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Protecting our Treasured Pembrokeshire Environment – How are we achieving this, is it working and what does the future hold? A Talk by Gus Stott.

Thursday 2nd December 2021

A stimulating personal insight to the challenges facing Pembrokeshire and its National Park was provided by Gus Stott. A Trustee of the Friends of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, Gus is their local policy officer liaising with many different local and regional organisations, Gus updated us on the pressures facing the National Park on its 70th anniversary.

He began by summarising the current situation, outlining the pressures on habitats and species, as seen in the State of Nature Report. He also explained the problems being caused by the variable ability of the land across Pembrokeshire to absorb water, so leading to flooding. In addition Gus outlined some of the changes already taking place in the National Park because of climate change: the instability of the areas of dunes in Freshwater East and West, the coastline movement at Newgale and the loss of trees. There are also problems of pollution from agriculture and new housing developments that now need to be addressed.

Gus said that Agriculture will also play a large part in the changes confronting the National Park. He explained that it is likely a big land use change will now happen again as the new financial support system for agriculture, currently being worked out, is implemented over the next few years. However, he did explain that there are potential opportunities to make things better if the Welsh Government get the new agricultural subsidy scheme right. He emphasised that it needs to be tailored to our National Park and the farming styles within it and this could be used in positive ways to tackle the environmental issues being faced. 

Report by Jane Mason

The shifting sand dunes of Freshwater West

A Stroll on the Southwood Estate NT. 7th Oct 2021

Lead Ranger for North Pembrokeshire NT, James Roden

Fourteen members of PNTA, suitably attired for a damp day, were led on an enjoyable and informative walk by Lead Ranger for North Pembrokeshire National Trust, James Roden.

He kindly prepared this report of the excursion, for us:-

  • We met at Maidenhall car park on the western edge of the Southwood Estate. Here I gave an introduction to the 900 acre estate and NT’s work there over the last 15 years. NT are currently in the process of drawing up plans to invest in the Southwood buildings and also review land management across the estate. The guided walk focussed on showing the group some of the conservation work that has recently been carried out as well as plans for the future.
  • Leaving Maidenhall car park, we walked across the road into Trefrane Farm. This farm came back in hand to the National Trust in 2018 and since then we have left the farm to see how the habitats would respond to a reduction of management. The large hedges have flourished, with scrub from the edges starting to creep out into the fields. The long grass tussocks have also provided habitat for ground nesting birds such as Skylark, as well as important foraging for the resident Kestrels and Barn Owls on the estate. Once the perimeter fencing has been renewed around the farm, the future plan for this land is to introduce some cattle and ponies to lightly graze across the land to allow natural habitats and processes the freedom to express themselves.
  • After walking across Trefrane, the group then crossed Bathesland road into Folkeston Farm, the most southerly farm on the estate. This year NT have been carrying out a large project funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery, to protect and enhance the large hedgerows across the farm through fencing out livestock. A lot of this work is aimed at improving the nesting and foraging habitats for farmland birds, particularly the Yellowhammer. The once common Yellowhammer, is now a red list species in decline across Wales, but a population (one of the largest remaining in Pembrokeshire) has clung on at Folkeston owing to the traditional mixed farming practices which have been conserved by NT and their tenant. There is also a nationally rare habitat at Folkeston, known as Rhos Pasture, which is essentially a species rich wet grassland. This habitat would have at one point covered most of the farm and was known as Folkeston Moor, but the majority was drained during the 19th early 20th centuries. Work has been done here to bring the remaining habitat back into good condition, through working with our tenant to reintroduce cattle to the Moor. Sadly no Yellowhammers were seen!
  • After this, we returned to Trefrane farm and walked back to Maidenhall a different way, through the arable fields which we have been managing for rare arable flora; a suite of plants which thrive on disturbed ground. Intensification of agriculture through increased use of fertilisers and herbicides, has meant that many of these species have declined significantly. National Trust’s management on these fields for arable flora has meant that they still hold species of national importance (e.g. Corn Marigold and Weasel’s Snout) as well as European Importance (Small-flowered Catchfly). In addition to providing the perfect conditions for arable flora to flourish, this management also creates habitat for ground nesting birds and the arable plants also provide an important source of winter food for farmland birds.
  • The walk largely followed the route of a new footpath which opens later this year. The permissive footpath will link in with the existing footpaths at Southwood, starting at Maidenhall, crossing Trefrane and Folkeston farms and coming out on the Folkeston Road (Roch to Nolton Haven road).
Have wellies will travel.
PNTA members at Southwood with Lead Ranger James Roden.

Guided Tour of the Bishop’s Palace at St Davids : 13th September 2021

Fourteen members of PNTA gathered for this guided tour, by Amanda Canby-Lewis, lead Custodian for this CADW monument.

She set the scene talking of the birth of St David, in the 6th Century, and his establishment of a modest monastery in the area. In subsequent centuries, much travel was by sea. In response to Viking raids in the 9th and 10th century, when two bishops were killed, areas hidden from the sea, gained favour, hence the siting of the Cathedral, built by the Normans in 12th Century. Some of the Bishop’s Palace walls (the west wing) may have been built at this time.

