08 November 2012
Larch.... the swan song ?
There are some spectacular autumn colours this year and larch, which never disappoints, is particularly striking in the Neath and Afan Valleys at the moment. The photo above was taken today, looking west down the River Afan towards Rhyslyn near Pontrhydyfen. I love the way the golden larch canopies bring the darker coloured spruces and pines into relief. None of the other conifers in our plantations support such a rich biodiversity of plants and lichens. These deciduous forests have been a sanctuary for wood warblers, a surrogate home for bluebells and usually become carpeted with bryophytes more typical of upland oak woodland as they mature. The light and 'airy' nature of larch woods also provides ideal conditions for lichens, like Parmelia perlata (below) and Usnea subfloridana which often cover the twigs and branches.
And even in a poor year for toadstools, there's always some Larch Bolete (Suillus grevillei) to be found.
If you take a drive along the A465 to Glyn Neath, you'll get a good picture of the amount of larch forest that is bedded into the Neath Valley. Its removal (or death) will reveal a radically different landscape - you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone!
Forty years ago I had mixed feelings (mostly negative) about conifer plantation, but larch has melded gracefully into the local environment. I will miss this.