Nature in Rhondda Cynon Taf

The South Wales Valleys support a treasure trove of biodiversity. Nutrient poor soils, a complex topography, geomorphology and geology, a wonderful mild wet climate, traditional small farm management and the Valleys industrial legacy. All the components for a rich biodiversity are in place. Blessed with this mix, the South Wales Valleys support a range of lowland and upland habitats. Rhondda Cynon Taf lies at the heart of the Valleys and at the heart of this wealth of biodiversity.

In RCT we can boast a range of important species and habitats. Our classic rhos pasture supports internationally important populations of marsh fritillary butterfly. The rolling Border Valley in the South and Cynon Valley in the north, are ancient farmed landscapes, with species rich wildflower pastures and lesser horseshoe bats. The ancient field patterns, with their hedgerows cut from the original wildwood, form part of a complex woodland network through which dormice move. Our Valleys are home to uninterrupted, rich mosaics of ffridd, which run for miles along valley sides and provide perfect habitat connectivity and superb reptile habitat. Often intermingled with the ffridd, colliery spoil habitats provide exceptional habitat for 85 species of bee with grayling, dingy skipper and small blue butterfly and are often rich in fungi. In the uplands, there is a huge resource of peatland, wet heath and acid grassland, with the most southerly glacial cwms in the British Isles. Together with neighbouring NPT, these are habitat of outstanding potential, home to newly discovered water vole populations. There is a huge capacity to restore peatland biodiversity, store carbon and provide the greenest of green flood prevention. Nationally important populations of nightjars churr in cleared forestry and offer a glimpse into the potential for the landscape habitat transformations that could be possible within the forestry estates. We are therefore, very proud of our wildlife and our partnership works hard to protect to and realise the opportunities to enhance and celebrate our wonderful biodiversity.

Marsh Fritillary by Liam Olds


First set up in 1998, the RCT Action for Nature Partnership includes partners with a depth of knowledge and enthusiasm for the wildlife of the county. We work together to plan and deliver action for nature in the county. Membership is open to all.

Contact the Local Nature Partnership Coordinator to find out more and to become a member.

Marsh Cinquefoil at Pant Marsh by Lyn Evan

Our Aims

The overall aim of the Rhondda Cynon Taf Action for Nature Partnership is “to conserve and enhance the biodiversity of Rhondda Cynon Taf. Action for Nature is the partnership and plan for local nature and biodiversity action in RCT.

This overarching aim encompasses:

Raise awareness of the biodiversity of RCT
Record the biodiversity of RCT
Protect the biodiversity of RCT
Manage areas for the benefit of the biodiversity of RCT

Wildflower verges in RCT by Liam Olds

How are we going to achieve it?

We achieve our aims by planning and taking action to conserve and enhance biodiversity in RCT through our Local Nature Recovery Action Plan- RCT Action for Nature Action for Nature . The partnership works together to identify locally important habitats and species, monitor them and take action to ensure their conservation, through practical works, education and awareness raising.

The partnership members identify, monitor and report on local nature via meetings and the Recorders Newsletter. This provides a valuable vehicle for biodiversity awareness raising across RCT and an invaluable source of information. As a result a network of managed habitat sites, linking biodiversity and communities has been developed through planning agreements. These are sites where local people and groups can experience and work to help record, manage, enhance and enjoy fantastic local biodiversity.

In the uplands a network of peat bog restoration associated with 7 windfarm schemes (which include the Lost Peatlands Project area) has been secured as a direct result of Action for Nature’s peat bog action plan. These sites collectively provide opportunities for landscape scale biodiversity, carbon sequestration, grass fire prevention and flood attenuation gains. It was local knowledge that originally alerted us to this ‘hidden’ peatland resource.

Another Action for Nature output is the multi-partner conservation grazing networks developed with local graziers. This has now developed with wildflower grassland management to realise 70 hectares of wildflower rich grassland and grass verge managed by ‘cut and collect’ and a further 50 hectares managed by conservation grazing. This land management experience has directly informed and help develop the Healthy Hillsides grass fire partnership project.

The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales manages nature reserves in the area and runs volunteering and species recording events.

Species recorders specialising in invertebrates and fungi are discovering new species of importance on colliery spoil sites.

Butterfly Conservation and Tidy Towns have for many years maintained key marsh fritillary sites.

