Llanfoist could have a new wetland nature reserve to battle pollution

A NEW wetland nature reserve in Llanfoist has been proposed to encourage wildlife, reduce water pollution, and provide a green space for visitors.

Landowner Ben Jones, Gwent Wildlife, and Monmouthshire County Council are in the early stages of planning the scheme.

Mr Jones, tenant of Grove Farm, has been lobbying for years to convert the land into a wildlife reserve.

He said: “I felt that there was too much land being given up for development and taken away from wildlife, so my idea springs from that.

“In terms of education opportunity and wellbeing it will be a reserve to go and relax at to watch nature.”

Mr Jones explained that in the UK around 90 per cent of wetlands have been lost to industrialisation or drained for farmland.

He has proposed that they rewild 80 acres of land bordering the River Usk.

The team are considering introducing paths and bird hides to allow people to come and enjoy the reserve, but access will have to be managed to make sure wildlife is not disturbed.

The area will be dug to create ponds and reedbeds, and naturally occurring wetland species like Alder and Willow will be planted.

Adam Taylor, chief executive of Gwent Wildlife, said: “The River Usk is a hotbed for otters, we hope that they will be able to use this reserve.

“Another species we hope will benefit is the Lapwing. It is a beautiful bird but in decline. They were on the site until around ten years ago and we hope that by wetting the areas they will return to nest.”

There is also the possibility of using the reserve to reduce phosphate levels in the River Usk.

Mr Taylor said: “There might be an opportunity to link it to the water treatment works so that any overflow from storms passes into this wetland.

“This would mean that anything that isn’t treated because of the storm would be treated by the reed beds and other habitats. By the time it did reach the river it wouldn’t be damaging to aquatic life.”

In January 2021 Natural Resource Wales published a report identifying that the River Usk had the highest level of phosphate failures, with 88 per cent of its water bodies failing their target.

According to NRW, phosphate pollution usually comes from agricultural practises, mains sewerage and septic tanks.

When they enter the water courses, these phosphates cause excessive algae growth which blocks the light for other aquatic life.

Mr Taylor said: “When the water from the river flows over the reserve, natural solutions like reed beds and natural organisms will cause the sediment to drop out of the water and settle in the silt.

“When those drop out, they will remain in the pool then they can be dredged away and recycled back onto fields reducing the volume of new phosphates being put onto fields.”

“The main thing here is that the water companies like Welsh Water are willing to have the conversation,” said Mr Taylor.

“These nature-based solutions are the future. It is less carbon intensive than treatment plants.

“It creates habitats, stores water and carbon, deals with flooding issues, is a community asset and is great for wildlife,” he added.

A Welsh Water spokesperson said: “Welsh Water is currently undertaking site surveys to assess suitability for a wetland at this location. The surveys need to assess existing habitats on the land, the soil condition and classification along with the topography.

“Once complete, a decision can then be made about whether a wetland is a suitable approach for the catchment.

“Welsh Water is supportive of using natured based solutions wherever possible, as they can deliver multiple benefits for the community and environment.”

Holly Sisley, environment team leader for Natural Resources Wales said: “We understand the project is currently in the development stages and we welcome the opportunity to be involved during the consultation process to make sure all the necessary environmental and biodiversity elements are considered.”

Mr Jones said that volunteers will be needed to start work transforming the area.

To register your interest please email: info@gwentwildlife.org

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