Welsh Wildlife during lockdown - survey reveals how nature responded

The coronavirus lockdown had a profound effect on the natural world in north west Wales, a new environmental survey has revealed.

The coronavirus lockdown had a profound effect on the natural world in north west Wales, a new environmental survey has revealed.

Undertaken over a three-week period in June at key sites in Snowdonia and Newborough on Anglesey, the survey shows that bird species and plant life flourished during lockdown due to fewer disturbances and less litter.

Naturalist Ben Porter was commissioned by Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Snowdonia National Park Authority and the National Trust to undertake the survey under the unique conditions experienced this spring.  

With all relevant permissions in place, four uplands were surveyed - Snowdon, Cader Idris, Carneddau and Cwm Idwal – and the lowland areas of Coed y Brenin, Ceunant Llennyrch and Newborough/Llanddwyn.

Birds were found breeding on and near usually well-trodden paths, where plants and wild flowers could now flourish.

Less litter and picnic left-overs meant fewer predator species – such as herring gulls and foxes - which is likely to have given breeding birds a helping hand.

Insect life was also in abundance, due to the warm weather as well as the lockdown conditions.

Reflecting on the study, Ben Porter said:

“It was an almost surreal experience to witness the absolute silence that pervaded the landscape in most of these sites, save for the sound of birdsong, trickling water and the odd bleating sheep or goat.
“One of the most obvious observations was the sheer abundance of species like meadow pipit and wheatear along the main pathways.
“Birds normally averse to the presence of people - such as common sandpiper and ring ouzel - were seen nesting close to paths too.
“Herring gulls were virtually absent from their usual nesting colony on Snowdon. They usually subsist on food waste from visitors, so lockdown probably impacted their ability to exist in the area this season.”

A remarkable diversity of plants was recorded along usually well-trodden paths – such as the mossy saxifrage, wild thyme and stagshorn clubmoss in abundance on the ascent from Cwm Idwal.

At all three of the lowland sites, nesting birds were found in places where they most likely would not have been in usual circumstances.

Some birds have had a very good year – such as the ringed plovers which nest on the beaches on and close to Llanddwyn Island. Though they nest here regularly, they have successfully reared good numbers of chicks this spring for the first time in many years, because lockdown left these normally busy beaches peculiarly quiet.

The survey provides valuable information as Wales works towards a green recovery from Covid 19.

Molly Lovatt, Senior Planning and Partnerships Officer for Natural Resources Wales said:

“This was a unique opportunity to evaluate how wildlife, landscape and vegetation would respond to such unexpected conditions.
“The survey underlines the importance of the ‘tread lightly’ message we have been encouraging as more people return to visit our countryside and coast. We need to be sensitive to nature, to leave no trace of our visit so that wildlife can continue to thrive for future generations to enjoy.”
Dafydd Roberts, Senior Ecologist for Snowdonia National Park Authority, said: “The report raises many questions about how we manage the interaction between people and nature in the future as we try to strike the right balance between enabling people to enjoy this area’s fantastic natural heritage without disturbing and degrading the environment we all enjoy.”

Laura Hughes, Visitor Experience Manager for the National Trust said

"It is fantastic to see how nature has thrived during lockdown and the positive impact it has had on plants and wildlife, but we need everyone's help keeping it that way.  It's great that so many of us are enjoying outdoor spaces, but we ask people to treat the countryside with care when you come and experience it."

The expectation is that the survey will be repeated next year to provide a direct comparison to this year’s results.

Read the full report: Wildlife in Lockdown

The survey will be repeated next year.

Watch Ben Porter’s ‘Lockdown wildlife’ slideshow on Youtube