The Machynys Ponds - An Important Local Wildlife Site Threatened by Development PDF Print E-mail

Llanelli Naturalists Newsletter - Summer 1990
Ian Morgan

The Machynys Ponds (SS512980), located on the semi-derelict Machynys Peninsula south of Llanelli, are noted for their assemblages of aquatic plants and wetland invertebrates. The ponds are believed to have originated as a result of the flooding of 19th century clay-pits, and are of interest as they are thought to have served as a refuge for plants, including county rarities, that presumably once grew in surrounding wetland areas but which have now long since been drained. The naturally nutrient-rich (eutrophic) ponds with fringing fen vegetation, hold a diverse fauna of invertebrates including species that are rare or local in Wales and more typical of fenland in southern England. It is believed that James Motley (d.1857), one of the earlier workers on Carmarthenshire plants and who is known to have prepared a now-lost manuscript Flora of the Llanelli district, botanized in the Machynys area, where he discovered many now-extinct wetland plants, though one - ivy-leaved duckweed Lemna trisulca was refound here, in 1982, growing profusely in one of the smaller eastern ponds. It is worth pointing out at this stage that the main Machynys Pond is to be retained, and it is only the four smaller eastern ponds that are threatened with infill.

One of these ponds is perhaps best described as a flooded 'slack' (depression) and it holds a large population of marestail Hippuris  vulgaris, brackish water crowfoot Ranunculus baudoti and water parsnip Berula erecta - all local species. This slack, with its fluctuating water level, is of a very unusual type and extremely localized in SW Wales; it is of considerable invertebrate interest.

The invertebrates of the smaller ponds have over a dozen breeding species of dragonfly, including the ruddy darter Sympetrum sanguineum, the hairy dragonfly Brachytron pratense, the emperor Anax imperator and the southern hawker Aeshna mixta - all species with a restricted distribution in Wales. There is a characteristic hoverfly fauna associated wit.. the beds of reed-mace Typha latifolia, such as various Anasimyia and Parhelophilus spp. Other rare or local wetland hoverflies are Tropida scita, Lejogaster splendida and Chrysogaster macquarti. The large and attractive 'soldier-fly' Stratiomys potamida is also found here. Likewise there are several notable wetland beetles - species such as Elaphrus uliginosus, Stenophilus mixtus, Chlaenius nigricornis  and Silis ruficollis. Uncommon moths include bulrush Nonagria typhae  and Webb's Archanara sparganii wainscots; whilst the flower-rich grassland that links up the ponds has the six-belted clearwing Bembecia scopigera. Southern marsh orchids Dactylorhiza praetermissa  produce stately flower-spikes in nearby damp grassland.

The threat to these smaller ponds stems from the fact that they are located right next to the new main road that will provide access to the Machynys Peninsula. Had these ponds stood farther east then it is quite likely that their retention, within a golf course area, would have been quite feasible.

Consultants were employed by Llanelli Borough Council in 1989 to provide, amongst other things, an environmental appraisal of the Machynys Peninsula which is to be up-graded and developed. This the Llanelli Naturalists Society heartily welcomes, provided that the undoubted  wildlife significance of the Machynys Ponds (and the natural shingle beach at Penrhyngwyn, which is not currently threatened) is recognized. Sadly, the survey workers employed by the Consultants to assess the biological interest of the area seem to have missed many features of interest, though, in fairness, their time was strictly limited, but nevertheless, application of basic ecological principles should have highlighted the interest of the area. It is a pity that the local and specialist expertise of the Llanelli Naturalists were not consulted.

The Llanelli Naturalists Society have been concerned over the future of the Machynys Ponds since at least 1984 and indeed, the Hon. Sec. Richard Pryce and the writer met the Borough Council planning department to discuss the matter as early as January 1985. At that stage, details of the Machynys development were not available, but the Llanelli Naturalists ensured that both the Borough Council and the Nature Conservancy Council were told of the site's importance, in a local and regional context. Now it seems, after five years, detailed plans have been drawn up and it will be difficult to introduce flexibility or modification to these proposals.

The smaller Machynys Ponds have an ecological interest that far exceeds their limited size. As well as being of a habitat type (rich, eutrophic ponds and associated Typha-fen) that is rare in south-west Wales and holding local or rare species, the ponds are of considerable educational potential for both local schools and visiting tourists alike. With the establishment of a nature trail, board walks and other facilities, the site would make a fine urban wildlife reserve, which many enlightened towns and cities throughout the country are actively promoting. Yet here we are destroying such a resource! A small urban nature reserve could form part of the attraction of the Machynys Peninsula and help diversify the interest of the area to visitors. As has already been stated, the Llanelli Naturalists Society applauds the drive and energy shown by Llanelli Borough Council in transforming and improving large areas of the Borough to ensure Llanelli's prosperity into the next century. But we feel that, if the Machynys Ponds are destroyed, then a valuable habitat will be lost, and that future generations will regret this action.

If indeed they are to be destroyed, then it is imperative that attempts are made by the Council and advised by appropriate persons, to transfer some of the plants to newly-created ponds on the eastern part of the Peninsula. It must be fully realized that it is very difficult to recreate ecological assemblages that have taken many decades to establish - it is not a simple matter of 'gardening'. The pH/nutrient status of the new ponds will be most difficult (impossible?) to recreate and the chronology of works must be appropriate i.e. the new pond mils* be in situ before the old Machynys Ponds are obliterated. Some plant transplants will doubtless succeed but others will fail; with invertebrates it is even more problematic, but it will help if the new 'reception-ponds' (which must he static ponds and not subject to flow) are in existence for the maximum time possible before the destruction of the old ponds in order to facilitate natural recolonization as well as man-aided transplants.

It is the sincere hope if the Llanelli Naturalists Society that this issue can be resolved by negotiation rather than undesirable conflict, so that optimum usage - for people and wildlife - can he made of the Machynys Peninsula.