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The Cradle for Nature project

Here at SUFT we are excited to have become a partner with a remarkable research project called Cradle for Nature. Cradle for Nature was started by Emeritus Professor Martin Haigh and his team of volunteers in 1990 at Varteg near Pontypool. Their aim was to explore practical and sustainable ways of reclaiming old opencast coal sites in South Wales and provide a ‘cradle for nature’. Thousands of trees have now been planted and records have been kept each year detailing tree growth, soil condition and increases in biodiversity.

Sadly, Martin passed away in February 2022 and many of the original team were finding it hard to continue. The decision was made to reach out to other local organisations to ensure his vital work could carry on. SUFT is proud to have been chosen to continue this project and to build on the research for further ecological restoration in the local area.

In September 2023 a group of SUFT staff and volunteers spent a wonderful week with some of the Cradle for Nature volunteers at the Varteg site. We also had discussions about the future of the project with local council representatives. Despite some challenging weather conditions, we worked together to measure the ‘Cariad’ plot for its twentieth anniversary. Back in 2003, 900 Alders and Oaks were planted in a Latin Square formation and the plot was divided in a 3 by 3 grid with 100 trees in each grid. A different planting method was then used in each row or column (notch, pit or trench).

The difficulties of planting trees on a reclaimed mine include extreme soil compaction and low nutrients from the mine spoils. This means it is hard to have enough nutritious soil for tree roots to get established. The site is also very exposed to the eroding effects of the wind and rain typical of a Welsh upland. For this reason, the team had planted Alder as a nursemaid species to support the Oaks. Alders are ideal for this task since they have nitrogen fixing roots and can cope with water-logged conditions. During our survey 20 years later, it was fascinating to see how some of the Alders were now dying back and the smaller Oak trees were gaining height. There was also lots of natural regeneration of Birch and Pine.

A team from SUFT returned in November 2023 to mark out the plot dimensions with wooden stakes. This means we can preserve the grid structure for future researchers and their data collection. It was great to see how much wildlife was visiting the plot. We saw flocks of Siskins feeding on Birch seeds and Fieldfares feeding on Hawthorn. There was also a huge variety of mosses, lichens and fungi. All indicators of a happy and healthy woodland ecosystem being established. This is a testament to the tremendous passion and dedication by the Cradle for Nature team over the years. We look forward to building on their discoveries and starting new woodland creation sites in the local area. This will involve a new generation of school groups and other volunteers who would benefit from greater access to wildlife and green spaces on reclaimed land.

Read more on the Cradle for Nature website here:

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