Day One - Ecological Briefing

22nd Jun 2015

Above: Wendy Dodds, at the 2012 Dragon's Back Race, races along the high ridges of the Carneddau with their ice-shattered boulder fields creating Wales’ arctic 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 One 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 One INtroduction

Day One of the 2015 Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ crosses the core area of mountain landscape within northern Snowdonia, passing through locations that define the special character of the area. The majority of the Day One area is occupied by the Eryri Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation, enclosing one of the most distinctive and ecologically valuable areas of upland landscape in Britain. This includes the high ridges of the Carneddau with their ice-shattered boulder fields creating Wales’ arctic landscape. The route then passes through the remarkably diverse upland landscape of the Glyderau and Snowdon ranges where complex sedimentary and volcanic geology has been heavily glaciated to create a celebrated series of high mountain ridges and pyramidal peaks.

The consistent high altitude of the landscape crossed by the Day One route is reflected in extensive areas of montane and fell-field vegetation comprising highly specialised arctic alpine plant species. This is a post-glacial relict flora of international importance that is very slow-growing and vulnerable to damage by the disturbance effects of trampling. However, Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race™ controls have been located within this area to encourage competitors to follow existing paths, providing a route through this area that will generally avoid the need to cross pristine montane vegetation and habitat.

In addition to tracts of high value upland vegetation and wildlife habitat, extensive sections of the Berghaus Dragon’s Back Route cross areas of upland grassland and dry heath that are relatively robust in terms of resisting potential disturbance from trampling effects. Localised ecological interest features are present within these areas that include patches of upland woodland, blanket peat, wet heath, upland lake margins, rock outcrop ledges, boulder field and scree habitats.


Day one 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 acid 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 Day One Event area includes 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 particular upland ecological interest. Wherever possible competitors should avoid crossing 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.

•    The summits and ridges of the Day One Event area have significant tracts 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 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 that 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 One Event area includes 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.

•    Locations to the south of the Day One Event area contain upland Sessile Oakwoods of considerable nature conservation interest. This is 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.

•    A number of upland lakes are present within the Day One 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.

•    Areas of extensive upland grassland and sub-montane heath within the Day One 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 will all be very well camouflaged. It is always preferable to cross these areas using existing paths and hill tracks wherever possible.

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