2013 marks the 75th anniversary of the work of WTSWW in the west of its patch; 75 years since a group of 70 enthusiasts met in Haverfordwest to form the Pembrokeshire Bird Protection Society, later and via several incarnations becoming the Wildlife Trust West Wales, before merging with Glamorgan Wildlife Trust in 2002 to become the Trust we are today.
From our archive image Jan 2013To celebrate 75 years of active conservation in west Wales, each month in this e-newsletter we are going to bring you an item from the archive of the west Wales magazines and bulletins. This month we look back to the 1980s to celebrate the work of the East Carmarthenshire group.

West Wales Trust for Nature Conservation Bulletin No, 42: December 1986

Focus: East Carmarthenshire Section

Membership is about 200, centre of gravity of the section is the Llandeilo area with membership extending east to include Llandovery, west to Carmarthen, south to Llanelli and north to Lampeter.

Members range from those who are just happy to support nature conservation financially, through those who attend some of our functions but haven’t the time to take on direct responsibilities, to enthusiasts like Bob and Molly Jennings (Chairman 79-81) who work ceaselessly fundraising and Ian Watt (current Chairman) who labours without respite on behalf of the Castle Woods Reserve and the wider objective of preserving the whole of the old Dinefwr Estate.

The Castle Woods Reserve situated in Llandeilo is the premier Trust Reserve in the Section’s area. It consists of 62 acres of woodland and 319 acres of shooting and was purchased by the Trust in 1979 with funds raised by the Dyfed Wildlife Appeal whose Financial Director was Ricky Richardson, a long standing member of the Section’s committee. Most of the Reserve is on the steep south and west facing slopes which rise from the Afon Tywi water meadows.

The woods formed part of the Dinefwr Estate Site of Special Scientific Interest and have a wide range of natural history significance. In addition, the wooded escarpment overlooking the flood plain meadows and the meandering Tywi is of extremely high landscape value. The oxbow lakes are a favourite watering sanctuary for many species of wildfowl.

Within the reserve and as a part of the purchase came the historic Dinefwr Castle, a classic example of a Welsh Castle and also one of the finest examples of its type and it stands on the highest point of the reserve which has commanding views of the Tywi valley to Dryslwyn Castle, Grongor Hill and Gelli Aur to the west. This Castle was the stronghold of the kings and princes of Deheubarth from about the ninth century.

Within months of the legal purchase a Manpower Services team started work in the reserve and over the next six years carried out major management and rehabilitation programmes. The whole areas was fenced (about six miles), stiles and gates were erected on newly created footpaths which gave good access.

From our archive image Jan 2013 03Some old footpaths dating back to Capability Brown (around 1780) had deteriorated to such an extent that they were lost in the undergrowth and another was unsafe and unuseable, some of these have been restored. The Dutch Elm Disease in 1979 has decimated the population of elm trees; many have been felled and sold to timber merchants bringing valuable income to the Trust. The clearance left open spaces but these have been replanted with oak, ash, elm, hazel, beech and maple. To provide the young trees for planting the Trust cleared the old garden attached to Llandyfeisant House and made it into a forest nursery.

A year after the purchase of the reserve the Trust was asked if they would undertake the rehabilitation and restoration of the old Llandyfeisant Church which had been badly vandalised and was gradually disappearing under encroaching forest and ivy. It was a daunting task but the Trust agreed, with the intention of turning it into a Visitors’ Centre. With the aid of the Manpower Services teams and grants from the Prince of Wales Committee, the Welsh Office (Cadw), Dyfed County Council, private individuals’ donations, the conversion was nearly completed by the spring of 1986. In spite of the work not being completed the Centre was opened to the public in Spring 1986. A committee was formed to organise a roster of volunteers to man the centre and to be salespeople in the shop. The Secretary, Mrs Edith Brockington, has been the driving force and the organising genius in the most successful venture- more than fifty people have given their services.

