The majority of the Estate is included in a Special Protection Area under the EC Directive on Wild Birds and falls within the Cambrian Mountains Environmentally Sensitive Area. The Estate is home to a wide range of wildlife, many species thriving and in good numbers, others more perilous and in need of careful stewardship.
There are over 20 species of mammal in Elan, most are nocturnal and wary of man and are therefore rarely seen. Grey Squirrels are common and easy to see, they come originally from America and are larger and more adaptable than the native Red Squirrel. There are no records of reds since the 1960s.
There are only occasional records of Deer on the Estate. Foxes mostly live alone and usually adapt old rabbit or badger burrows into earths which are used for shelter and for females to raise cubs in. Badgers, Otters, Polecats, Mink, Stoats and Weasels are all members of the weasel (mustelid) family. Badgers are strong burrowers and live in setts as family groups. As well as the main sett which is always in use, they may have other smaller setts in their territory which they only use occasionally. Otters occur close to the Estate and they do use our rivers, reservoirs and lakes as fishing grounds for brown trout. Polecats are uncommon outside of Wales and its bordering counties although the population is spreading. They are the wild cousins of domestic ferrets with which they will interbreed. Stoats and Weasels are often confused, both are chestnut brown with a white belly but Stoats are larger, with a black tipped tail and the line where the brown fur meets the white fur is straight. Weasels have a shorter, untipped, tail and a wavy line between the brown and white.
American Mink escaped from fur farms mostly during the 1960s and 1970s, they bred in the wild and spread into the Estate by the late 1980s. They are found near to water where they prey on birds, small mammals and fish. Ground nesting ducks suffer from predation as the mink take eggs, chicks and adult birds. Water voles numbers have reduced nationally in streams and rivers where mink occur. Moles are suprisingly common here even up on the highest moorland.Hedgehogs are uncommon on the Estate. Their main natural predator in Britain is the Badger. Rabbits are widespread but uncommon because they have many predators here including foxes, polecats, buzzards and kites. Brown Hares are very rare and Mountain Hares do not occur here. Small Mammals occur all over the Estate in every habitat. Shrews are insectivores with very large appetites, they need to eat every 3-4 hours. We have 3 types of shrew, the Common, the Pygmy and the Water Shrew which has been found at Dol-y-mynach. Woodmice are common especially in broadleaved woodlands on the Estate and provide an important source of food for Tawny owls. House Mice and Brown Rats are rare here.
There are also three types of vole, Bank, Field and Water Voles. Field or Short-Tailed Voles are an important source of food to many upland animals and birds of prey.
Twenty-seven species of butterflies have been seen on the Elan Estate. One of these, the Purple Hairstreak can be easily overlooked as it spends most of its time in the top canopy of oakwoods during July and August. Its larvae feed on oak buds and leaves.
Over two hundred species of moths have been identified in the Elan. One of our largest and most spectacular is the Emperor Moth. Both adults have large black eye-spots on each wing, the day-flying male being more orange than the greyer female. Male Emperors are able to detect females by scent over 2 km away.
Dung Beetles are large, black, shiny insects which are commonly seen along the grassy tracks of the Elan. They dig holes in the ground and roll balls of dung down to feed their larvae on.
Seventeen kinds of dragonfly and damselfly have been seen on the Elan Estate. Our largest British species, the Golden-ringed Dragonfly, breeds commonly along the many streams within the Elan. It has bright yellow and black stripes across its body and can reach up to 84 mm in length. Large black slugs up to 15 cm in length can sometimes be seen in large numbers, particularly in the Elan oakwoods. As slugs lose water quickly from their soft, moist, bodies they emerge only at night or on wet days.
A search around the outside walls of the Visitor Centre during spring and summer may reveal the presence of a beautiful, 10mm long, green and pink metallic insect called a Ruby-tailed Wasp. They can be watched running over the surface of walls, with characteristic jerky movements, in search of the nests of Mason Bees (which dig holes into the mortar in which to lay their eggs). The Ruby- tails lay eggs in the same nest, their grubs then eat the Mason Bee larvae!
Froghoppers are jumping, frog-like, bugs up to 12mm long that are responsible for producing cuckoo-spit which is the froth found attached to grass and plant stems in spring. The young froghoppers or nymphs feed on sap. They form the cuckoo-spit by producing a sticky fluid which they froth by blowing into it to provide protection from the sun and to deter predators. A closer look under the leaves of oak trees in late summer or early autumn may reveal small growths called galls. These are caused by a tiny ant-like insect called a Gall-wasp, their average size being no more than 3mm. Females lay eggs in the leaves and when these hatch the leaf tissues swell up around the larvae. These then feed inside the gall, pupate, and eventually emerge as adult wasps the following year. The oak trees of the Elan have several different kinds of gall, made by different wasp species