Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Talking Trash

The residents of a terrace of cottages in Llanystymdwy can boast a right that in bygone times would have made them the envy of the village: that they could access a nearby beach to collect seaweed.  The reason for this rather outdated entitlement would have been obvious to any gardener or smallholder around the Welsh coast a few generations ago.  That is the wonderfully beneficial properties of seaweed as a soil improver and fertilizer. 
Llanystymdwy's local beach, now owned by NT, was once a source of seaweed for the community
Indeed, I can vouch for these myself, as seaweed is one of nature’s bounties that I’m in the habit of foraging.  Ever since I unwittingly introduced some residual pesticide in a load of dodgy horse-manure that caused my tomato plants to writhe and whither, seaweed is the only ingredient that I import to our compost heaps at home.

So that is why I recently found myself being buffeted by wind and chilled by spits of freezing rain on a local beach, pitching forkfuls of bladderwrack into my trailer. 

But the reason why I’m recounting this experience is not to impress you with my organic credentials or adherence to coastal traditions.  I wish to share with you my heartfelt dismay at the proliferation of another man-made pollutant that threatens to corrupt every single beach and cove in our otherwise pristine coastline: plastic. 

Try picking the seaweed out of this...
Every forkful of seaweed I lifted off the beach was entwined with multi-coloured strands of filament and rope and dotted with assorted fragments.  In fact, despite our efforts to pick this ubiquitous waste out of our compost, our soil is now speckled with these unwelcome reminders of humanity’s profligacy.

Soon after this disheartening experience, I was reminded of the scale of the problem at a Coastal Futures conference I attended in London.  Throughout a session on marine waste we learnt a succession of disturbing facts, such as the fact that over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century, and it will triple again by 2025; that a million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans and that 50 percent of the plastic we use, we use just once and throw away. 

But we also learnt that we shouldn’t blame plastic. It’s one of the mankind’s most useful inventions, having transformed our lives in countless ways, including our ability to insulate our houses and so reduce our carbon emissions. 

The problem lies with our waste management systems, or lack of them.  All over the world, organisations from the United Nations to local charities are coming together to tackle the problem.  We learnt about fishermen who have agreed to collect and recycle all the plastic that they collect in their trawl nets and about the excellent work of charities such as the Marine Conservation Society which organise events that enable us all to do our bit to clean our local beaches.

NT Visitor Services and Community Officer, Rhian Sula, with Michaela Strachan filming for Springwatch at Freshwater West
But we also learnt that we’ll never solve the problem just with beach cleans.  We must also tackle the problem at the other end: redirecting the flow of plastic waste into recycling schemes and blocking the ‘holes’ in our systems so that it doesn’t leak into the environment.

Mulling over what I’d learnt on my way back to Wales, my spirits lifted somewhat as I caught myself dreaming of a time when future generations enrich their gardens with seaweed unsullied by so much plastic, and of a time when the residents of that Llanystymdwy terrace will once again be envied by their neighbours for their right to access such a useful resource.

< To find out more about marine litter, and how to help, visit the Marine Conservation Society's excellent Beachwatch Results

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Finding beauty where you least expect it

Behind this ancient mill lies a hidden garden
One of my greatest pleasures in life is visiting gardens.

I suppose it’s something to do with that deeply satisfying combination of craft, art and nature.  Or perhaps it’s that basic human need to find meaning and order in a chaotic world.  Whatever the reason, we can count ourselves lucky that we have in Wales some of the world’s finest gardens.  And to my mind, gardens by the sea have that something extra special that is absent from their inland counterparts.

So imagine my pleasure when I was able to visit a charming garden the other day which displayed all those often conflicting qualities that make seaside gardens so special:  shelter and exposure; hardiness and tenderness; rock and water.

You’re probably thinking that since I work for a charity that’s famous for its gardens, it must be one of our own;  Plas yn Rhiw, Plas Newydd, Colby Woodland Garden perhaps?  Well, this particular garden was in fact private, sitting adjacent but inextricably linked to the National Trust countryside property of Cemlyn, on the rugged and exposed north Anglesey coast.

Cestyll Garden was created in the early 1920s by Violet Vivian, daughter of Lord Vivian of Bodmin.  She had been gifted Cestyll , a solidly-built house standing proud on this windswept coastline, by her uncle.  First she used it as a holiday cottage, but soon fell under the spell of the area’s wild beauty and moved here to live permanently. 

