|Above: Neil Kirk, at the 2012 Dragon's Back Race, passes through the Rhinog mountains of mid-Wales, an area of remote and rugged upland landscape. © Jon Brooke|
The following information is presented to the competitors
The Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ passes through the full range of Wales’ outstanding upland landscapes, including all of the highest mountain ranges in the country. These are recognised as areas of national and international importance for their upland wildlife habitats, flora and fauna. Occasionally, the features that provide this interest can be vulnerable to the wear and tear that may result from the passage of Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ competitors. The risk of ecological damage is carefully assessed during early stages in the planning process for the event, when every effort is made to avoid the need for competitors to cross areas of special ecological interest.
For situations where competitors might need to pass through areas of ecological sensitivity we are keen to encourage personal route selection choices that avoid the risk of local ecological disturbance. This Ecological Briefing Note has been prepared for Day Two of the 2015 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ event to identify key features that contribute to the special ecological value of the event area, with route selection comments to help minimise the risk of localised ecological disturbance.
Day Two Introduction
Day Two of the 2015 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ passes from northern Snowdonia into an area of wild, upland landscape within central and southern Snowdonia. The northern section of Day Two passes through the Moelwyn Hills area that contains woodland sites of international nature conservation importance and a distinctive area of sub-montane heath and ancient hill farmland. The central and southern part of the Day Two event area passes through the Rhinog mountains of mid-Wales. The majority of this area is highly designated for its nature conservation interest at national and international levels, comprising an area of remote and rugged upland landscape. Key features within this area include ancient riparian and ravine oakwoods at lower levels with extensive areas of sub-montane acid grassland, heath vegetation and rock outcrop habitats. Higher level ground, summits and high ridges within this area have distinctive montane heath and grassland vegetation that includes many uncommon arctic-alpine plant species. Several hill lakes are present within high mountain cwms.
Many of the sub-montane and montane acid grassland and heath vegetation types within the Day Two event area are relatively robust in terms of potential trampling damage from competitors. In places, however, vegetation and habitats are more vulnerable to disturbance. In particular this concerns the fragile bryophyte and lichen communities within upland oakwoods, higher level montane heath and montane grassland and areas of diverse vegetation and habitat that has developed at the margin of hill lakes. In addition, many of the rock outcrops within this area have valuable ledge and seepage plant communities that are vulnerable to disturbance.
Day Two Ecology
• Dry acid grassland is an extensive vegetation type within the event area, formed where centuries of livestock grazing has converted heather moorland to open grassland. These areas provide a relatively robust vegetation type that can generally withstand the trampling effects of fell running.
• Areas of wet acid grassland will be encountered where impeded drainage occurs within relatively level acid grassland areas or where groundwater emerges at the surface as spring-head seepages across more steeply sloping ground. Wet acid grassland can be of special nature conservation interest, in particular where groundwater seepages provide conditions for communities of specialised mosses, liverworts and other plants. These vegetation types can be vulnerable to persistent disturbance effects of trampling and should ideally be avoided wherever possible by selecting routes that keep to surrounding dry grassland to by-pass wet grassland patches.
• Wet acid grassland at spring-head seepages on steep ground can be difficult to avoid where they cross valuable contouring lines. Complete avoidance of these areas could involve a significant route change and deviation from the desired contour level. Despite this, it would be ideal if damage to seepage zone vegetation could be minimised, often located within shallow gulleys, re-entrant features or associated with ground level rock outcrops that cross steep slopes.
• On hillsides, soil movements within dry acid grassland areas can develop well-defined micro-terrace systems, often called sheep walks or trods. These typically lie parallel to contours and can provide extremely useful running lines. Grassland vegetation at the edge of these micro-terraces is often friable and easily dislodged. Care should be taken when using these features for contouring to avoid running on terrace edges to minimise grassland damage. Areas of saturated ground can occur where groundwater issues into terrace formations. These locations are especially vulnerable to running damage and should be avoided where possible.
