAC, such as the Morfa Harlech and Morfa Dyffryn SAC, and each one has its unique character.

And yet, how many of us really think of these maritime habitats when we think of Snowdonia? Not many, I reckon, as Snowdonia is synonymous with mountains for most people. And that’s why it’s so important that we pay attention to ALL the special habitats that form Snowdonia.

The schools we will be concentrating on this year will be Ysgol Tywyn, Ysgol Ardudwy and Ysgol Eifionydd. The three schools are located at gateways to coastal Snowdonia. We will be taking Year 7 pupils out to their local beaches to take part in various activities connected with the maritime environment, such as:

  • Collecting maritime refuse, and discussing the harmful effects it has on marine wildlife, as well as the aesthetic benefits and the tourist industry in our coastal areas.
  • Recognising shoreline creatures and learning about their ecology and special features, which allow them to thrive in this unique habitat.
  • Make a cross-section of sand-dune habitats, and teaching pupils to recognise various plants using a key.
  • A presentation by the RNLI on the importance of maritime safety.
  • A visit by some of Pen Llŷn’s fishermen to discuss the economic importance of the sea to the region, and why protecting maritime habitats and the fish populations are important to sectors such as the fishing industry in rural Wales. If we’re lucky, we may get a chance to cook and taste some of the morning’s catch if the weather is agreeable!

Of course, not all of these activities relate directly to nature conservancy. But we feel it is very important to discuss a wide range of subjects and issues which are related to the marine environment during the tour. Ultimately, they all intertwine, as well as being dependent on a healthy maritime environment.

Of course, it would be impossible for the Authority to provide all of these activities alone, so we will be working closely with several partners and local experts during the tour. This year, as the theme is the maritime environment, we will be depending on the support of the Pen Llŷn and Sarnau SAC project along the way. The Pen Llŷn and Sarnau SAC project involves many activities to do with the maritime environment and each one includes co-operation between field managers, users and local residents. They include:

Porth Dinllaen Seagrass Project: This project considers various options available to lessen the effect of anchorages on the seagrass without affecting the people who use the area. The project also looks at how the seagrass can contribute to the local economy.

Maritime Ecosystems Project: A project which works with local fishermen on maritime projects.

Morfa Gwyllt Project: This project looks at the lagoon (Morfa Gwyllt) near Tywyn in south Gwynedd, to see what can be done to improve this habitat.

Dolphin-watch Project : A voluntary code of behaviour was recently launched for boats to try to ensure that no adverse effect is had on sea wildlife. This project will look at dolphin behaviour in the vicinity of boats.

Additionally, the Wildlife Trust’s Live Seas project will be helping us, so between all three partners, we will have plenty of expertise to inspire and educate the pupils about north-west Wales’s maritime environment.

In a period of financial insecurity, public bodies need to be very creative with what little money they have, which is another reason why the Biodiversity Tour is such a successful event. On average, it costs around £600 to stage the event every year, and we regularly reach an audience of hundreds of children, which entails a cost per head of less than £2 per child – a very reasonable expense, considering the experience and pleasure the children will have from learning about their natural environment.

As I look back at my childhood, I was extremely fortunate to be brought up at Bae Cemaes, a village on the north Anglesey coast. The beach and the sea were a very important part of my childhood, and I believe that the hours I spent there have fostered my interest in nature, conservation and the open air. I am lucky that this interest has led to a career in conservation with SNPA. I hope that by holding the biodiversity show, we can inspire some of the conservationists and ecologists of the future. Even if we don’t succeed in doing so, the experience will increase pupils’ understanding of the natural environment and the wonders of nature that are around them everywhere, and will lead in time to securing a more vibrant and sustainable future for these very special areas.

*Everyone has an opportunity to take part in these projects. If you are interested, please contact the SAC Officer, Alison Hargrave for more details [email protected]

Gethin Davies works for the Conservation, Trees and Agriculture service within Snowdonia National Park Authority. If you would like to contact Gethin, phone 01766 772 255 or email  [email protected]

References

  1. S, Moss. (2012). Natural Childhood. The National Trust.