In the month that we remember the first centenary of the ending of the War that did not end all Wars (1914-1918), and with the seventy fifth anniversary of D Day coming up next summer it is as good a time as any to also remember the origins of our Trust, some of the people who were involved at these various times, how our Trust came into being, and some of the early actions.
Formal interest in wildlife in South Wales started with the founding of the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society [CNS] in 1867 formed for the practical study of natural history and the founding of a museum. A future CNS President Joshua Neale leased Skomer and Grassholm for a decade in 1890 to protected the birdlife after having witnessed a company of seamen from HMS Sir Richard Fletcher slaughtering gannets by using them for target practice on a visit with other CNS members. And another President, Robert Drane was the first person to recognise the Skomer Vole as being different from the mainland bank vole while making a visit to Skomer in 1898.
Our ultimate origin as a Wildlife Trust is the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves (SPNR) founded in May 1912 by Charles Rothschild and based at the Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London. Over the next three years SPNR amassed a list of 284 important wildlife sites from around Great Britain and Ireland which the society considered worthy of preservation and sent to the Government for action. Selection was mostly done by letters from each county, except where Rothschild or his associates knew the sites, in England (188), Scotland (56), Ireland (19) and Wales (21). Being as the work was progressed through the opening years of the First World War, it was not nearly as thorough as it might have been.
Wales rather missed out on this 1915 list with a mere 21 sites being listed, and presumably due to lack of contacts owing to being away on war work, none from Pembrokeshire. Of the 21 Welsh sites, 6 are within our Wildlife Trust’s boundaries
Carmarthenshire: Kidwelly (Towyn/Pembrey Burrows)
Ceredigion: Tregaron Bog/Cors Caron
Glamorgan: Kenfig Burrows; Sully Island; Worm’s Head
It is salutary to realise that 103 years later, 4 of these sites are managed as National Nature Reserves (NNR) and of the remainder Sully Island is designated as a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and what remains of Pembrey Burrows after afforestation is a Local Nature Reserve.
While these things were happening at a national level two people, both born in Cardiff, who were to be important in our Trust’s story were living in the same street, Heol Don, Whitchurch. Being 11 years apart in age Harry Morrey Salmon born in 1892 and Ronald Lockley born in 1903 are not known to have met at this point and world affairs gave them very different early lives. Both benefitted independently from an interest in natural history and the habitats in the immediate area of their homes, such as the Glamorgan Canal and the Cardiff beechwoods.
Salmon is known to have cycled as far as Kenfig Pool for week-end camping and bird watching. At eighteen he bought his first camera, a quarter-plate Reflex, and took his first photograph that same day of a Dipper nest. And with that came a hobby that lasted him a lifetime, and won him national renown as the “Father of British Bird Photography”, all starting by forming the photographic section of the Cardiff Naturalists Society with his birdwatching friend, Geoffrey Ingram.
While Lockley was too young and missed the war, Salmon had a considerable adventure. He returned having been mentioned in dispatches and having been awarded the Military Cross and bar in part for liberating the French town of Bry.
After the war, having taken up various agricultural enterprises, Lockley discovered Skokholm in 1927, negotiated a 21year lease, wrote Dream Island in 1930 which brought him to the notice of a wide audience including Dr Julian Huxley and Peter Scott. He founded the Skokholm Bird Observatory in 1933 with help from Salmon in building the first Heligoland trap and a public appeal for which Ingram and Salmon acted as treasurers.
In 1934 Huxley collaborated with Lockley to create for Alexander Korda the world’s first natural history documentary The Private Life of the Gannets. For the film, shot with the support of the Royal Navy around Grassholm off the Pembrokeshire coast, they won an Oscar for best short subject in 1937. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lN_doZVuWEY
It was shown at the 8th International Ornithological Congress which met in Oxford that year which ended with an excursion for 145 participants to the Pembrokeshire Islands including Skokholm to view the bird observatory. The excursion was also much aided by the Royal Navy and the use of H.M. destroyers Windsor and Wolfhound for transporting guests. The guests were made up of a large section of the ornithological world including Max Nicholson reporting on the 1928 national heron survey [something we do annually now at Coed Llwyn Rhyddid], Konrad Lorenz, and the ex-King of Bulgaria. Ex-King Ferdinand the First was easily recognised as he was followed by a manservant with a stool, which Ferdinand made very regular use of, to sit and survey the birds and the seascape.
This year also coincided with Salmon and Ingram publishing their first book, Birds in Britain Today (1934) as joint authors, followed by a string of county avifaunas for Glamorgan (1936), Monmouthshire-(1937, revised 1963), Pembrokeshire (1948) with Lockley, Carmarthenshire (1954). Radnorshire (1955) and Brecknock (1957).
The West Wales Naturalists’ Trust traces its specific origins back to a meeting held in the Gold Room, Haverfordwest on 26th February 1938. It was convened by L. D. Whitehead, the Welsh industrialist and owner of Ramsey Island, and Ronald Lockley. Seventy-eight people were present at that inaugural meeting and on the motion of Mr. Hugh Lloyd-Philipps, of Dale Castle, the Pembrokeshire Bird Protection Society [PBPS] was formed, with Lord Merthyr as president.