The Hon. Violet Vivian, in the garden she created in the 1920s

She quickly realised that a sheltered rocky ravine, through which cascaded the little Afon Gafnan on its final dash past a romantic disused mill to the sea, would make a wonderful garden.  Aided by her friend Princess Victoria, daughter of Edward VII, and contacts at Kew, she worked with the site’s unique topography and microclimate to create a hidden sanctuary planted with flowering shrubs, ornamental trees and streamside flowers.   She had bridges built over the tumbling stream and wove a circular path to reveal a series of intimate views of miniature cliffs and waterfalls ornamented with beautiful plants and all set against a backdrop of the ivy-covered mill, by now owned by the National Trust, and an astonishing framed view of the wild Irish Sea beyond.
She tended her garden until her death in 1962, and her ashes lie there, still nourishing the beauty that she created.
Glimpses of the wild Irish Sea from Cestyll Garden (
But before long, momentous changes engulfed Violet Vivian’s legacy, leading me to ponder on how fortunate it was that she never lived to see what happened next.  The neighbouring land was chosen for the Wylfa nuclear power station, which ran from 1971 to 2015, and there are plans for its successor, the much bigger Wylfa Newydd, which will occupy the land right up to the garden boundary.  Soon after her death, the garden was purchased by the Central Electricity Generating Board with a condition that they and their successors maintain it as a memorial.

As I explored the garden, which is normally opened for 3 days a year in May, I confess that the thought occurred to me whether there was any point in maintaining it, so close to what for the next decade will be one of the largest construction sites in Europe.
But then the realisation dawned, perhaps prompted by the spirit of Violet Vivian, that the reason why gardens like these are so special is that they provide an escape from the world and its tempests.  The proximity to such heavy industry make it all the more important that this hidden gem survives, if only as an opportunity for future generations to find beauty where you least expect it.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

A Year to Remember

Bob Smith (drink in hand, centre) at the triumphant end of the Trident Trek, one of the events which marked the 50th anniversary of our Coastline Campaign
2015 was a big year for us.  It was the year that we put our wonderful coastline centre stage.

The occasion was the 50th anniversary of the initiative which saved hundreds of miles of our unspoilt coast, including some of Wales' best loved beaches, protected forever for future generations to enjoy. 

The initiative is the Coast Campaign, originally Enterprise Neptune, which has so far helped us protect over a hundred miles of Welsh coast - all through public donations.

Making an Impression

The year got off to a cracking start with a day's celebrations led by Springwatch star Iolo Williams.  The event was held in March, on the anniversary of the acquisition of the place where the Neptune campaign started - Whiteford Burrows on Gower.

The local team pulled out all the stops, with a fantastic programme of walks and talks to show what's been achieved since Whiteford Burrows was acquired.
Iolo Williams, launching our year of coastal celebrations at Whiteford Burrows
Our Gower volounteer team worked with sand artist Marc Treanor to create this huge map, marked with all the sites that have been saved with the Neptune campaign.

Walking and Sailing around the edge of Wales

June saw two ambitious sponsored circumnavigations of Wales - on foot and by sail.  The Trident Trek and Sails Around Wales events, both of which were covered extensively in this blog. Follow the links to enjoy tales from these two epic achievements.
The Trident Trek reaches Cardiff Bay - both trident and Welsh dragon held proudly aloft
Laura Hughes takes the helm on a 'commute of a lifetime' with Sails Around Wales skipper, John Whitley, in the Bardsey Sound.
Follow in my wake, starting on Day 1 of Sails Around Wales

A Toast to the Coast

July saw our Big Beach Picnic which gave beachgoers all over Wales a chance to get in the holiday mood and celebrate our coast with a picnic.  Hundreds of people packed their hampers, travel rugs and folding chairs and headed to on of our four events - in Llanbedrog, Marloes, Barafundle and Rhossili.

The highlight was a grand concert overlooking the beach at Rhossili beach, with the Morriston Orpheus Male Voice Choir and the Penclawdd Brass Band. 

Crowds gather in the July sunshine to listen to a programme of music at the Big Beach Picnic
Sale of the half century?

The Coast Campaign's latest acquisition, Y Parc, forms the summit plateau of the Great Orme
The cherry on the cake of this celebratory year was the purchase of Y Parc, a farm on the summit of the Great Orme headland.  The farm has been described as 'the missing piece of this internationally-important conservation jigsaw'.  We are now able to help a number of other conservation bodies, including PlantLife, Conwy Council, RSPB and Natural Resources Wales to better safeguard this important nature reserve.

Shifting Shores

The year's activities culminated with an important debate about the future of our coastline.  The 'Shifting Shores - the Next Ten Years' seminar saw policy-makers and coastal stakeholders from all over Wales meeting in Swansea to hear expert talks, to learn from case studies and to discuss priorities for working together to make our coast more resilient to climate change.
Cwm Ivy Gower - the sea wall breaches and 100 acres of farmland is flooded.  Disaster or opportunity?
A new bird hide, overlooking the new salt marsh at Cwm Ivy, funded by our Coast Campaign.  Just one of a range of exiting improvements which have come in the wake of the breaching of the sea wall.
Thank you for reading this small sample of our coastal celebrations in 2015, and I look forward to keeping you in touch with what's happening on the National Trust's Welsh coastline in 2016 and beyond.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Trident Trek Sucessfully Completed

Bob (middle) at the end of his epic 870-mile two-month trek around Wales, handing over the trident to our friends in the South-West of England - ready to continue it's journey.
 In an epic 870-mile relay like no other, the Trident Trek reached its end point at Chepstow on 5 August.