• Sub-montane vegetation within the Rhinog part of the Day Two event area includes extensive tracts of dry and wet heath. Areas of dry heath are relatively robust in terms of resistance to disturbance effects of trampling, but wet heath areas can be more vulnerable. These often grade into areas of bog vegetation on deeper peat that combine to create areas of ecological interest. Wherever possible competitors should avoid crossing bog peat areas with wet heath vegetation when choosing running routes. If crossing these areas cannot be avoided then running lines should try to link patches of drier vegetation that will be less vulnerable to disturbance effects of trampling.
• Blanket bog is present at several locations within the event area. Many of these areas comprise degraded blanket bog where peat hags (erosion gulleys) have formed where bog vegetation has been lost and the underlying peat is being eroded. In many cases, the bare peat exposed in hags may have become stabilised through colonisation by vegetation.
• Disturbance of recovering blanket bog by runners churning through the peat hags has the potential to trigger further peat erosion by de-stabilising the peat surface. Wherever possible, route choices in these areas should try to link the strips and patches of surviving moorland vegetation between the peat hags. These are often quite well-drained, providing areas of relatively robust vegetation and resistant to the trampling effects of running. If crossing peat hags is unavoidable, routes should try to link cushions of remnant moorland vegetation as ‘stepping stones’ across the bare peat surfaces. In some situations, the extent of peat erosion has been sufficient to expose the bedrock and glacial material underlying the peat. Running on this material is unlikely to cause significant harm to recovering peat surfaces.
• The summits and ridges of the Rhinog Hills have significant areas of montane grassland and heath vegetation within areas of important high-level ice-shattered boulderfield. These areas comprise relict post-glacial vegetation that are of very high ecological interest and consist of very slow-growing grass, sedge, rush and lichen species. Disturbance of these areas by trampling would typically have long-lasting impacts and could trigger erosion of adjacent vegetation areas in the harsh climate of summits and high ridges where this vegetation is found. The vegetation of these areas has often developed within periglacial patterned ground features such as stone polygons and stone stripes that are important upland geomorphological features which are vulnerable to trampling disturbance. Wherever possible competitors should follow existing paths through these areas to avoid trampling damage to pristine montane vegetation.
• The special upland ecological interest of the Day Two event area includes distinctive upland vegetation of rock outcrop ledges and seepage zones. Many of these locations are known to be important for the relict post-glacial flora that they contain, protected from significant grazing by their inaccessibility. While most of the taller outcrops will not be accessed by Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ competitors, route selection might include crossing areas of low rock outcrop that are still of value for these uncommon upland plant communities. Where this terrain is crossed great care should be taken to minimize disturbance to fragile ledge vegetation.
• A number of locations with upland Sessile Oakwoods are present within the northern part of the event area. These are usually sites of considerable nature conservation interest largely associated with the diverse communities of mosses, liverworts and lichens that have developed within the shady, damp conditions that persist within these woodlands. Many of the moss, liverwort and lichen species in these woodlands are uncommon, and their presence represents a very high level of nature conservation interest. These communities are very slow-growing and disturbance by trampling from runners could have long-term impacts. Because of this it is important that any routes taken through these woodland sites utilize existing paths and tracks.
• A number of upland lakes are present within the Day Two event area that are of special ecological interest. This is usually associated with well-developed lake margin vegetation that often includes valuable peatland and mire vegetation. Under no circumstances should any upland lake be entered by any competitors in the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™, and route choices should avoid running near lake margin vegetation areas.
• Extensive areas of upland grassland and sub-montane heath within the Rhinog Hills area are known to be used by important populations of ground nesting birds. As the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ will take place during the bird breeding season great care should be taken when crossing these areas to avoid disturbance of nests, eggs and young birds which are all often very well camouflaged. It is always preferable to cross these areas using existing paths and hill tracks wherever possible