Part of the society’s work was to protect the peregrine falcon population in Pembrokeshire which where being persecuted for preying on carrier pigeons which were being used to transmit military messages.
Perhaps the most important bird protection needed at the time was protecting the last remaining population of British red kites, in mid Wales, which was being done by a voluntary organisation of sympathetic land-owners and farmers, such as Sir Charles Venables-Llewellyn at Llysdinam, who organised nest watchers and paid bounties to farmers and tenants on whose land kites had fledged young.
Between 1938 and 1949 Dorothy Raikes of Bwlch, Breconshire, was in charge of kite protection arrangements. She was succeeded by Captain and Mrs H. R. H. Vaughan of Rhandirmwyn, Carmarthenshire, who, in 1949, established the WWFS Kite Committee which continued work until 1958, when the Nature Conservancy and RSPB took over.
When war broke out in September 1939, this dream island life had to be abandoned. Lockley, knowing he may never return, began writing about the history and wildlife of his beloved island. He sent what he wrote to his friend and brother-in-law John Buxton – a bird watcher captured by the Germans in Norway in 1940. These letters to a prisoner-of-war, intended to comfort Buxton in his captivity, became Letters from Skokholm published in 1947.
For his part Buxton avoided some of the boredom of incarceration by observing the habits of the pairs of Redstart which nested around the concentration camps, ably helped by some other prisoners including John Barrett and Peter Conder. Buxton was able to publish his Redstart work in 1950 as the second monograph in the New Naturalist Library published by Collins.
Barrett had been shot down on his first bombing mission over Germany in 1941 and after capture was move through a number of camps including Stalag Luft II (Sagan), where he was part of the support team for the ‘Wooden Horse’ escape, before meeting up with Buxton in Oflag at Doessel bei Warburg. After the war he became the first warden of Dale Fort Field Studies Centre, and teamed up with Professor Maurice Yonge to produce the first field guide to the shore, Collins Pocket Guide to the Shore (1958).
Conder was captured with the 51st Highland Division at Saint-Valery-en-Caux in June 1940 and went on after the war to be warden of Skokholm 1947-1954, before joining RSPB and eventually becoming their CX.
Lord Merthyr was captured by the Imperial Japanese Army while serving with the Pembrokeshire Heavy Regiment in Hong Kong on 8th December 1941, the morning after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, and he remained a prisoner of war until 1945.
As war broke out Salmon tried to volunteer, and was initially turned down due to age, but was finally given command of the RAF Regiment in the Mediterranean and North Africa, before ultimately taking overall charge of the RAF regiment for the invasion of Italy. Lockley joined naval intelligence. Max Nicholson joined the Ministry of War Transport and was put in charge of organizing shipping operations and convoys across the Atlantic, and also helped in the logistic organisation of the D Day landings.
SPNR organised its first Conference on Nature Preservation in Post-war Reconstruction on 5th June 1941 at the Natural History Museum. Delegates took many hours to travel in from the provinces due to wartime train disrupt and to put it in a historical context, Hitler invaded Russia a fortnight later. This Nature Preservation Conference went on to meet several more time, and a Nature Reserves Investigation Committee was formed a year later. With all this activity and lobbying, the government finally confirmed that it had accepted a responsibility for preserving the natural beauty of the countryside in a debate on 30th November 1943.
In August 1945 the Government set up a Wild Life Conservation Special Committee chaired by Prof. Julian Huxley (the Huxley Committee) to examine the needs of nature conservation in England and Wales. Its report, Command 7122, published in 1947, recommended a list of proposed nature reserves where wildlife would be studied and protected, which now includes Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm as well as Kenfig, as future National Nature Reserves (NNR), the creation of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for areas outside the statutory reserves, the undertaking of survey and experimental work, a series of institutes of terrestrial ecology, and the setting up of an official biological service to establish and maintain the reserves, to carry out the necessary research, and to advise on nature conservation generally.
January 1946 saw the Pembrokeshire Bird Protection Society decide to change its name to the West Wales Field Society (WWFS). Huxley, moving the adoption of the seventh annual report, explained the wish of the Society to broaden the basis of its work and to include botany, zoology, geology and archaeology in addition to the study of bird life and the interests of the countryside in general.
The Government accepted Command 7122 and set up the Nature Conservancy, the forerunner of part of what is now Natural Resources Wales, as a separate body under the aegis of a committee of the Privy Council by Royal Charter on 23 March 1949. Max Nicholson became its second director general in 1951.
The Nature Conservancy attempted to get Kenfig declared as a nature reserve as suggested by Command 7122, but found too many obstacles and abandoned the project in 1954. Morrey Salmon then managed to induce the Glamorgan County Council to propose Kenfig as a Local Nature Reserve in 1956, but this was prevented by an ancient legal conflict between the Trustees of the Margam Estate and the Burgesses of Kenfig over the ownership of the dunes.
