The trees, plants and wildlife of Waterfall Country in the Brecon Beacons National Park

The steep rocky gorges and tumbling waterfalls of Waterfall Country are clothed with the spreading canopies of oak and ash trees. The greens of mosses and ferns cling to every rock face and tree trunk, mixed with the more subtle browns, yellows and greys of lichens. 

The constant presence of water creates a humid and wet atmosphere and the steep sides shelter the area from sun and wind. In this warm and wet environment, plant life covers every surface. The oak and ash trees have seen relatively little disturbance over recent years and a dense canopy has developed. This is a Welsh rainforest, far more scarce than the more familar tropical rainforest. There are only a handful of places like it anywhere in the world.

Waterfall Country is considered one of Britain’s best examples of an old sessile oak and ash woodland habitat. The humid atmosphere provides an ideal environment for rare woodland plants to flourish on cliffs, rocks and tree trunks. Fern species include the hay-scented buckler-fern, beech fern, royal fern, green spleenwort, Tunbridge filmy-fern and Wilson’s filmy-fern.

There is an even greater variety of mosses and liverworts. On the ground layer you will find greater fork-moss, little shaggy-moss and straggling pouchwort and, in the most humid places, scarce turf-moss. The boulders and oak can support western earwort, wood-rust plasters fallen tree trunks and the diminutive Heller’s notchwort and autumn flapwort grow on oak bark and decaying logs. In the rivers and streams liverworts and mosses flourish, the rocks and cliffs of the waterfalls are covered in species like rusty feather-moss and fox-tail feather-moss, and sometimes Hartmann’s grimmia, river pocket-moss, beck pocket-moss and Hutchin’s hollywort and on some crags the bright yellow lichen Chrysothrix chlorine has been found.

Through rarely seen, otters live along the riverbanks, revelling in the safety provided by the dense woodland. Butterflies flit across the water and open spaces created by fallen trees. Birds like dippers and grey wagtails dance along the exposed rock of the river channels. At night, bats are busy amongst the trees and over water, hunting the numerous moths and other insects that dwell within the cover of the trees.

Waterfalls and wildlife

This 15-minute podcast contains interviews with Brecon Beacons National Park Authority staff who discuss the rich biodiversity found along the path between Sgwd Gwladus and Pont Melin-Fach. A geologist from Swansea University also reveals more about the waterfalls found along this stretch.

The podcast makes an interesting addition to the Elidir audio trail for those who want to venture beyond Sgwd Gwladus, or those starting their walk at Pont Melin-Fach. Equally, the podcast will give you a good sense of what can be found in the area, which we hope will tempt you to come and visit.
 

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