Latest News - Day Three Ecological Briefing - The Berghaus Dragon's Back Race®

Day Three Ecological Briefing

24th Jun 2015

Above: Competitors at the 2012 Dragon's Back Race in Cadair Idris area, which is of national and international importance for its sub-montane and montane habitats and features of geological interest. © Jon Brooke




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 Three 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 Three of the 2015 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ passes through southern Snowdonia into mid-Wales. The northern section of Day Two passes through the Cadair Idris massif before crossing an extensive area of lower level farmland and forestry plantations. To the south of the Day Three event area the route crosses the upland landscape of the Plynlimon area.

Cadair Idris is an area of national and international importance for its sub-montane and montane habitats and features of geological interest. It is one of the most southerly areas of mountain landscape in Britain and has vegetation that contains arctic-alpine plant species growing at the extreme southern extent of their British range. Key habitats within the area include upland woodlands on lower slopes, with sub-montane acid grassland, heath vegetation and rock outcrop habitats at higher levels. Distinctive montane heath and grassland vegetation has developed on the highest areas, often in patches that reflect well-defined periglacial patterned ground features that include stone polygons and stripes.

Many of the sub-montane and montane acid grassland and heath vegetation types along the Day Three route 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 some of the montane grassland and heath plant communities that have developed within the frost-shattered boulderfields and across high mountain ridges. However, the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ controls for Day Three have been located to encourage competitors to follow existing paths, providing a route through this area that will generally avoid the need to cross pristine upland vegetation and habitat.



•    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.

•    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 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 Cadair Idris towards the north of the event area 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 is of very high ecological interest and consists of very slow-growing grass, sedge, rush and lichen species. Disturbance of these areas by trampling typically has long-lasting impacts and can 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.

•    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 would have a long-term impact. Because of this it is important that any routes taken through these woodland sites utilise existing paths and tracks.

•    A number of upland lakes are present within the Day Three 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 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ competitors, and route choices should avoid running near lake margin vegetation areas.

•    Areas of upland grassland and sub-montane heath to the south of the Day Three event 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.

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