Volunteers have spent years transforming Rabbit Hill Forest from a fly-spike hotspot into a pleasant natural space, but they still struggle with anti-social behavior and excessive littering. ROWENNA HOSKIN learns more.
AT the heart of the Duffryn Estate is Rabbit Hill, a beautiful forest that has long been used for flytipping and anti-social behavior.
Keep Wales Tidy and Duffryn Community Link work with volunteers to make the site welcoming with its Woodland Routes to Wellbeing programme.
Project coordinator Morgan Nichols said: “We planted a hedge a few weeks ago and the following week someone had set fire to the middle.
“It’s getting quite frustrating, this behavior has gone down from what it was before it started, it’s getting better – but behavior change takes a long time.
Rubbish burned at the entrance to Duffryn Wood
At the entrance to the forest, Ms Nichols pointed to painted blocks that had been set on fire last week, as well as a trampoline left in the reen and shopping carts.
Suzanne Colwill, 59, from Coedkernew, who volunteered at the start of the project, said: ‘I am constantly offended by the swinging flies and fires, but once you get into the woods and past this is so great to see all the volunteers come together.
Ms Nichols explained that fly dumping and anti-social behavior move to the edges of the forest when the community group is strong.
Some of the flying point trash
“That unfortunately means the entrances are intimidating and it discourages people from using the forest because it doesn’t look welcoming,” she said.
Volunteers meet weekly to make the forest a more welcoming place, after clearing excessive amounts of greenery that blocked light.
Volunteering sessions usually last about four hours depending on the work to be done, sometimes whole days are needed.
“It’s a shame that so much waste has to be disposed of, it’s time and money that could be spent improving the woods,” Ms Nichols said.
Lloyd Davies, 21, from Merthyr, said: ‘I drive 50 minutes to come here to volunteer because I care about the kids who love these woods, I want it to be safe for them.
“I’ve been here before when we spent the whole day cleaning up trash from the fire pit and woods the night before, then the next day there’s 4 feet of trash.
“I had a moment the other day where I had to walk away from the group because I was so angry, I just couldn’t believe that after everything we were doing, people are still treating the woods as a dump.”
Volunteer Lloyd Davies
Mr Davies added that he was aware that this type of behavior also disturbed residents.
Mr. Davies and the other Play Rangers work with primary schools to engage local children in nature.
The group is looking to connect with secondary schools to expand the reach of the project and encourage them to see wood as an asset.
“Playing in nature is important for your mental health and development,” Mr Davies said.
Mr Davies said the wood keeps children busy for hours, with activities ranging from den building and arts and crafts to the hugely popular swing.
He pointed out that the swing was not installed by Woodland Routes to Wellbeing, but by residents.
“It’s really uplifting to see that they came to the woods to hang out and enjoy it,” he said. “You connect with nature by being there.”
“It’s hard to accept, but I think everyone gets more done if you accept that these things are slow and gradual.”
Duffryn wood looks clean and inviting
The project, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund, has been running since 2016 and will end in 2024.
Ms Nichols said she hoped community volunteers would lead the group after this time, with their support.