A huge thanks to the hundreds of people who took part and particularly for Bob for carrying Neptune's Trident around the entire Welsh Coast, and to George for coming up with the idea of the Trident and creating it for the Trek.

Bob has raised over £1,000 so far - every penny to go to a special project on the Welsh coast to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Neptune Coastline Campaign.  Please show your appreciation for his achievement and help the Welsh coast by making a donation here.

Whilst you decide how much to give, enjoy this slide show - featuring the entire Welsh coast in 2 minutes:

More images and the full Trident Trek story

Friday, 17 July 2015

Watch: Hymns and Arias on the Coast

Thousands of beach-goers showed their love for the coast recently by attending our Big Beach Picnics.  Local teams at four of our most popular coastal places hosted these special events on the 4th of July to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our Coastline Campaign.

At Rhossili, Gower, beachgoers basked in the sun on the headland overlooking one of Britain’s most spectacular beaches as they were entertained by the world-renowned Morriston Orpheus Choir, the Penclawdd Brass Band and other musical performances.  Happy picnickers at Barafundle, Marloes and Llanbedrog beaches were also treated to storytelling, surfing lessons, beach games, fancy dress photography and face painting.

There was no danger of anyone leaving any litter behind.  We teamed up with our friends at Keep Wales Tidy and organised popular two-minute beach cleans.  Event organiser Lowri Roberts said, “Everyone had a great time – and the beach was left cleaner than it was before.”

Enjoy this slideshow of pictures taken during the events or click here

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Tales from the Trek #2

I joined Bob today on his 22nd day walking on the Trident Trek around the Welsh Coast.  The train dropped me off at Barmouth where today's leg started.  I soon met Bob and we got started on the first section - a pilgrimage to the National Trust's first property, Dinas Oleu.
Ready to trek.  Me and Bob ready to start.  NT support vehicle to take Bob's tent to tonight'scampsite.
We soon got to Dinas Oleu, and met Vicky and Simon, a young couple who were on the last day of their holiday.  The were very interested in the Trek and took a photo of us at the NT commemorative plaque.
The plaque recording the founding of the NT at its first property, Dinas Oleu, the Fortress of Light
Simon and Vicky - Supporting the Trident Trek

The path then took us over the Mawddach on the famous railway bridge.  We then passed Fairbourne and started the stiff climb up to the Blue Lake quarry.  On the way we met a group of volunteer walk leaders from South Staffordshire Walking for Health.  They'd come on the train for the day to check  out the route of a walk their were planning.
South Staffs Bilbrook Walking for Health volunteers
The Trident makes a great toasting fork..
The path took us to the ancient road that leads from Llynnau Cregennan (NT), passing a number of Bronze Age standing stones on it's lonely course over the mountain.  It was a strange feeling to think that people have been walking along this trackway for at least 3 or 4 thousand years.
One of the standing stones along the lonely route over the mountain. (John Pritchard)
On our way down to Llwyngwril, we met locals Carol and Josie, out for an afternoon stroll.  They looked a bit surprised when they saw us, then admitted that one had just said to the other "you'd be lucky if you see two people walking this way in a day".  They obviously didn't expect to meet a pair of mad men wielding a trident.
Carol and Josie
We eventually reached Llwyngwril and found a little shop which served us coffee and Welsh cakes.  We shook hands and I dashed to catch the train back, leaving Bob to continue with the remaining 520 miles.  Of course, we couldn't leave Llwyngwril, before saying hello to Gwril the giant, who made a pretty good impersonation of Neptune.
Gwril the Giant

Friday, 26 June 2015

The Welsh coast needs your help

Bob, our Trident Trek hero asks for your help....
We asked Bob, our Trident minder to explain why we need your help:

"For over 50 years, people from all over Wales and beyond have been helping us to save and look after special places on Wales’ beautiful coast.

"Did you know that as well as saving special coastal places through ownership, our Coastline Campaign also helps us look after the coast, doing important work such as…
  • protecting places of priceless historic or archaeological interest
  • restoring valuable wildlife habitats
  • mending eroded paths
 …all so that you and your family can get more from your visit to the coast.

"Did you know that it takes an average of £3,000 a year to look after one mile of the Welsh coast?

"That’s what it takes for our rangers to look after footpaths, wildlife habitats, heritage features and
provide a great welcome.

"You can help our coastal conservation work by making a donation now.  Please visit our JustGiving site and give what you can.

"This is what we are fundraising for through the Trident Trek:

£100 to restore five metres of traditional Pembrokeshire flower-rich bank, or produce 100 education packs for local school children.

£25 to enable us to create a metre of  wildlife trail around the flower-rich dunes and meadows at Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire.

£50 to cover the cost of establishing an apple tree in the community heritage garden at the traditional crog loft cottage at Fron Deg, Llyn  

£2,000 to pay for a bird hide at Cwm Ivy, Gower and £100 to pay for a wildlife-spotting  sheet for visitors to use to identify what they see from the hide.

"I asked three of our Rangers to share examples of improvements being made THIS year, thanks to donations into our Coastline Campaign."