We had plans for a series of cascading pools interlinked by a meandering stream that follows the natural sweep of the land as it falls from the cottage at Ffos y Fign to the designated floodplain at Lofftwen’s southern edge. Working alongside local ecologist and wetland expert, Laurence Brooks, we set about understanding how best to implement this plan. To our surprise, his excellent and very detailed report on the current state of Lofftwen’s wetlands and their future potential, concluded that although our vision would look very nice, on a project of our size it would do relatively little to support our overall goal of creating as rich and diverse a range of habitats that can support as much wildlife as possible. To paraphrase his report, the best thing we could do is to carry on doing very little.
This is, of course, a clumsy oversimplification of the report’s detailed recommendations. But relative to what we had been planning, which would have been costly to implement and maintain, continuing with a minimal interventionist approach – a little slowing down of the water here, encouraging more seasonal flushes over there – felt like we were being told to ‘do nothing’.
In many respects this was a welcome surprise as to-date nothing on this project has cost less than we had anticipated - there is always a surprise around the corner! But more importantly, once this new vision had been given time to trickle into our collective subconscious, the potential for what these types of varied wetland habitats could support became even more exciting. Yes, our original plans would have had the capacity to attract some exciting signature species, such as king fishers and even potentially otters, but they would be doing so to the detriment of rarer types of habitat and wildlife that are under even greater threat, including the invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians and small mammals that ultimately such signature apex species (including us humans) depend upon.
As we continue to work on our ‘do nothing’ approach to the wetlands, visitors may notice some subtle changes to the channels and ditches that line the public footpaths running through Lofftwen. In time, although you will be unlikely to spot an otter or king fisher, you will hopefully start to see specialised dragonflies such as keeled skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) and black darter (Symphytrum danae) flitting about in a seemingly infinite number of small pools within acid heath/grassland and wet sphagnum rich habitats. Marsh and small pearl-bordered fritillaries will bob about in numbers on marshy grasslands abundant with devil’s bit scabious and marsh violets, whilst in winter, flushes and other wet ground rich with worms and insects will attract foraging common snipe (Gallinago gallinago) and reed buntings (Embreiza schoeniculus) searching fringe vegetation for suitable breeding spots. Now this is a vision for the future of Lofftwen’s wetlands that truly gets our hearts racing…