In 1956 the Nature Conservancy asked a local Swansea solicitor and birdwatcher Neville Douglas-Jones whether he could organise a survey of Buzzards on Gower, due to their falling numbers following the outbreak of myxomatosis in rabbits their primary prey. This was achieved by recruiting a group of naturalists from the area, including a polish refugee birdwatching orthopaedic surgeon, Jo Hambury. This group went on to form the nucleus of the Gower Ornithological Society (GOS).
Skomer was offered for sale in 1958, and donations varying between 2s 6d and £1,000 were received for the WWFS Skomer appeal amounting to nearly £4,600. The cost of the Skomer purchase and sub-sale, and lease (by the Nature Conservancy to the Society) cost £4,100, leaving a useful surplus in the fund for maintenance and other expenses of this new National Nature Reserve. Donations were received from some 155 individual contributors and institutions including Viscount Alanbrooke, John Buxton, BP (Llandarcy) Ltd, Bruce Campbell, Christopher Cadbury, Cardiff Naturalists’ (Ornithological Section), J.W. Donovan, Esso (Milford Haven), Gower Ornithological Society (including Mr and Mrs Neville Douglas-Jones, Mr and Mrs Jo Hambury, Miss Betty Church, and Mike Powell), Lord Hurcomb, Sir Julian and Lady Huxley, R.M. Lockley, C. Mackworth Praed, Lord Merthyr, Col. H. Morrey Salmon, Tony Soper, RSPB, and H.N Savory.
Over the next couple of years Jo Hambury became increasingly concerned for the Glamorgan countryside, and wanting to create an organisation for the acquisition and protection of land important for wildlife. He met Christopher Cadbury, the Chairman of SPNR’s County Naturalists’ Trusts Committee, at the first of the County Trusts’ biennial conferences at Skegness in 1960, and they discussed the possibilities of forming a Glamorgan Trust as they walked together across Gibraltar Point. The Glamorgan County Naturalists’ Trust (GCNT) was formed the following year, on 24th May 1961, with Hambury as chairman and Mary Gillham and Morrey Salmon as founder members.
The WWFS agreed to re-constitute itself to be known as the West Wales Naturalists’ Trust at its 23rd AGM on 27th May 1961. The Brecknock County Naturalists’ Trust (BCNT) was established in 1964 by Major General Sir Geoffrey Raikes, spurred on by Jack Evans. The first decade of the Trust’s work centred on improving the information known about the county’s flora, including expanding the distribution of globeflower from two 10 km squares to forty-four 5 km squares. By the end of 1970, SPNR were able to confirm that BCNT had the highest membership as a percentage of their resident population of all the existing Naturalists’ Trusts in UK. This lead position in the Trust movement was maintained for many years overseen in part by the Trust’s Honorary Secretary, Eric Bartlett, and his Gestetnered Trust newsletters.
Max Nicholson reported to the 3rd County Naturalists’ biennial Conference in 1964 that “In Wales, the former WWFS (now the West Wales Naturalists’ Trust) pioneered in safeguarding off-shore islands as Nature Reserves from the ‘thirties, and was for long, on such areas as Skokholm and Skomer, the only body in Wales under taking practical conservation; The struggle by the WWNT and the Conservancy to save Borth Bog has recently dominated the scene, as the successful struggle of the same partners for Skomer Island did in the ‘fifties. Skomer is the only National Nature Reserve owned by the Nature Conservancy and managed under lease by a Naturalists’ Trust
Glamorgan has an active Naturalists’ Trust which has acquired part of the important Gower Cliffs, and has been the first to survey and publish a directory of areas used by schools for educational purposes.”
1964 also saw the acquisition of Whiteford Burrows NNR by the National Trust owing in substantial part to the efforts of Jo Hambury and Christopher Cadbury, President of SPNR. Cadbury provided a personal loan of £20,000 to GCNT to help the National Trust bridge the purchase price of £35,000. Later the National Trust repaid the monies via their Enterprise Neptune appeal. The National Trust leased the dunes to the Nature Conservancy, who set up a management committee with GCNT representation.
Ronald Lockley emigrated to New Zealand in 1970 to avoid the continuing threat of the Milford Haven oil industry to his precious Pembrokeshire islands.
Harry Morrey Salmon volunteered as the warden of our Lavernock nature reserve from the beginning of our tenure in 1966 until 197 when he retired from volunteering and passed the responsibility onto John Zehetmayr.
The legal conflict between the Trustees of the Margam Estate and the Burgesses of Kenfig over the ownership of the dunes was finally resolved in the high court on 10th June 1971 in favour of the Burgesses of Kenfig, with considerable pro bono legal advice and support from the GCNT’s solicitors Douglas-Jones & Mercer.
Finally, in 1977, Harry Morrey Salmon completed the task which he had failed to achieve in 1956, and oversaw Kenfig Burrows being declared as a Local Nature Reserve. It is regrettable that he did not live to see the site declared as a National Nature Reserve in 1989.
To complete the circle of our Wildlife Trust’s story, it should be noted that Charles Rothschild’s grandson Jacob oversaw the awarding of large grants for the management of their nature reserves to all the Wildlife Trusts in UK during the 1990s, while he was the chairman of the Heritage Lottery Fund.
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