Glamorgan Bird Club have been working with householders protect the swifts in RCT.

Local volunteer groups such as Cynon Valley Organic Adventures and Friends of Tynant Woods work to help biodiversity and engage local people.

Plus many more!

  • Join the RCT Partnership!
  • Volunteer
  • Record
  • Garden

The RCT Action for Nature Partnership run projects and surveys that you can get involved in, so get in touch to find out what is going on in the county.

You can volunteer to help wildlife in RCT, join the Action for Nature partnership to be kept up to date with opportunities.

You can send wildlife sightings to South East Wales Biodiversity Records Centre and to RCT Council Biodiversity Team for inclusion in the Recorders Newsletter.

You can create a haven for wildlife in your own back garden. Take a look at Action for Nature members WTSWW’s My Wild Garden Year for month by month tips on wildlife gardening.

RCT contains a wealth of habitats, with many special places that you can visit to walk amongst wildlife.

Internationally important communities of rhos pasture flower in summer with devil’s-bit scabious, meadow thistle and heath spotted orchid and host precious colonies of marsh fritillary and small pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies. Pay a visit to Llantrisant Common in summer to see for yourself.

We are very lucky in Rhondda Cynon Taf to still have a superb grassland heritage, which is a vibrant part of our biodiversity fabric. Pastures and road verges are places where flower rich displays of birds-foot trefoil, black knapweed, ox-eye daisy, common spotted orchid rough hawkbit and red clover thrive: in which common blue butterflies, mother shipton moths, grasshoppers and countless bees flit, hum and buzz.

The dry grasslands of the upper valleys slopes are more acidic but just as beautiful with heath bedstraw, tormentil, greater burnet, bluebell and sheep sorrel, while on the limestone there are cowslips and bee orchids. In the autumn, on a bright sunny morning visit and look for another indicator of biodiversity wealth, the reds, oranges, yellows and purples of wax cap fungi.

From any bus stop in Pontypridd, or Porth, or Aberdare or Mountain Ash look up at the varied habitats which forms the valley side ffridd. A complex mixture of acid grassland, heath, bracken, woodland, scrub and flushes runs for mile on mile along our main valleys: interconnected in an ever-changing intricate habitat mosaic.

Coal tips are proving particularly important for their lichen-heath communities in which heathland grows amongst white, encrusted mats of cladonia lichens. Recent work has confirmed how important these tips are as invertebrate habitat: survey work on 5 RCT Tips has recorded 85 bee species (including scare and rare species), this is half the known Welsh bee fauna and a third of the UK list. Dare Valley Country Park offers a glimpse into this amazing habitat.

Ancient upland oak wood such as Glyncornel LNR where stunted welsh oaks cling to the valleyside, have a carpeted groundflora of wimberry, heather, ferns, mosses and exposed slabs of pennant sandstone, with their lichen rich bedding planes. These sheep grazed woods are home to classic Welsh woodland songbirds: redstart, wood warbler and tree pipit.

In the valleys bottoms, the Taff Trail winds its way through pockets of mixed deciduous woodlands supports oak, ash, sycamore and wych elm with alder and willow on wetter ground.

Elusive dormice find a home in the hedgerows of hazel, oak, ash, hawthorn, sallow, blackthorn, rose, dogwood, spindle and holly, and through this network of hedgerows our remnant ancient woodlands stay connected and viable.

In the twilight, look out for bats. RCT supports at least 13 species of bats, including rare things like barbastrelle and lesser horseshoe’s. On the other end of the scale, Pontypridd is known by bat surveyors as ‘Pip City’, an affectionate reference to the abundance of common and soprano pipistrelle bats living in the town.

Certain habitats can be ‘traced back’ to the retreat of the last ice sheet 8,000 years ago. Much of our peatbog habitat started to form at that time, as glacial lakes, hollows and upland plateaus gradually succeeded through fens, and swamp into peat. These quaking, shaking wonders are home to cranberry, sundews and bog asphodel which flower amongst the sphagnum peat-mosses and the tussocks of moor-grass and deer grass. TheLost Peatlands Project will provide opportunities to visit these amazing habitats.

