Y Cae / The Field
Art Ecology Project, May 2023

Ffynnonofi, Wales April 2022 – May 2023

Fenced off field on left. North side of Y Cae

The first year of the project has focused on getting the land fenced off from the grazing animals (sheep and Welsh mountain ponies) to allow grasses and saplings to come through and to develop a planting and overall vision for the space. Input from ecologists, farmers, small scale rewilders, National Parks

Grasses thickening up. Sheep looking on 

What is clear is that generating biodiversity is complex and an imperfect science that is changing by the day. Year one has been getting the land planning in place before wider artist engagement. General agreement for the need to create a varied mosaic of areas to establish different micro climates and habitats.

Solstice Trees. Planted 21.12.22

We started planting a wide variety of mixed natives at solstice 2022 through to end of January 2023. Hawthorns, Blackthorns, Rowan, Wild Crab Apple, Wild Pear, Spindle, Downy Birch, Bird Cherry, Gelda Rose, Roas Rugosa, Alder Buckthorn, Elder, Alder, Holly, Oak, Goat Willow, Wayfaring and more. Basically as much variety as possible to maximise the diversity of colour and species. Belief that diversity is good for nature and culture. 

Witness Tree,  Goat Willow, March 2023

At the centre of Y Cae is a beautiful Goat Willow Tree, which seems to change colour and texture almost daily. Willows are often seen as ‘Outcasts’ or weeds by farmers and councils but they provide great habitats and their fast growth means they are sequestering carbon quickly. Planning to make a ‘micro’ photographic study of this tree through the year and over the next few years. Working so locally, walking the same ground daily makes us look more closely and perhaps makes us more aware of things. 

Measuring growth for saplings, May 2023

An important finding for us has been to see how much faster  saplings have grown when protected by gorse from north and westerly winds. Growing 3 – 5 times faster than saplings in open fields. Gorse and Brambles really are the mothers of trees. Using traditional recycled plastic tree guards plus testing more eco friendly cardboard guards.

Blue bells appearing for first time and Looser planting, April 2023 

Learnings include : Thick grasses potentially better than wildflower meadows as they create more habitats for invertebrates/voles etc, Looser and staggered planting better than uniform high density planting, Bracken and Gorse not the enemy but great wind protection for saplings, Light grazing better than no grazing as adds manure, roughs up ground for seeds and keeps brambles down, linked up corridors are better than isolated fields as allows species to move between habitats, mosaic and complex structures better than straight lines and formal planning, open ended experimental headset better than old fashioned conservation targets headset.

Half acre area of densley planted mixed natives

We’ve added a small 1/2 acre piece of land at the edge of Y Cae to the project in which we started planting 5 years ago. Its sheltered and fenced off from livestock. The silver birch are now 15 ft tall and its starting to feel like woodland already. Creating protected sections surrounded by hardy thorns may be a way of creating high biodiversity micro climates within the larger scheme. We also want to create a wooded corridor from the public highway down to the coast.

Boggy area surrounding Goat Willow Tree, May 2023

Surrounding the ‘Witness Tree’ is the wettest part of the site and the place that excited the ecologists most. We have avoided planting Alders and water absorbing trees here to keep the area boggy and ripe for biodiversity. Considering pond but worried about diverting waterway. Unfortunately, Hemlock is growing fast along the water channels. This may be a sign that there is high concentrations of nitrates perhaps further up the stream.  Nitrates from farm slurry run off and wind born particles are an increasing problem across Wales. 

Art/Ecology Advisory Group, 24th May 2023

Thanks to Ann Jones, Bronwen Colquhoun, Stephen Tooth, Chris Coppock and Carys Mol for great inputs and discussion. 

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