Natural Resources Wales is to consider how to minimise the impact of a fatal tree disease which has infected larch trees surrounding the popular Cwmcarn Forest Drive.
The organisation, which looks after the Welsh environment, is reviewing its options for managing Cwmcarn Forest after an aerial survey in May this year revealed widespread infection by Ramorum disease of larch.
A large amount of the forest – which is made up of 78% larch trees – will need to be felled over the next few years to remove dead or dying trees that have been infected with the fungus-like pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, which causes the disease.
The felling is necessary as infected trees produce airborne spores that can spread the disease – which is not harmful to humans or animals – to other areas and other tree species.
Sally Tansey of Natural Resources Wales said, “We are currently reviewing our options for the Forest Drive as we plan how this essential work to try to slow the spread of Ramorum disease will be carried out.
“We will be working closely with Caerphilly County Borough Council, which runs the visitor centre, to minimise the economic and other impacts on the area and will keep visitors and local communities informed of how we aim to proceed.
“Inevitably, this essential work will require areas of the forest to be temporarily closed for safety reasons while forest operations take place, but we’ll do all we can to ensure that felling proceeds with minimal disruption to the footpaths and mountain bike trails.”
Cwmcarn Forest Drive is a seven-mile long scenic route through one of Wales’s largest urban forests, in the heart of the South Wales valleys. It contains car parks and picnic areas and a visitor centre, which is run by Caerphilly County Borough Council.
“We’re proud of our achievement in turning Cwmcarn Forest, with its Forest Drive, downhill and cross country mountain bike trails, into one of the most popular outdoor attractions in South Wales, with more than 70,000 visits a year,” said Sally.
“Felling the trees will present us with an opportunity to look again at this important attraction and consider how its appearance can be enhanced by planting a variety of different trees which will make the area more resilient to attack by pests and diseases in the future.”
In line with this fresh look at Cwmcarn Forest’s potential, Natural Resources Wales and Caerphilly council are working on an investment plan to see how more recreation opportunities could be developed around the visitor centre.
Two new mountain bike trails are due to open in December and the council is investing significantly in the development of the visitor centre, adding a mountain bike retail and hire outlet, as well as other facilities such as toilets and showers.
Cllr Ken James, Caerphilly council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration, said, “Cwmcarn Forest is one of our key visitor destinations in the county borough and we want to ensure that any disruption is kept to a minimum.
“We will work closely with Natural Resources Wales to ensure that appropriate work is undertaken to address this problem in the best interests of this fantastic countryside attraction.”
Natural Resources Wales has committed more than £2m this year to fight Ramorum disease throughout Wales and has drawn up a Disease Control Plan for Larch in Wales.
A spokesman said, “We’re doing everything we can across Wales to both contain the disease and reduce its impact on local economies and people’s enjoyment of areas such as Cwmcarn Forest.”
The Forest Drive and mountain bike trails will remain open to the public as usual throughout this winter and summer 2014, but visitors will be asked to observe biosecurity signs and help prevent spreading the disease by taking some simple actions such as removing any mud, plant material or leaves from clothing, boots, dogs and car tyres.