When the Centre first opened in 1970 there were no resident staff and the only research project based there was one on the surface ecology of Cors y Llyn by Peter Beckett, a student at Kings College, London.
In 1974 new buildings were opened, a Director and staff on the Craig Goch Research Group (CGRG) were all appointed. The CGRG were charged with evaluating the biological and water-chemistry implications of enlarging the most northerly of the Elan Valley reservoirs into the largest man-made area of open water in Western Europe. Five post-doctoral research staff based at the Centre investigated many aspects of fish, invertebrates, riparian plants and water-chemistry as a base-line against which to evaluate the changes such a development might bring. The initial study lasted five years, plans for the reservoir were shelved but many of the results were published as papers and, in summary, in the 1982 book "The Ecology of the Wye" by R. W. Edwards & M. P. Brooker.
Following on from the CGRG project the strengths in freshwater research expertise in UWIST’s Applied Biology Department led to further doctoral and post-doctoral studies into salmonids fisheries, river invertebrates and the biology of river gravels. At about this time Phil Blandford from Exeter University and Wanda Foijt from Kings, London based themselves at Llysdinam to study polecats and upland peats respectively.
Up to the mid-1980’s the government ran a variously named Job Creation Programme via the Manpower Services Commission which enabled us to employ some 20 graduates per year, leading to some interesting research initiatives. Two years’ river surveying of birds, fish, invertebrates, higher and lower plants and otters led directly and indirectly to the development of several river and riparian survey techniques now advocated by governmental conservation and environmental bodies. The first inventories for Mid-Wales of woodlands, old meadows, peatlands and amphibian distribution were the direct results of Job Creation projects. A project under the same scheme designed to evaluate wildlife road casualties discovered that there was a major loss of migrating toads to road traffic around Llandrindod Wells lake and that very little was known of the ecology of this common species. Three post-doctorates and four PhD studies later our work on amphibians continues with some 40 published papers marking the way.
Two other species of Welsh rivers have also exercised our scientific curiosity, the native white-clawed crayfish, abundant in our 1980’s PhD study but far scarcer in our current work, and the otter which, mainly through post-mortem studies, has provided material for a PhD and two post-doctorate studies. Developed from our Welsh river work, an overseas student has completed a PhD study on the Indus River Dolphin.
With one of the longest nest-box histories in the UK, studies on box-nesting birds began with publications in the 1930’s, but our work has involved one PhD on the effects of supplementary feed on woodland tit populations and numerous studies, including a decade of annual visits from Prof. Mike Kern from the USA, into the breeding behaviour of the Pied Flycatcher. In addition to up to 1000 bird nest-boxes we have several hundred bat-boxes which are monitored annually.
Research at the Centre has lead Dr. Fred Slater to be involved in the discovery of the only distinct native flowering plant to be discovered in England and Wales in the twentieth century (Gagea bohemica), the description of a new association of the Piluarietum globuliferae in upland Wales and, in 1988, the production of a book "The Nature of Central Wales", pulling together the diverse information about the wildlife of Mid-Wales. Work on the peatlands of Mid-Wales in the 1970’s and 1980’s produced a number of publications and was ultimately the stimulus for our work on biomass and biofiltration.
WRc funded a PhD study on the disposal of sewage sludge to existing broad-leaved woodland which lead to three more doctoral studies into willow as a biomass crop and involved the addition of sewage, farm slurry and mulches to sites of varying physical characteristics and clonal mixes. Additionally we have also studied the biofiltration properties of £0.5 willow. On the basis of our initial research, the Centre was awarded a £10.5 million E.U. Objective 5b project, a £0.25 million Objective 2 project and currently a £1.75 million Objective 1 project, extending our area of biomass interest to perennial rhizomatous grasses such as Miscanthus, switch and reed canary grass.
A DTI post-doctoral contract has examined the biodiversity of energy grass crops and we have had a postgraduate student working on a collaborative willow project with the Institute of Grassland & Environmental Research (now IBERS). Our interest in biomass crops stems in part from our ongoing interest in land-use and agricultural diversification and began in the 1980’s with a PhD study of the process of upland pasture reversion and a PhD study in the 1990’s into the influence of atmospheric pollution on the growth and spread of upland bracken. Biomass projects at Llysdinam come under the aegis of the Wales Biomass Centre which, itself, is part of the Field Centre structure.
The combination of our interest in agricultural, riparian and aquatic habitats prompted a PhD study of the non-fishery biodiversity effects of river habitat restoration, a joint project with the Wye Foundation.
Current Research Interests
In 2009 three PhD students graduated from studies at Llysdinam in a diverse range of subjects. Danielle Fry completed her study of the biodiversity of short-rotation willow crops in collaboration with IBERS; Kerry Murton studied amphibian phenology , the fifth in a series of PhD studies on amphibians; and Rachel Smith investigated the nutrient relationships within energy grass crops.
Currently, Anna Bransden's PhD project relates to the ephemeral upland ponds of Mid-Wales and Jenny Clapham is studying the biodiversity of energy grass crops.
In 2008-9 the Centre had three contracts from the Environment Agency (Wales) for studies on the native white-clawed crayfish.
The Cardiff University Otter Project actively uses the Field Centre facilities for some of its studies.
Centre staff are frequently asked for their consultancy expertise on topics as diverse as windfarm proposals, amphibians and planning and pearl mussel surveys.