Protecting the waters of Snowdonia

7 August 2018

Snowdonia National Park Authority's Gethin Davies takes a look at the complexities of catchment scale conservation through his work to improve water quality in the Afon Eden. #summerofbeauty

Having spent 18 months on secondment with Natural Resources Wales, I recently returned to the National Park to manage a Welsh Government* funded project aimed at encouraging more sustainable land-use within a very special catchment in the heart of Snowdonia.

The catchment in question, Yr Eden, lies in a highly rural area just to the south of Traswsfynydd, and is home to one of the last remaining populations of the Freshwater pearl mussel in Wales. Once a common and abundant species found in rivers throughout the British Isles, populations have plummeted over centuries, originally due to pearl fishing and industrial pollution, whilst in more recent times the unsustainable management of our natural resources has meant that remaining populations struggle to replenish.

The presence of the freshwater pearl mussel, alongside other species such as Atlantic salmon, otters, and floating water-plantain, has resulted in the Afon Eden being designated a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), one of the highest level of protection afforded to ecologically important sites in the EU.

The circa 3500 ha catchment stands at the foothills of the Rhinogau mountain range, and is somewhat typical of many other river catchments found in upland fringes throughout Wales. The dominant land-use in the upper catchment is agriculture, namely sheep farming, whilst commercial forestry becomes more prominent the further down the catchment you go. The agricultural land is largely poor in quality, made up of rough pasture, peat bogs and some improved / semi-improved grassland, whilst small pockets of both native and non-native woodland (sometimes mixed) can be seen dotted around the landscape.

A scene typical of Eden catchment with the Rhinogau mountains in the background

A scene typical of Eden catchment with the Rhinogau mountains in the background. Photo credit: Snowdonia National Park Authority

Funded through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government, the project has several elements, all of which aim to contributing to the overarching objective of the project, which is to improve the water quality of the Afon Eden. Achieving this isn’t easy, the many pressures on the land makes for a complex picture in the National Park, but by working together and considering all forms of land use we can give the sparkling waters of the Afon Eden a brighter future.

Some of the main elements include:

  • Working alongside 15 land-owners within the catchment to undertake a host of on-farm works aimed at improving the sustainability of their respective holdings. This includes replacing aging infrastructure, restoring coniferous ‘shelter belts’ to native woodland, and improving riparian habitats along the Afon Eden and its tributaries;
  • Looking at further issues within the wider catchment and working in partnership with the relevant Authorities to address them. This includes the construction of a new bridge over the Afon Eden in place of an existing ford, looking at ways to improve the design of the commercial plantations in the area in order to reduce their impact on water quality and surrounding habitats, and looking at the feasibility of creating a multi-user path linking the community of Trawsfynydd with the nationally renowned mountain bike centre at Coed-y-Brenin;
  • Developing the existing local tree nursery at Plas Tan-y-Bwlch in order to be able to provide quality native trees of local provenance to landowners as part of this scheme, and others which the National Park administer;
  • Offering a paid internship for up to three persons throughout the duration of the project which will allow them to develop their personal skills whilst contributing positively to the objectives of the project;
  • Raising awareness of that we’re doing amongst the local and wider community, providGethin Davies of Snowdonia National Park Authoritying ample opportunities for volunteering and learning for anyone who wishes to learn more about the work we’ll be during over the course of the project. 

The project will come to an end in September 2020. By this time, it is hoped that we’ll have demonstrated to others that by undertaking some pretty basic measures, and considering all the different elements of land-use together on a catchment scale, we can demonstrate sustainable land-use that benefits both the land owners, the communities and the wonderful species which call Yr Eden home.

By Gethin Davies,

Project officer at the Snowdonia National Park Authority

To find out more about the Afon Eden Special Area of Conservation click here!

*This project has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.