The Meirionnydd region of Gwynedd is home to some of the best examples of Atlantic oak woodland in Europe. This unique habitat is rich in biodiversity. The Meirionnydd Oakwoods are important because they are made up of natural woodlands and ancient woodland sites that have been damaged and are now being managed to bring them back to a natural condition.
The woodlands are now remnants of the natural forest that originally covered most of the Atlantic fringe of Europe from Northern Scotland right the way round to Portugal. This coastal fringe is heavily influenced by the Gulf Stream that keeps the area warm but wet. The Atlantic coastal climate creates a difference between these oakwoods and those in the rest of Britain. The damp humid conditions create the perfect habitat for ferns, mosses and liverworts, lichen and fungi. Some of the species found cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The unique habitat that supports our rare species is often referred to as temperate rainforest. .
There are eight nature reserves in the Meirionydd Oakwoods that are managed by the Countryside Council for Wales. Three of these are well developed for visitors: Coed Llyn Mair, Ceunant Cynfal and Ceunant Llennyrch.
During the spring and summer the oak woodlands are alive with birdsong. Among the birds that breed there are Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers, Nuthatches and Wood Warblers.
The bats of the Meirionydd Oak Woodlands make it an exceptional place. Greater Horseshoe Bat - Britain's most endangered bat species - and Lesser Horseshoe Bat use caves and old buildings in the area to roost and raise young. The tree canopy affords the bats good cover, and the humidity encourages a rich community of insects for them to feed on. Other bats known to frequent the woodlands are the Brown Long-eared Bat, Natterer's Bat, Whiskered Bat, Pipistrelle Bat and the Noctule.
It is in part due to the inaccessibility of many of these woodlands, which are mainly situated in steep, rocky river gorges, that some of them remain in almost pristine condition.