Day Four - Ecological Briefing

25th Jun 2015 @ 07:00

Above: Steve Birkinshaw, at the 2012 Dragon's Back Race, in the Elan Valley. This is a dissected landscape of hill pasture grassland and moorland patches extending across hills defined by steep-sided, often incised valleys. © Rob Howard / SleepMonsters




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 Four 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 Four of the 2015 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ passes through the extensive upland landscape of mid Wales. The northern section of Day Four passes through an area of hill farmland and conifer plantations, before entering the extensive sheepwalk landscape of the Elan Valley. This is a dissected landscape of hill pasture grassland and moorland patches extending across hills defined by steep-sided, often incised valleys. 

Towards the southern end of the Day Four event area the landscape includes several locations of considerable nature conservation interest. In particular, areas of upland acid grassland, heath, bog and woodland are present that have been designated for their nature conservation value at national and international levels. The extensive hill grassland and sub-montane heath at the southern end of the event area is recognised as an area of special ornithological interest, in particular for populations of ground nesting birds. At the southern end of the event area conifer woodland becomes a more prominent feature, fragmenting the areas of special nature conservation interest.

The majority of sub-montane acid grassland vegetation types along the Day Four route are relatively robust in terms of potential trampling damage from competitors. In places, however, vegetation and habitats are more vulnerable to disturbance. These include locations where upland wet grassland and bog habitats are present. Patches of upland oak woodland are also sensitive to disturbance, in particular with regard to the diverse and valuable communities of bryophytes and lichens that are typically present within these habitats. The important ground nesting upland bird populations that are known to use habitats to the south of the event area are vulnerable to nest disturbance from trampling.

Day Four 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.

•    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.

•    A number of locations with upland Sessile Oakwoods are present within 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 utilize existing paths and tracks.

•    Extensive areas of upland grassland and sub-montane heath to the south of the Day Four event area are known to be used by internationally important ground nesting bird populations. 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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