Since 1983 the Trust has employed a summer warden on the Reserve and part of his duties has been to provide assistance, advice and guidance to the increasing number of visitors to the reserve. He also led six guided walks and open days to the reserve for the public. In 1984 there were over 400 visitors to the church. Many more visited when the warden was not present when he was engaged on the surveys of birds, mammals, butterflies and populations of other species. After the clearance of dead elms it was felt that there were fewer holes and shelters for bats. Bird boxes have already been erected. Now in the year of the BAT 1986 bat boxes have been put up in the woods.

The Welsh Office (Cadw) under a Treaty of Guardianship soon to be signed with the Trust will be responsible for making the old Castle safe for opening to the public. This has been said to be possible in 1988. After that the most exciting archaeological work will commence. In time we may see where the old Burgh of Dinefwr was sited adjoining the Castle. On more time excavation work near the new Castle with the cooperation of the National Trust may reveal where the town Dre Newydd, established by Edward I was sited.

Carrie Brill of Llansawel School

Carrie Brill of Llansawel School

Other members are taking increasing interest in contact with the schools of the area; witness the painting competition in Wild Flower Week referred to in the last issue of the Bulletin and more recently, the Sunflower Competition organised by Thirza and Hilda Swindells and Jean Hemmings motivated by David Davies Glanranell.

We have specialist walkers, of whom John Starke is probably the doyen. John has put his attitude on walks in print as follows:-

“There was an American trapper, Horage Kephart, whose book, Camping and Woodcraft was for my generation of walkers the equivalent of Isaac Walton’s Compleat Angler. Kephart’s book contains a recipe which, though I’ve never tried it, I remember for its punchline: “I asked old Bob Flowers, ‘Did you ever eat groundhog?’ “Oh la, dozens of times…cut the leetle red kernels from under their forelegs, then bile ‘em fust… then pepper ‘em and sage ‘em and bake ‘em to a nice rich brown… and then I don’t want nobody there but me”. And normally when I’m out I don’t want nobody there but me either. But walks with fellow Trust members are different. The reason is that however aesthetically satisfying solitude may be, there are things one sees- trees, plants, animals- about which one would like to know more and there’s always someone in the group who can satisfy one’s curiosity and thus make one’s next solitary walk the more satisfying for the extra knowledge. As Maeterlinck said of the bee, “…the closer our acquaintance with them the nearer is our ignorance brought to us of the depths of their existence. But such ignorance is better than the other, which is unconscious and satisfied.” Making these acquaintances as we go along, whether it be of bees, birds, rocks or flowers, means that to ask one of our walks, “How far is it?” is an irrelevance. The relevant question is, “How long will it take?” For example take a recent walk. We went along a river-side track and almost immediately found a couple of beetles- each of a different species. We had a good look at them, turning them over to see if there were fleas on their irridescent bellies. It was a bit late for ivy leaved bellflower but there were plenty of harebells and later in the boggy sections, sundew and butterwort. We looked in vain into the deep pool where once the salmon were running; we examined rotting logs for the fungi that grow there; we refreshed ourselves with bilberries, crowberries and wild raspberries. Lunch was leisurely because already we had seen so much to talk about over our meal. Thus it was that a walk that measured three and a half in miles took from 11 a.m. till 4 p.m. Thus it was that we finished that much richer in knowledge and that much more aware of the “depths of the existence” of the things around us.”

No account of the Section would be complete without mention of the ladies who work away behind the scenes selling tickets, scrounging things to sell and above all providing refreshments for our walks, our winter meetings and our various fund raising events. Not already mentioned are Betty Hugo, Secretary, Gwenfil Matthew, Enid Watt and Gwen Heal.

Finally mention must be made of Tim and Betty Davies, Betty our photogenic, well organised and resourceful programme secretary for some 10 years and Tim, genial Chairman 83-85, the butterfly, moth and beetle expert. Between them they have contributed greatly to making the Section the thriving organisation it is today.