It was Bishop Henry De Gower that had the vision for a grand Palace adjacent to the cathedral, in the 14th century, to celebrate the power of the bishop over the surrounding lands and people. It was a centre for the collection of tythes, administration of justice and a focal point for the many pilgrims that visited.

Moving on 2 centuries, the Dissolution saw Henry VIIth ordering Bishop Barlow to strip the palace roof of its lead, for the benefit of the monarch’s purse, which led to the buildings decline.

1633 was the last recorded formal use of the palace. It was stripped of valuable items. Subsequently the area was used for market gardens and animal grazing. In the 18th and 19th century it provided housing for paupers. In the 1920s it featured a tennis court!
In 1932 the Church passed the Palace to HM Commissioner of Works. In 1984 CADW took responsibility arranging repairs and opening the palace to the public and using it as a venue for events.

Had the Palace been built with dressed stone, much of the structure would have been raided and lost, but the rubble stone had little value, so there was still much for us to see on the tour.

We saw the vaults with its “cracks” in the ceiling, marking the stages of construction.
The Chapel walls had rendering, disguising the differing rates of weathering of the assorted stonework. Putlog holes, visible in wall, were signs of scaffolding support in construction.
The decorated arcaded parapets, similar to those seen at Lamphey, with their foreign appearance, were symbolic of Bishop de Gower’s extensive travels.
In its grander days the Great Hall boasted semi glazed windows, with shutters below the glass. The Rose or Wheel window has the only imported stone (from Bath). It has been given a fine render to protect it.
The “White Lady”ghost is said to haunt the Great Hall.

Our tour was punctured with talk of bats enjoying having the place almost to themselves, during lockdown; a barn owl trying to set up home, and a mitching schoolboy toppling a statue in his search for bird eggs.

For those visiting without a guided tour, information boards answer the most frequently asked questions, and models tucked away in the vaults show how the Palace would have looked.

Amanda completed the tour describing how their understanding of the history is ever evolving, as new information comes to light. She was thanked for her stimulating presentation that held our interest throughout.

Amanda Canby-Lewis shows PNTA members the Rose Window.

Report and photos by Andrew Weaver

A tour of the restored walled garden, at Picton, with Head Gardener, Roddy Milne. 30th June 2021.

Roddy Milne points out that the bulk of the south wall was stable, and only to top part required repair. At the foot of the wall the border has plants of South African origin.

Eleven members of PNTA were taken on a guided tour by Roddy Milne, Head Gardener at Picton Castle.

For twenty years there have been plans to restore the walled garden. After many written applications for funding sources, with ever changing criteria, Heritage Lottery Fund provided great support.

The pineapples on the entrance pillars are copies of the originals, but the aim overall was to avoid the structures appearing “new”.

Ecology has been respected. Creating holes in the walls has been rewarded by a pied flycatcher nest. In the yard beyond the fernery, where wilder areas were being reconstructed, reptiles were trapped and transferred to similar habitat elsewhere on the estate. Lizards need to be caught early in the day, before they have warmed up, otherwise they move too fast!

The present walled garden was always used for show and prestige. (Fruit and veg were grown in another walled garden, that is now outside the area controlled by the Picton Castle Trust.) The records of the plants grown rely heavily on flower competition certificates, featuring mainly chrysanthemums.

Now visitor numbers to Picton are increasing, enabling the appointment of more staff to the gardening team. The work of 6-8 volunteers on one day a week remains invaluable.

Some beds remain the same, particularly the rose borders, where the bushes have been carefully chosen for their ability to cope with the Pembrokeshire climate.

Other themed borders have been newly planted. The Mediterranean section had a five inch layer of sand spread across the surface, then dug in, to give excellent drainage.

On the outer side of the southern wall, a South African border has been created, featuring 30 varieties of agapanthus, in addition to red hot pokers et al.

Herbs have been moved to an area beyond northern wall, near the fernery. This zone has not yet been opened to visitors, but it will be used for education, with teaching rooms and information displays.  The restored green house has an aluminium frame on a brick base, with excellent ventilation to avoid excessive temperatures.

Roddy was thanked for giving such an informative tour, and members were then free to enjoy lunch at Maria’s and explore more of the castle grounds.

Report by Andrew Weaver

Beyond the fernery is the future education zone. Rooms on the left provide teaching space. Herbs are displayed in the raised beds, near the restored greenhouse.
The borders at the centre of the walled garden remain little changed. Here astrantia give colour. In the distance you may just make out one of the pineapples on the entrance pillars.

Geology Walk at Amroth beach, with Chris Evans. 17th June 2021.

Chris Evans, astride the limestone pavement, points out the marker beds and the iron nodules on Amroth beach. Photo by Andrew Weaver.

This walk proved very popular, and was fully booked within 24 hours.

PNTA members were treated on a sunny day to a short walk across Amroth beach that allowed us to see many geological features, within a short distance. These were highlighted and clearly explained by our walk leader, Chris Evans, a retired teacher and volunteer at Colby NT.

