Mary Gillham was a pioneering naturalist, wildlife recorder and diarist who spent much of her life absorbed in the wildlife and wild places of south Wales. Her vast and comprehensive photographic and written archives were donated to SEWBReC, who are now running a project to digitise the archive and make it available for study, and as part of this project they are running “Walk with Mary Gillham” events. These events revisit sites visited by Mary in the past with the aim of comparing her records and photographs to how sites are now, one of these walks took place at the WTSWW Pwll Waun Cynon reserve in Mountain Ash.
When Mary visited the phurnacite plant was still in operation making the area one of the most polluted in the whole of the UK and her diaries and photographs note things like newly emerging leaves being covered in black soot, but her diaries are not only concerned with wildlife but also history. I was fascinated to learn from Mary that the pond on the reserve is an ox-bow lake (yes remember them for your Geography lessons?) a relic, maybe the only surviving relic, of the old natural course of the River Cynon and was perhaps the last natural pond left in the whole of the Cynon valley. Nobody is exactly sure how old this pond is, it may be hundreds of years old. Although it may have been altered over the years it’s a survivor of the massive industrialisation of the valley, a small piece of natural landscape in a sea of continual change.
The walk around the reserve, with the aim of recording the wildlife seen and discussing the changes over the years, was somewhat hampered by the continual torrential rain (although some of our younger walkers very much enjoyed splashing in the puddles!). But I managed to record 8 new species on my personal list for the reserve, these included four first recorded by Mary (Marsh Cudweed, Water Pepper, Gypsywort and Red Bartsia)! There was a lovely sense of comradery and connection with a fellow recorder as those species were genuinely spotted by me for the first time on this walk. Thank you Mary Gillham for a wealth of insight and knowledge about one of my local reserves.
Article by Graham Watkeys