All week I looked up the weather forecast for Mountain Ash in the Cynon Valley hoping for good news and on some days (aaah blessed Thursday), the met office told me it would be dry. In reality, however, Saturday had those rainclouds with three blobs of rain on them… you know, that really persistent, wet rain that seeps nefariously along seams, through zips and up trouser legs. It’s in no rush – there’s no need to be! – those silly folk are going to be trampling around this exposed field for three hours, I’ve got loads of time to penetrate their puny defences…
Despite the weather, 20 hardy folk came along to Pwll Waun Cynon to hear about the industrial and natural heritage of the site and also the gargantuan effort of the the Wildlife Trust in reverting a severely impacted site back into an accessible and enjoyable wildlife haven.
Mary and her naturalist colleagues had visited the ‘Abercwmboi water meadows‘ in the 70s, 80s and 90s and described how the mining industry and phurnacite works impacted the habitat and nature found within it. However, it wasn’t just human impacts that have altered the shape of this landscape. Old maps show that in the late 1800s an ox-bow of the Cynon budded off from the rest of the river and then, at some point int he 20th century, one of the fields flooded and combined with the ox-bow to form the pond that remains in place today.
Caution, massive tangent approaching…
This leads back to the age-old question of what, exactly, are we trying to restore when we talk about conserving and protecting a landscape. The alder woodland that pre-dated the pond (the rotting stumps of which can still be seen sticking out from the centre of the pond)? Something that resembles pre-industrial wildlife? Or simply a representation of what should be present in the current landscape? Often the answer comes down to how much money we have and what is realistic or feasible. Whether the end product looks like it did 50, 500 or 5000 years ago is somewhat moot although well worth musing upon…
… Aaaaaaanyway, to get back on track. While our plan to try and match the species list generated by Mary and her colleagues fell by the wet wayside we still had an excellent walk guided by Carys Solman (Wildlife Trust Officer for the Valleys Area) and the volunteer wardens who help to manage the site. We looked at the restoration work which has battled the spread of knotweed, Himalayan balsam, brambles and bracken, the new fencing which has allowed horses to begin grazing the land again, the hibernaculum and pond installed to provide refuge for grass snakes and slow worms whilst also encouraging newts to take residence and talked about the next stages of recovery for the ox-bow pond.
Local lepidopterist Mark Evans had set up a moth trap the night before and, before releasing them, revealed his findings to the interested crowd (including a blood-vein and antler). Whilst walking around the reserve we also saw a kingfisher and common toad and most excitingly some new fungi records for the site – a pair of Dapperling species, some Taphrinas and a tar spot – congratulations to Emma Williams and Graham Watkeys for spotting them!
Whilst we didn’t get to spend huge amounts of time hearing about how it was to grow up in such an industrial landscape a few stories about hijacking coal trains to acquire a little coal and how local fog smelled like rotten eggs (because of the sulpher added to coal to make it smoke-free) did sneak out… We’ll have to go back at some point to find out more.
Thanks very much to everyone who attended and the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales staff and volunteers who showed us around. Next guided walk will be near Draethen on November 6th.