Coal seams, sunken forest, limestone pavements and iron deposits were seen, with rock faults and folds explained. The band of the marker bed, which occurs across the world, was visible in the cliff and at our feet. (See photos.)

The lighter band of the marker bed can be seen in the lower part of the Amroth cliff. Photo by Chris Evans.
Freshwater bivalve shell marker bed. Photo by Chris Evans.

Chris Evans has kindly written a more detailed report on the walks that can be seen by clicking below.

Our thanks to Pat Morgan for organising the walk and to Chris Evans for sharing his knowledge, with clarity.

The Kilgetty Vein or coal seam. Photo by Chris Evans.
Two iron nodule boulders. Photo by Chris Evans.
Chris Evans points out a tree stump in the sunken forest. Photo by Andrew Weaver

This post is by Andrew Weaver.

PNTA donation to Pembrokeshire National Trust – 16th June 2021

Andrew Weaver, Chairman of PNTA, makes a socially distanced handover of a cheque to Rhian Sula, Leader for the Visitor Team for Pembrokeshire National Trust. Photo by Annie Weaver.

Funds raised from Pembrokeshire National Trust events, before Coronavirus restrictions, enabled a donation of £2500 to Pembrokeshire National Trust.

The funds will be used as follows.

 At Stackpole, a bench to commemorate 125 years of the National Trust will be constructed. An extra picnic bench will be provided for Stackpole Quay. Tenby Tudor Merchant’s House will have a flame effect fire basket for the kitchen. At Colby Woodland Gardens the money will be used to buy backpacks. When filled with equipment and information sheets the packs can be loaned out to help younger visitors find out more about trees, while visiting the estate.

In Search of Birdsong, in Minwear Woods, with Richard Ellis. 13th May 2021

Thirteen members of PNTA joined Richard Ellis, former Head Warden for Pembrokeshire National Trust and wildlife enthusiast, for a gentle stroll in Minwear Woods. Richard coaxed us to listen out for the variety of birdsong.

Here are Richard’s notes on the findings:-

“We gathered at the picnic site in Minwear Wood. Plenty of birdsong greeted us: mistle thrush, song thrush, blackbird, robin and blackcap were all in good voice where we were parked. Chiffchaff and willow warbler – similar species told apart by their songs – sang in the young coppice woodland along the road, the monotonous “chiff-chaff” of the former, and the liquid cascade of the latter. Great tit, wren, woodpigeon and nuthatch sang or called from the wood, raven and long-tailed tit flew over. We then walked up into the tall beech woodland on the south side of the road, and after a few hundred yards found the bird we were looking for – a wood warbler, who put on a fine performance for us near the track. This specialist of beech and western oak woodland, with not many sites in Pembrokeshire, sings and feeds in the canopy, the two elements of his song being a shivering trill and a ringing “pew pew pew”. Further along a surprise bonus – two spotted flycatchers feeding high up. Not everyone saw these, but nice to know they were there. Back to the road and into the woodland on the north side, and another wood warbler. We walked further west and down past the limekiln to the shore, where we added to our total with shelduck, a pair of Canada geese, buzzard, lesser black-backed gull and mallard. Back through the wood and up the steps to the road, clocking up yet another wood warbler and a great spotted woodpecker. We saw or heard around 25 species in all.”

Our grateful thanks to Richard for leading the walk and sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm. Thanks also to Pat Morgan for arranging the event.

A wood warbler in Minwear Woods. Photo by Richard Ellis.

Nature Walk with Richard Ellis : Marloes Mere to Deer Park. 1st October 2020.

Strolling towards Deer Park, with Skomer in view.

In the first PNTA activity since March 2020, a group of twelve gathered at Marloes, for a socially distanced stroll with Richard Ellis, former Head Warden for Pembrokeshire National Trust and wildlife enthusiast. Having seen numerous swallows flying over Marloes Mere, using it as a refuelling venue en route to Africa, we headed across the fields to join the coast path. There choughs made their appearance. Walking on to Deer Park we looked down on the beaches to see grey seal pups.

Thanks to Pat Morgan for organising the event. See below for her detailed account of the of the stroll and extra sightings.

Richard Ellis points towards the choughs.

“Mining the Colby Coalfield” – a talk by Steve Whitehead, NT Manager. 5th March 2020

IMG_6813 Steve Whitehead shows us a capped mineshaft at Colby 800
Steve Whitehead points out a capped mineshaft on a previous visit t Colby by PNTA.

With the benefits of many old maps and aerial photographs Steve Whitehead told the tale of Colby’s mining history and the scattering of mineshafts through the grounds that lead to an exit on Amroth Beach. The tough conditions for the miners, often children, were detailed.

Derek Brockway, in a recent TV programme ‘Weatherman Walking” featured volunteers at Colby with Steve, making areas of past mine workings visible, but safe.

To read Jim Price’s report on the talk click –>5 3 20 Talk Steve Whitehead on Colby Mining