Coed Pendugwm Nature Reserve

Pontrobert, Powys, Welshpool, Powys, SY22 5JF, Wales

COED PENDUGWM is a wood as our ancestors would have known it - not totally natural, but composed of broad leaved trees, which until the early years of this century were providing timber for a host of local agricultural needs. The 3.2ha (8 acres), given as a gift to nature conservation by former owner Mr Langshaw Rowland, is part of a larger area of Pendugwm Woods Site of Special Scientific Interest. This is ancient sessile oak woodland (under tree cover for over 400 years), on both sides of the Nant-y-Pandy stream, a tributary of the River Vyrnwy.

The wood is typical of a disappearing habitat which could be found throughout Mid Wales until the early 1900s but is now in need of careful conservation. It is not a place for spectacular rarities, but visit in the spring forthat host of early flowering plants that rush to get their life-cycle well on before the leaf canopy develops. You will still find primroses, dogviolets and wood anemones followed by a carpet of bluebells. The ground flora is richest beneath the oak trees. The beech casts a muchheavier shade. Although it is a broad-leaved tree native to southern Britain, it was planted here and is not encouraged because of the poorgrowth of plants beneath it.

Dog's mercury is common in these woods, with an inconspicuous green flower lacking petals. In wetter parts look out for the opposite-leaved golden saxifrage and marsh marigold. Woodruff, wood sanicle, yellow archangel and both wild and barren strawberry indicate this is a less acid soil than is often found on these welsh hillsides. And the main tree in the wetter areas is ash, another species often associated with limestone.

There is a good shrub layer with hawthorn, hazel and holly and occasional guelder rose and honeysuckle.The wood is being actively managed for its mammal population.. It has a thriving colony of dormice for which hazel coppice with arching boughs is the ideal habitat. The dormice like to travel along these aerial routeways. It is thought that red squirrels are still present in the area, though it is the grey that you are more likely to encounter. On the bank of the stream an artificial holt has been built to encourage the return of the once common otter, which is seen increasingly on the Vyrnwy.

Other wildlife is also given a helping hand. Dead timber is left to decay naturally. This provides both insect food and nest sites for all those birds which we associate most closely with woodland - woodpeckers, nuthatch, tree creepers, tits, restart and pied flycatcher. The last is characteristically a bird of the western woodland in Britain. Pied flycatchers take readily to nest boxes. The Trust has therefore given them extra 'homes', monitors breeding and rings the young birds. Such a wealth of animal life provides food for birds of prey. Both sparrowhawk and buzzard occur, the former occasionally seen dashing through the trees in pursuit of prey, while the buzzard wheels high overhead uttering its distinctive mewing cry.

Woods, perhaps more than other habitats, offer year round interest. From the first hazel catkins of spring to the fungi of autumn there is always something new to look out for. And a winter visit in the snow provides the ideal opportunity to spot the tracks of those mammals such as badger, fox, shrew and stoat which are so rarely seen in daylight. The dormice should however be safely hibernating!

When you have had enough of the nature reserves, you can go and sample the tourist attractions of Llanfair Caereinion, including the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway. This gives a different perspective on the countryside as it runs close to the banks of the Afon Banwy.

On west side of the town an arboretum has been created from a patch of rough ground along the riverbank.

GRID REF : SJ 103143

ACCESS : Open at all times on winding paths through the wood.

PARKING : Outside wood down the signed track opposite Pendugwm Farm. Muddy when wet.

TIME : Allow at least an hour to do justice to the trail.