PROGRESS REPORT ON THE DENBIGHSHIRE MOORLANDS PROJECT
- Meeting of Communities Scrutiny Committee, Thursday, 9 March 2023 10.00 am (Item 6.)
- View the declarations of interest for item 6.
To consider a report (copy enclosed) by the Area Manager for the Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) outlining the progress to date in delivering the objectives of the Denbighshire Moorland Project. The report also seeks the Committee’s support for extending the existing partnership with a view to securing the delivery of future commitments and realising the Council’s ambition of becoming net carbon zero and an ecologically positive authority.
10.45 A.M- 11.30 A.M
~~~~ BREAK (11.30 A.M- 11.45 A.M) ~~~~
Countryside Officer, David Shiel presented the report (previously circulated) to the Committee.
The report monitored progress against the objectives of the Denbighshire Moorland Project established as one of the recommendations of the Llantysilio Mountain Fire Review in 2019.
There were key areas of activity covered in the last 2 years. The current Partnership with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) had been very effective in sharing collaborative information. The NRW Partnership was due to expire in August 2023 and discussions were underway to seek to extend the Partnership.
Several methods had been used to enable the restoration of the fire damage to the mountain and the following details were given: -
· Heather was used to provide a protection to the soil from erosion by the elements and a microclimate for heather seed to naturally colonise. An upland grass seed mix was also sown under the heather brash to stabilise soil and act as a nursery crop for naturally colonising moorland plants.
· Surveys on the plots had shown reasonable success in establishing the grass seed mix where the heather brash was spread out thinly. A thick heather mulch was found to suppress natural regeneration and germination of grass seed.
· In October 2021, a 5-hectare area of Moel y Faen, which was most severely affected by the wildfire, was hydro-seeded with an upland grass seed mix. Working with a Specialist Contractor, North Wales Fire and Rescue Service (NWFRS) and Severn Trent Water, over 100,000 Litres of water was pumped to the top of Moel y Faen where the hydro-seed slurry was mixed and spread.
· A further 5-hectares of accessible moorland on Moel y Faen and Moel y Gamelin were conventionally seeded using a specialist Alpine Tractor.
· Soil loss was a concern and would take many years to return.
· During the Project the main focus had been to engage with the farming community, learning about issues and barriers to managing the moorland and exploring solutions to their needs. The Moorland Field Officer had developed good working relationships with landowners and grazers. There was also a strong working relationship with the North Wales Fire and Rescue Service where joint training days had been undertaken and opportunities afforded to the Service to trial new equipment and methods to deal with wildfires.
· As a result of the Project, approximately 140 hectares of Moorland Management had been delivered across sites in Denbighshire covering Ruabon/Llantysilio Mountains and Minera, Llandegla Moor and at sites on the Clwydian Range (Moel Famau Country Park).
· The Project had also enabled the production of multi-agency public information communications and videos to launched and shared on a national basis through various media outlets.
The Chair thanked the Countryside Officer for his detailed report and welcomed questions from Members of the Committee.
Councillor Merfyn Parry welcomed the report and the lessons that had seemingly been learnt from the past. However, he questioned that there was no mention of liaising with local Members regarding what was happening in the local area. Members knew their wards best so could also offer some valuable information to the Team. The Countryside Officer welcomed this liaison and stated that while the Partnership Board was an operational Board, he would look at providing updates to local Member Area Groups (MAGs) as and when appropriate.
Councillor Jon Harland queried the lack of tree planting mentioned within the report. The Countryside Officer explained that these were designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and were therefore subject to strict conservation regulations as national and internationally recognised areas of ecological interest. Whilst, possibly thousands of years ago trees may be grown on these heath and moorlands trees were not a main habitat on the moorlands and some trees were removed as they had the potential to aid wildfires by increasing the fuel load. Heathland and moorlands by their very nature were hugely valuable in the battle to combat the effects of climate change as they were of extremely useful for carbon sequestration purposes.
Members expressed concern that the current partnership with NRW was due to expire in August 2023 and whether there was a plan in place if the Partnership was not extended and funding not secured for the continuation of the Moorland Field Officer post. The Countryside Officer stated that consultations with NRW had taken place and currently NRW were very supportive of continuing with the Project and the Partnership.
The Head of Planning, Public Protection and Countryside Services thanked Members for their feedback and reassured the Committee that they would be kept updated with future developments.
The Chair thanked officers for the report and their continued hard work on the Project.
A discussion took place on the advantages and disadvantages of planting trees on heathlands and moorlands for addressing climate change challenges, including the physical and legal barriers to undertaking such practices, its potential to significantly lead to the demise of well-established unique ecosystem along with the increased risk of significant devastation caused by wildfires.
At the conclusion of the discussion the following recommendations were proposed and seconded:
(i) to endorse the progress made to date in delivering the Denbighshire Moorlands Project and support the efforts underway to extend the existing partnership with Natural Resources Wales;
(ii) to request that officers of the Moorland Partnership Board regularly update local councillors on any Board decisions or operational work that affects their electoral ward; and
(iii) to explore opportunities to plant trees on moorland areas in Denbighshire.
All of the above were put to the vote with recommendations (i) and (ii) being endorsed unanimously. Recommendation (iii) was defeated by a majority of 7 votes to 2.
Therefore, the Committee:
Resolved: subject to the above observations to –
(i) endorse the progress made to date in delivering the Denbighshire Moorlands Project and support the efforts underway to extend the existing partnership with Natural Resources Wales;
(ii) request that officers of the Moorland Partnership Board regularly update local councillors on any Board decisions or operational work that affects their electoral ward.
The Committee paused for a comfort break at this time.
On resuming the business, the Committee Chair who had re-joined the meeting assumed the chairing duties for the remainder of the meeting.
- Denbighshire Moorlands Project Report 090323, item 6. PDF 393 KB
- Denbighshire Moorland Project Report 090323 - App 1, item 6. PDF 1 MB