Clocaenog Forest

About Clocaenog Forest

Clocaenog Forest is a large (5500 hectare) commercial conifer plantation in north Wales bordering Denbighshire and Conwy. The forest is dominated by Sitka spruce but also has widely dispersed stands of tree species more suitable to red squirrels such as Norway spruce, larch and pine.

The forest is between 300 and 500m above sea level and is surrounded by moorland and farmland to the north and west making it somewhat of an island. This is thought to be the saving factor of the red squirrel as the geography has acted as a partial barrier to the spread of grey squirrels.

Red squirrels started making use of the food that the maturing trees started to offer in the 1950s. The forest offers a rich mosaic of food sources that occur year round which is a huge benefit to red squirrels.

Although is it owned by the Welsh Government, the forest is managed by Natural Resources Wales (NRW) who do so as a commercial enterprise.

Clocaenog Forest is home to a very small population of red squirrels which are a high priority in terms of the way in which the forest is managed. NRW take great care over their Forest Management Plan (FMP) which dictates when and where trees can be felled without causing harm to any of the protected species including red squirrels.

The FMP is to ensure a constant supply of food, cover and resources via a mosaic of different tree species and ages. This provides suitable habitat for the small population of red squirrels whilst still making the forest economically viable.

Occurrences of broadleaved trees such as oak and beech have been reduced in order to remove food sources that are preferred by grey squirrels. A study in 1996, a good mast year, showed grey squirrels significantly using the beech mast resource.


Red Squirrels in Clocaenog Forest

Clocaenog Forest has previously been identified as one of three strongholds for red squirrels in Wales. The others being in mid-Wales where the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales are working with local volunteers to increase the population, and of course Anglesey.

In the 1990’s red squirrels were widespread in the forest and were considered to be Wales’ largest population until the success on Anglesey.

The extent of Sitka spruce makes the forest less attractive to grey squirrels as the small seed size means it is harder for them to get enough energy from the seeds. Red squirrels, being more arboreal than the American invaders, are therefore better equipped to forage on these smaller seeds together with areas of pine and Norway spruce. Getting the balance right is crucial to safeguarding the population.

The reds of Clocaenog have been much studied. Dr Sarah Cartmel carried out research into the ecology of both species in the late 90’s and this has been used to improve the management of the forest to support red squirrels. Unfortunately, woodland management on its own is not enough to safeguard the population. Grey squirrels continue to access the forest, competing with the reds for food and potentially spreading disease. NRW have been undertaking grey squirrel control throughout the forest for a number of years.

Despite all this, population estimates and sightings information suggested that the population has declined significantly in recent years. However, red squirrels in upland areas are notoriously difficult to survey so it has been difficult to be sure. But in 2014, the Mammals in a Sustainable Environments MISE) project set up monitoring using trail cameras and feeder boxes for the first time. The volunteers running these cameras were very excited to discover images of red squirrels within a month.

The graphic below gives some idea of how red squirrels have fared over the last 20-years. As you can see in 2011/12 survey results, no reds were seen/caught.

Results of trapping

What else is in the forest?

Clocaenog Forest is home to a wealth of wildlife including European Protected Species (EPS) such as hazel dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) and several species of bat.


Buzzards and sparrowhawks are both present and goshawk are occasionally seen, so squirrel feeders are sited where access is difficult for aerial predators. Visiting spring migrants include wood warbler, willow warbler, chiffchaff, redstart and in the autumn we find brambling, fieldfare and redwing among others. Nightjars can be seen and heard in clearings particularly at dusk where they can be seen hunting for moths and other insects.

Other birds include tawny owl, crossbill  and plenty of song birds that occur year round in the forest with some that nest there.


Apart from red squirrels, the forest is home to another vulnerable species, the hazel dormouse. Other important species include water vole and several species of bats. Badger, foxes and hares show up on our cameras from time to time and we’ve even had a pine marten.


The forest is home to many butterflies including speckled wood, peacock, red admiral and the rare small pearl-bordered fritillary, There are also tree bumblebees and wood ants.


Primrose and bluebells are seen along the tracks through the forest while plants such as wood sorrel, bilberry, ferns and mosses are found in more shady areas.


In the autumn a wide variety of fungi can be seen including stags horn fungus, fly agaric and yellow stagshorn

Wildlife in Clocaenog Forest

Frequently Asked Questions

There are several car parks in Clocaenog Forest. Bod Petryal is one of the most popular

It makes an ideal starting point to get a taste of this huge area of woodland, open moorland and rivers.

This area was once part of the Pool Park Estate and Bod Petryal (which means “rectangular dwelling” in Welsh) is named after the old gamekeeper’s cottage.

The Keeper’s Stroll walking trail goes through the oldest conifer trees in the forest and passes by the gamekeeper’s cottage.

The many miles of quiet forest roads make Clocaenog Forest an ideal location for family cycling and a short cycle trail is waymarked from Bod Petryal.

The picnic site has benches set around a large lake.

More information


There are lots of cycling and walking trails in the forest.


More information