Why is Moelyci a special place?
Ffarm Moelyci is like a biodiversity time capsule; it still supports the rich habitat mosaic and diverse range of species which were part of all upland farms one hundred years ago, before the twentieth century push to grow more food resulted in the “improvement” of most of our farmland. Agricultural improvement has proved very effective in increasing food production in the UK but drainage, reseeding and the application of artificial fertilizers have resulted in the destruction of important wildlife habitat. Moelyci is such a special place for wildlife because it has not been the subject of major agricultural improvement.
- The flowers of Moelyci include three species which catch and digest insects.
- 54 species of waxcap and associated fungi have been found in Moelyci pastures, making it internationally important for grassland fungi.
- Lizards are a common sight on the ffridd on sunny days.
- Bracken can be beneficial to wildlife by providing shelter for vulnerable plants and butterflies, and several species of insect feed purely on bracken. But it can be damaging when dense bracken casts deep shade and leaves an impenetrable layer of leaf litter. Moelyci currently has too much bracken.
- The mountain is part of the Eryri Special Area of Conservation, meaning it has the highest level of protection under the EC Habitats Directive, and the farm receives payments from the European Union to help maintain the habitats, though perhaps not for much longer.
- The insects of Moelyci include a fly and a beetle so far found nowhere else in Wales and two out of Gwynedd’s three species of fritillary butterfly.
- Parts of Moelyci are a living museum of what Welsh hill farms were like before the Second World War.
- Modern farming involving drainage, fertilisers, reseeding and herbicides would destroy most of Moelyci’s wildlife.
- One of the Moelyci buildings is reserved for use by roosting bats.
Dawn Chorus May 2016
Find more birdsongs and chorus’ on our [SoundCloud Page]
Tracks kindly provided by Jordon Harris
Most of Moelyci’s habitat could be described as “semi-natural”; its pastures exist because of hundreds years of human intervention in the form of livestock grazing, haymaking, bracken clearance and the burning of moorland. Without these interventions the farm’s grassland and heathland would become scrub and eventually woodland. However, most of the plants and animal species in Moelyci’s pastures were part of the “wild” landscape well before human populations settled in the uplands and started grazing livestock. These native wild plants and animals found new niches in the semi-natural habitat created by generations of pastoralists in the UK uplands. In other words the land on the farm is strongly influenced by human activity and so only semi-natural but the plants and animals are wild.
Moelyci is situated on a northwest facing slope at the foot of the Ogwen valley near Bangor in North Wales. The farm’s 390 acres rise from 100 metres above sea level to the top of Moelyci Mountain at an altitude of 400 metres and because of its 300 metres of altitudinal range and its lack of improvement the farm supports a really rich diversity of unspoilt habitats.
Moelyci Mountain – Site of Special Scientific Interest
The SSSI on Moelyci Mountain is an important example of an upland, western gorse and heather moor. Western gorse is confined to the westernmost fringes of the United Kingdom from Cornwall to Southern Scotland. It is characterised by a low, compact growth habit, in contrast to the larger and more “straggly” appearance of European gorse which has a widespread distribution throughout the UK. The other important heathland shrubs on the mountain are bell heather and ling. In conjunction with the adjacent woodland the mountain supports 21 species of breeding birds and is a particularly important habitat for stonechat, whitethroat and linnet which love the cover offered by the gorse. There are a numerous pairs of meadow pipits breeding on the mountain and cuckoos visiting the SSSI do so to parasitize their nests. Also present is the weaver’s wave, a rare moth only found in a handful of upland sites in northwest Wales.
Moorland was traditionally managed to create a mosaic of patches containing different lengths of heather: making young tender growth available for grazing animals, providing resilience against accidental fires and creating habitat for wildlife, particularly grouse. These days weather conditions and lack of manpower can make it difficult to manage moorland in this way. The resulting heather cover can be of mature “leggy” plants, unpalatable to grazing animals, lacking in the structural diversity that benefits traditional heathland species (although slower growing species such as lichens can benefit) and making the habitat much more vulnerable to damage by fires.
The Lower Slopes
The wet and dry grassland on the lower slopes of the farm are species-rich in flowers and invertebrates. Snipe have been seen here and may be attempting to breed and this is an important area for waxcap fungi – mycologists now think that Moelyci is the second best waxcap site in Arfon. The wet area of Cae Newydd has a good population of small pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies and the dry part of the field is a good place to see mountain bumblebees feeding on bird’s-foot trefoil.
The Valley bottom
Fields of marshy and dry grassland on the valley bottom have a rich assemblage of flowers and invertebrates including dozens of greater butterfly orchids, marsh cinquefoil, water forget-me-not, ragged robin and common cotton grass. The dark green fritillary butterfly was recorded here in July 2015 for the first time ever on the farm. An area of mature oaks and ashes near the old railway track support a woodland breeding bird community including: redstart, nuthatch, tree-creeper and greater spotted woodpecker and finally, at the entrance to the farm on either side of the track you will see two fields containing yellow meadow ant nest mounds. Yellow meadow ants are the favoured food of Moelyci’s resident green woodpeckers.
Farming and Biodiversity at Moelyci
This wonderful array of habitats and species is the result of years, perhaps as much as 2,000 years, of grazing by cattle, sheep and ponies. Farmers have shaped Moelyci’s semi-natural habitat, from nature’s raw materials. The farm’s biodiversity resource is there because of a delicate dynamic between management, situation, soil, hydrology and climate. Our aim at Ffarm Moelyci is to demonstrate that we can farm here in a way that protects and enhances this precious resource and also produces safe, sustainable food.
With thanks to Alice Smith and John Bratton from Moelyci Wildlife Group.
Species Found at Ffarm Moelyci
Western Gorse (Ulex gallii)
Bell Heather (Erica cinerea)
Ling Heather (Calluna)
Red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica)
Weaver’s Wave Moth (Idaea contiguaria)
The Lower Slopes
Wax Cap (Hygrocybe)
Pearl-Bordered Fritillary Butterflies (Boloria silene)
Mountain Bumblebee (Bombus monticola)
Bird’s-Foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus).
The Valley Bottom
Greater Butterfly Orchids (platanthera chlorantha)
Marsh Cinquefoil (Comarum palustre)
Water Forget-Me-Knot (Myosotis scorpiodes)
Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi)
Common Cotton Sedge (Eriophorum angusttifolium).
Dark Green Fritillary butterfly (Argynnis aglaja)
Yellow Meadow Ant (Lasius flavus)
Links above are taken from Wikipedia. For more direct information about local ecology we recommend visiting:
RSPB – The RSPB is the UK charity working to secure a healthy environment for birds and all wildlife, helping to create a better world for everyone.
Plant Life – Plantlife is the organisation that is speaking up for our wild flowers, plants and fungi.
Butterfly Conservation – Butterfly Conservation is a British charity devoted to saving butterflies, moths and their habitats throughout the UK.