Cradle for Nature

Update in Spring 2022

The group of volunteers at Cradle for Nature sadly have lost their leader, Emeritus Professor Martin Haigh, who passed away on 4th February this year. We have been involved for many years in his academic research to find practical, sustainable ways of reclaiming old opencast coal land in south Wales. It is our intention to carry on Martin's legacy by continuing his work of widening the project to involve interested local people in the poorly reclaimed opencast areas of south Wales and so creating a wildlife corridor.


Poor vegetation performance and land degradation is a widespread problem on the reclaimed surface coalmine lands of South Wales. The 'Cradle for Nature' project is an NGO research venture that aims to determine how to achieve geoecological self-sustainability on degraded surface mine sites where the obstacles to revegetation success include extreme auto-compaction and low nutrient status of the mine-spoils.

This project’s experimental sites are located on degraded opencast coal-land at Varteg in Torfaen, Wales. This land was officially 'reclaimed' after surface coalmining in 1963. The project’s aims are to establish a self-reinforcing spiral of habitat improvement in the ecology and the soil. In addition to soil testing, the project features formally established 10 and 20-year forestation trials designed to assess the effect of three alternative approaches to tree planting, as well as an array of different fertilisation treatments, on tree survival and growth in mixed plantings. These trials focus on two key species that are commonly used in land reclamation contexts: Alder (Alnus glutinosa (L.) Gaertn), which is used as a nursemaid species, and Welsh or Durmast Oak (Quercus petraea (Matt.) Liebl).

Over the past 20 years volunteers, led by Professor Martin Haigh at Oxford Brookes University, have planted thousands of trees. Many of these same people go back each year to measure them, check on how they're growing and see how the landscape is developing.

This website hopes to cater for all kinds of visitors, ranging from academics interested in land reclamation, soil and biological research through to the layman, probably amused by the antics of scientists and volunteers on a wet Welsh hillside, and including the academics and volunteers themselves! Contributions to the site have come from the academics and volunteers, who have worked on the research project over many years, without which the website could not exist - thank you.