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Natur Cymru Natur Cymru

Wildlife Trusts in Wales – how did it all begin?

 

A full version of this article appears in the magazine. The story of the Wildlife Trusts in Wales starts with the Pembrokeshire Bird Society which became the West Wales Field Society (WWFS) in 1945. One of its first actions was to take up the lease of Skokholm from Ronald Lockley. While the Pembrokeshire islands remained a focus of interest, in the 1950s the Society’s interests broadened to the protection of all wildlife.

 

Nature in Wales first cover 1955In the 1950s and 1960s, groups of naturalists in Wales came together to form Naturalists’ Trusts. The magazine Nature in Wales was started in 1955, with an introduction by Ronald Lockley, and was issued to all Wildlife Trust members in Wales until it folded after 30-odd years. Natur Cymru – Nature of Wales was started to fill the gap. In 1970 the book Welsh Wildlife in Trust, edited by Prof. Bill Lacey, was published by the North Wales Naturalists’ Trust (NWNT). It included contributions from all the Welsh Trusts and is still a mine of information about the early development of the Trusts and the natural history of Wales at that time. Several of the chapter authors are still around, with two writing regularly for Natur Cymru!

 

West Wales

In 1948 the WWFS, who appointed two wardens. One of these, Bill Condry, remained a key figure for the next 40 years, while David Saunders was the first Warden of Skomer in 1960 and is still active. Two significant events happened in 1968; first, Ronald Lockley gave WWNT some land at Martin’s Haven with a house (now Lockley Lodge), providing a mainland base for operations on the islands. Secondly, the Teifi marshes Nature Reserve outside Cardigan was created, giving a superb outdoor experience for visitors to the Welsh Wildlife Centre at Cilgerran.

 

The Glamorgan Trust was managing 23 reserves by 1969. It supported a campaign to prevent part of Crymlyn Bog becoming a rubbish tip; after a judicial review the site was created an SSSI and now has European designations. Both WWNT and GNT became Wildlife Trusts in that year, and in 2002 a merger took place creating the WT of South and West Wales. There has been considerable activity on the Pembrokeshire islands in the last 10 years: the buildings on Skomer were totally renewed, then Skokholm was bought by the Trust. Energetic volunteers are now doing up the accommodation – saving 90% of the original £1,000,000 estimate.

 

In Monmouthshire, one of the Trust’s first acquisitions was a piece of Magor Marsh in the Gwent levels: the enlarged reserve now has an education centre. In 1991 a successful campaign raised £150,000 in six weeks to buy Pentwyn Farm, a 30 acre smallholding with flower-rich meadows and a medieval barn. Silent Valley near Ebbw Vale is another important reserve of 125 acres, used for school visits and public enjoyment and managed to enhance its wildlife. GWT has opposed the development of a Severn barrage and worked to protect the Gwent levels from drainage threats and an M4 relief motorway.

 

Powys

There are three Wildlife Trusts in the present county of Powys. Brecknock WT’s early strength was the large number of specialist interest groups that catalogued the plants, animals and geology of the area. They ran a successful campaign against otter hunting, lobbying riverside landowners to deny the hunt access to the Usk. This led to cooperation with the Vincent Wildlife Trust, creation of otter havens and the first national otter survey in Wales in 1977. In 2003 a £1 million legacy enabled BWT to appoint reserve and education staff. At the old mining town of Ystradgynlais habitats are being improved for the endangered Marsh Fritillary butterfly.

 

Restored longhouse at Gilfach Reserve (c) RWTRadnorshire WT began as a sub-committee of the Hereford and Radnor NT. Dr Fred Slater, who ran the Newbridge-on-Wye field centre, was an early activist. Immediately after its formation, the Trust bought the 383 acre farm of Gilfach, a largely unimproved upland farm with a 14th century longhouse. Gilfach is now an SSSI and one of the premier nature reserves in Wales. RWT has pioneered a scheme of private nature reserves, campaigned for the toads of Llandrindod Lake, and works with 65 commoners to manage a 2000 hectare common near Knighton.

 

In Montgomeryshire WT there was an early emphasis on cooperation with local farmers and landowners, also surveys of bats, newts and butterflies. The Trust acquired 100 acres of saltmarsh on the Dyfi and Llandinam gravels, one of the last untamed stretches of the river Severn. Cors Dyfi was added in 2006: following the felling of conifers, rewetting of the marsh and grazing by water buffalo, the reserve attracted the first pair of Ospreys to breed in mid-Wales for 400 years. In 2011 48,000 visitors came to enjoy the spectacle, giving a boost to the local economy. MWT has been pioneering upland management with its Pumlumon Living Landscape project centred on the Glaslyn reserve. This involves rewetting bogs, reducing rapid run-off and the risk of downstream flooding, all contributing to a richer and more varied landscape while also benefitting local communities.

 

North Wales

When 105 acres came up for sale at Cors Goch, Anglesey, in 1962, NWNT was formed to buy it. Cemlyn, an important tern breeding site, presented many challenges, as when the outlet weir failed thereby endangering the tern chicks. Today, 1600 pairs of Sandwich terns nest here, protected by two wardens and keen volunteers. By 1988 the Trust had 28 reserves including its largest, 480 hectares of heather moorland at Llyn Brenig. In 1995 the old explosives works Gwaith Powdwr (near Porthmadog) was acquired and Cors Goch gained NNR and Ramsar status.

 

NWWT now has over 6,000 members, and throughout Wales WT membership has grown to 25,000. This reflects the rise in public concern for the environment, in the face of the losses which people see taking place around them. Although people are concerned about wider environmental issues, and the membership of many environmental bodies has grown over the last half century, people often identify most strongly with their ‘home turf’. The WTs are unique in enabling people to engage with their local environment, whilst at the same time feeling part of a UK-wide movement.

 

The future

Over the years there have been attempts to encourage the Welsh Trusts to work more closely together. More recently, devolution has created a situation where the ability to speak with one voice has become a necessity; the Welsh Government and its national agencies prefer to deal with a single body when handing out annual grants, for example. Out of these pressures has emerged Wildlife Trusts Wales (WTW), with a Director and small staff based in Cardiff. WTW will have even more to do, once the current merger of Government agencies in Wales is completed. The end result could be an enhanced role for the Wildlife Trusts in speaking up for the Welsh environment, and their emergence as major contractors for the statutory sector.

 

Kate Gibbs is Chair of North Wales Wildlife Trust and Geoff Gibbs writes regularly for Natur Cymru.

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