St Davids Airfield, where Halifax engines once roared, is now a special place for a rich variety of plants and animals. There are two special habitats on the airfield: traditional hay meadow and heathland.
Hay meadows – a skylark success story!
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority worked with the local farmer to manage the grassland as traditional hay meadows. This means only cutting the grass for hay once a season instead of several times. The grass is cut in July to give the wildflowers a chance to seed and so as not to disturb the skylarks.
Skylarks nest on the ground, and cutting earlier than July would destroy their eggs. The meadow now has organic status and is inspected regularly by the Soil Association. These efforts have paid off, as the population of skylarks has doubled since the grassland has been managed in a traditional way.
The heathland along the northern side of the airfield has been designated an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). The heathland is now home to special plants, which provide food and shelter for a wide range of insects, including the rare southern damselfly, marshland fritillary butterfly, green tiger beetle and emperor moth caterpillar.
There is more lowland heath in Pembrokeshire than anywhere else in Wales. Heathlands are areas of small shrubs such as heather and gorse that grow well in poor and often very wet soil. They were created around 5000 years ago when forests were cleared to make way for farms, and were maintained by cycles of burning and grazing.
As farming practices have changed and become more intense large areas of heathland have disappeared. The area of heathland on St Davids Airfield has been recreated. The old buildings were removed, the topsoil was replaced with clay and turf with heather and gorse laid on top. The area is burned every five years and is grazed in winter by sheep and cattle.