Historically a hub of vast industrial activity, Blaenau Ffestiniog continues to leave a substantial legacy of slate quarries and tips. While arguably considered an intrusion on an otherwise tranquil mountain landscape, wildlife is providing interesting opportunities to observe.
Llechwedd Slate Caverns is part of a living, working slate mine still being worked to this day. Greaves Welsh Slate Co Ltd started extracting the slate early in 1836 taking the raw material from a rich Ordovician deposit laid down around 500 million years ago. A popular visitor attraction, two unique underground tours are available to take visitors deep underground to explore the world of the Victorian slate miner. The temperature underground is an ambient 54F making the caverns ideal for a family day out, come rain or shine. Free car parking is available.
Llechwedd affords an excellent chance to view processes of colonization at leisure. Most striking is the use of the quarries by Chough. These birds frequent the area regularly, breeding here for over ten years, even nesting within caverns, hence the labelling of one as “Chough’s Cavern”. Between April and July, cameras are set up to give first-rate views of nesting Chough. Other birds seen include Meadow Pipit, Kestrel, Raven, nesting Buzzard, and occasional Red Kite.
If you climb up to the 'view point' from the Smithy, you might be able to make out the ruins of their barracks. Colonization of vegetation in the area is an achingly slow process, but it can be seen everywhere, beginning with lichens and mosses, and eventually providing a toehold for woody species such as Downy Birch. Ironically, the first arrival was the invasive and extremely detrimental Rhododendron. Its attractive flowers belie its unwelcome effects in the more natural habitats of North Wales.