Wood conservation pays off: Britain's landscape is being ravaged by acid rain and misguided planting policies. Susan Watts reports

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THE ANCIENT woodland surrounding Talygarn House in South Wales is a perfect example of what can be achieved if trees are managed with care.

The wood lies between Cardiff and Bridgend. The gales of January 1990 destroyed many of its finest trees. But this was perhaps a blessing in disguise, since it forced the wood's owners to take a closer look at their charge.

Since then, Mid Glamorgan health authority and the private individual who between them own the wood have become model conservationists. They enlisted the help of Coed Cymru (Welsh Woodlands) to restore and manage the wood.

The wood covers about 84 acres (34 hectares). It is home to old and exotic species of trees as well as rare shrubs such as guelder rose and field maple. Its trees include Japanese maples, a large tulip tree and unusual imported cypresses. Its cork oak from Portugal is one of only two in South Wales.

Up to 50 of the wood's larger trees were lost in the gales, including a silver weeping lime, a fern leaf beech and a fine old redwood. Many others were left in an unstable condition.

The storm damage revealed that the wood had no replanting programme, and that the existing trees were not managed at all. Large areas had been abandoned for so long they had become smothered by cherry laurel.

These 'pest' trees have to be cut and the stumps removed if they are not to swamp less robust species. Other 'elderly' trees were left for so long they became over-mature, with nothing to replace them.

Talygarn was typical of the poor state of British woodland, Celia Thomas, who works for Coed Cymru, said. 'This kind of old woodland has no future unless it is managed to ensure the continuity of the trees and wildlife. This protects the conservation value of the wood as well as its ability to produce timber.'

Ms Thomas said the owners were now selling 'a bit of everything' from the wood. Sales of sawn timber have brought in pounds 3,000 from local craftsmen, and customers are being persuaded to insist on Welsh timber.

'We are having to earn every penny of what we spend there. As we get a little bit of money we spend it on whatever is at the top of the priority list. We have spent thousand of pounds so far.'

(Photograph omitted)