In the years to come there is the prospect to recover hundreds of hectares of upland peat bog, swaying in the summer breeze with hundreds of thousands of cotton-grass heads, holding atmospheric carbon, and naturally storing and controlling upland storm water to provide the ‘greenest of green’ flood protection for the Valley communities below. While you are there, make sure to dip into a forestry plantation edge where siskin and crossbill abound, club-mosses shelter, heronries sway in western hemlocks and at summer dusks, nightjars ‘churr’.

Rivers which forty years ago were dead and lifeless are now healthy, biodiverse watercourses, home to multitudes of stone and mayflies, dipper, grey wagtail, brown trout and, of course, otter. Their associated floodplain marshes, meadows and neighbouring wetlands are great places to spot dragonflies. WTSWW Pwll Waun Cynon Nature Reserve is a good example of floodplain meadow in the county.

The most southerly glacial cwms in the UK are home to peregrine falcons and stranded artic alpine plants – flowers and ferns, which cling to the coolest, shadiest ledges and wait in hope for tundra summers to return. Explore with Welcome to our Woods.

Where industry has been cleared, experience some ‘brownfield’ biodiversity. Post-industrial sites often support amazing mosaics of grassland, wetland and woodland habitats all naturally developed on apparently derelict land. These eclectic mixtures of habitats hold many a biodiversity surprise and a home to newts, frogs, dingy skipper butterflies and red-belted clearwing moths. Visit have Dare Valley Country Park which has both original Victorian Tips and species rich 1970 reclamation spoil


  • RCT is of international importance for its marshy rhos pasture grasslands, a habitat for which we have a special responsibility. The Marsh fritillary butterfly is on the wing from May to July and depends upon rhos pasture. Look in your local ‘patch’ for wet fields with purple moor grass and devil’s bit scabious and you may have found a new rhos pasture, and maybe a new marsh fritillary site. Later in the summer, you can join a volunteer group to survey for larval webs.
  • Grayling butterflies can be found along with a host of other invertebrate species on the colliery spoil sites. This butterfly is brilliantly camouflaged on bare ground and stones so keep your eyes peeled!
  • Get out into the valleyside ffridds and follow the old sheep walk paths, in the spring common lizards bask on dead bracken, bluebells blush a hazy blue across the hills and the bright green of the new wimberry leaves picks out the heath, in high summer dark green fritillaries soar over the hill and in august the wimberries ripen and the heather turns the hills purple. A rich and varied landscape and biodiversity which comes colour coded.
  • The wealth of wildflower rich grassland is another jewel in our biodiversity crown. Even from a traffic jam enjoy the bird’s-foot trefoil and ox-eye daisy of our road verges, and there is still a wealth of old pastures, which support flower rich displays of either acid, neutral or calcareous floral assemblages. One of the joys of early summer is to swing through a kissing gate and find yourself in a flower rich hay meadow, or cattle grazed pasture, full of anthills and the buzz of insects. However, brownfield sites can be just as rewarding. New sites wait to be found, and every part of RCT has its own special wildflower grasslands.
  • RCT is home to at least 10 species of orchid, which means that almost anywhere in the late spring and early summer you can come across spectacular flowering orchids. While we are rightly proud of our colony of green-winged orchid at Cefn Parc Cemetery, we are equally proud of the tens of thousands of common spotted and southern marsh orchids that grow on verges and grasslands, the blousy beauty of heath spotted orchids in the uplands and rhos pastures, and the delicate green of the woodland twayblades, as well as the incredible mimicry of bee orchids, a species which has started to take a liking for valley colliery spoil.
  • The hazel dormouse is a specialist of the county, making its home in woodlands and hedgerows in both the south of RCT and now more recently found at the northern end of the Cynon Valley. This beautiful little creature explores woodlands at night, acrobatically moving between trees.
  • The rivers across the county borough are still increasing in biodiversity, as they recover from historic industrial and urban pollution. A great indicator of this recover is the dipper (our only aquatic songbird). Dipper only thrive where there is a rich aquatic invertebrate food source, which itself is an indicator of a healthy river. Often initially seen as a flash of black and white flying past you, everybody with a little patience can become familiar with these most engaging birds, and watch them dip and bob on river stones, and then dive into the fast flowing waters.
  • Look out for grassland and woodland fungi in the autumn, old grassland and colliery spoil sites often support the yellows, oranges and reds of a multitude of waxcap fungi, and in our ancient woodlands rarities such as willow and hazel gloves can be found.

Rhondda Cynon Taf is a valued member of the all-Wales Local Nature Partnership Network

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