Ranger Rob helps enhance Bluestone’s biodiversity

Sheep might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about one of Pembrokeshire’s main tourist destinations.

But with the help of a flock of the woolly animals Bluestone National Park Resort, near Narberth, is further enhancing its biodiversity.

Under the watchful eyes of Park Ranger Rob Mackeen, sheep have been brought in to replace conventional grasscutters in part of the resort where a natural wildflower meadow is thriving.

The 3.5 acres ‘Field of Flowers’ forms part of Bluestone’s Biodiversity Action Plan and is a project very close to Rob’s heart.

“The area used to be a golf driving range and several years ago I was keen to improve the ground condition by turning it into a wildflower meadow. It has to be a natural process and so we’ve steadily encouraged the growth of a range of wildflowers through careful management of the area,” said Rob.

“Working with local farmers we’ve already had two successful hay crops over the past two years from the area and in September we introduced a flock of sheep to graze in the meadow.

“They provide a natural method for taking the grass back so that come next Spring we’ll see the natural growth of a range of flowers and fauna.”

The work is part of the ongoing development of biodiversity within the 500 acre resort, including the historic Canaston Woods which are also carefully managed. The aim is to bring the wildflower meadow to A-class management.

In a survey undertaken in 2019, more than 320 species were identified in just one day, and there are many hundreds more. This is great progress since when the site was internsive dairy farm pastureland with virtually no ecosystem and no more than a handful of species and even described in a survey by Cardiff University as “an ecological desert.”

Rob added: “Although the Field of Flowers is a specific area, it mirrors what we’re undertaking throughout the 500 acres of the resort in ensuring the growth of natural habitats for wildlife. It’s vitally important for us to continue enhancing the natural biodiversity of the area not only for our guests to enjoy, but to safeguard the natural environment we have here.”

Bluestone is a member of the Magnificent Meadows Group and its work, led by Rob, has already been recognised as significant in Pembrokeshire alone.

This is a great step for Rob since he joined Bluestone’s Environment Department as a waste operative over eight years ago. With a passion for biodiversity, Rob was often working on the natural trails, tree management and other work at the resort.

He was appointed Park Ranger and now leads on the Biodiversity Action Plan and ensuring the natural development of wildlife, flora, and fauna.

Rob said: “No day is ever the same. I’m either outside undertaking practical work or in the office developing our plans. It’s a side to Bluestone that many people don’t see. Our guests can enjoy some amazing wildlife without realising that we’ve worked hard to encourage the growth and development of the natural habitat we have here.

“The Field of Flowers is one small part, however, each element is crucial in encouraging and safeguarding the wildlife we have here. The meadow will look amazing next Spring when the flowers start to come through again – thanks in kind to our grazing sheep.”

Marten Lewis, Head of Corporate Responsibility at Bluestone, said: “Our work shows how eco-tourism can make a positive impact on a local environment and how it can enhance and attract even greater biodiversity. We’ve seen fields used for dairy farming turned into some of the richest areas for nature and conservation.”

Bluestone has many other environmental and biodiverse credentials. From a biomass fuelled energy centre, solar panels on lodges, a car free resort to reduce emissions, a district biomass system on 60 of its lodges, and many more.

More than 200,000 additional trees and plants have been planted since then. In 2012 a new Diamond Wood was planted in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. One of only two in Wales, over 120 people joined broadcaster and wildlife expert Iolo Williams to help plant some of the 35,000 native trees to create an additional natural woodland habitat within the 500-acre site.

The new wood joined two historical woodlands, Canaston and Minwear, for the first time in centuries, and created an important habitat for wildlife in the area.