The Celtic Rainforests Wales Project has been working in partnership with the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways (FfWHR) to treat the invasive alien plant Rhododendron ponticum along large sections of the railway line in Eryri.

They have done this because the Rhododendron growing along the line from Beddgelert to Dyffryn Maentwrog was encroaching and negatively affecting some of the adjoining woodlands – also known as the Celtic Rainforests.

Over the centuries, the temperate rainforests of Wales have deteriorated in both area and condition due to a range of threats, including the encroachment of invasion of alien species such as Rhododendron. Such pressures have put stress on the precious flora and fauna of these forests such as the lichen tree lungwort, bird species like the pied flycatcher, redstart and wood warbler, and mammals including the lesser horseshoe bat and dormouse. The Celtic Rainforests Wales Project aims to improve the natural condition of these majestic woodlands by undertaking valuable interventions, including the eradication of Rhododendron from within the woodlands and adjacent areas.

Working alongside local contractor, Copa Countryside Services, the Rhododendron that was invading parts of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways was cleared over a period of several weeks in February and March, whilst the line was closed for the winter months. This was following works undertaken last autumn by staff from the Celtic Rainforests Wales Project to map the spread of Rp along the railway line to estimate the size of the problem. In total, Rhododendron was treated along approximately 25km of the railway track. In doing so, both the immediate threat posed by the Rhododendron encroaching onto the railway line was removed, and the seed source that was causing the spread of Rhododendron into the adjacent woodlands was also eliminated. Follow on treatment is planned for winter 2025.

This work adds to existing work already achieved clearing Rhododendron. The projects have achieved Rhododendron removal on a landscape scale, with the project so far securing management agreements on 6,800 ha of land in Eryri for this invasive plant. This is equivalent of 68 square kilometres – an area almost half the size of our capital city, Cardiff - something the project staff are very proud of achieving.

The LIFE Celtic Rainforests senior project manager, Gethin Davies, said: “This is a great example of the project working alongside a key landowner to deal with a long standing issue which was threatening some the most ecologically valuable woodlands we have here in Wales. In this case, it took us almost two years from start of discussions to getting the work done, which reflects the complexities of working along a railway line. This has been a key piece in the jigsaw where Rhododendron control is concerned and is a welcome progression not only for us and the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways, but also for numerous landowners who have worked hard to eradicate Rhododendron from adjoining areas.”

Dave Bateson from Copa Countryside Services said: “It was really satisfying to work on this contract in cooperation with the Celtic Rainforests Wales Project and Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways. Of satisfaction was removing the seed source which continued to grow along the railway, which was threatening to undermine work on other land ownerships in a landscape which we’ve already been clearing Rhododendron in.”