Beautiful rare birds return to Welsh peatlands

In the Welsh mountains of Eyri in Snowdonia, the return of two bird species signals hope for the area’s wildlife. For the first time in 20 years, the peatlands are home again to the speckled wading birds: the golden plover and the curlew.

Their comeback follows four years of nature-friendly farming and peatland restoration organised by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Cymru, National Trust Cymru and the Ritchie family who run a sustainable farm on the moorland.

After hearing the cheeps of their chicks for the first time since the 1990s, Edward Ritchie, of Blaen y Coed farm said: “It’s been great to hear the curlew back at Blaen y Coed. The project has helped provide specialist machinery work for my brother and the results have also allowed for more scattered grazing by the sheep in the area, so we’re pleased with how things have gone.”

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Edward and his brother are National Trust tenants on the Ysbyty Ifan estate, in the Migneint Special Area of Conservation. This internationally significant moorland naturally stores carbon, protects biodiversity, filters water and prevents flooding, but only when kept in a good state.

‘A common goal of nature restoration’

With support from the wildlife organisations and funding from the Wales Peatland Sustainable Management Scheme, run by the Snowdonia National Park Authority, the Ritchie brothers have spent wintertime working hard to rewet the landscape. This involved blocking drainage ditches and erosion gullies and building small dams. Eventually, pools of water started collecting, local species of moss and grass began to return, and finally, this summer the peatland became a breeding ground for the two bird species.

“The transformation we’ve seen through our partnership work on this special landscape is remarkable,” said Dewi Davies, who managed the project. “Where once we had an area of degraded blanket bog, we now have a rich habitat that provides a whole suite of vital ecosystem services.”

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The RSPB hopes that the project’s success will lead to similar initiatives elsewhere in Wales and beyond. Their local senior conservation officer, David Smith, said: “These successes show that working together towards a common goal of nature restoration does work, and it’s been great to see how the Ritchie brothers have succeeded in combining conservation delivery efforts with the everyday task of running their farm business.” 

He added: “It’s a brilliant story that we hope will inspire similar projects in the future.”

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