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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

Land Management in Pembrokeshire – a talk by Mark Underhill, Countryside Manager for National Trust Pembrokeshire 18/11/21.

Mark was our after lunch speaker at Wolfscastle Country Hotel. He told us how the National Trust has a declared aim to be Net Zero for Carbon by 2030, restoring habitats along the way.
The latest acronym is RACE.

Starting with REDUCE, the target is to lower carbon release by 5% per annum. Heating buildings tops the chart, but vehicle use features, and three new vehicles in the local NT fleet will be electric powered, this year.

Then there is ADAPT. The example offered was the proposed new road by passing the coastal road at Newgale. The existing road is threatened by the inward progress of the shingle bank. Mark stressed the importance of regarding the plans as an ecological evolution with a flooded river valley, improved habitat and carbon sequestration, rather than just a “new road”.The new highway would traverse parts of the Southwood Estate.

For CAPTURE, several examples were given. Magnificent Meadows are now to be found across many parts of the county, thanks to the National Trust working with other organisations. In season, the fields are buzzing with insect life.
Rhos Pasture at Southwood is an area of land that escaped the attentions of the drainage contractor, many years ago. It now provides the best habitats on the site, and the aim is to allow the scrub to spread, enhancing carbon sequestration.
The plans at Mount and Barn Fields, north of Colby, are more ambitious. Only in spring of this year, the land came back into NT control, having been tenanted. The intention is to plant 27,000 trees, without tree guards or stakes, by spring 2022!

To end the acronym, ENGAGE. That was what Mark was doing with us, explaining the plans to local people, and listening to their responses.
The large number of questions at the end showed a high level of engagement.

Mark was handed a cheque for £1000 from PNTA. The money will be used to purchase a professional quality battery powered chain saw for Colby Woodland Gardens – one less petrol engine. Every little helps.

Report by Andrew Weaver

Mark Underhill accepts a cheque from PNTA towards a battery powered chain saw, for Colby Woodland Gardens.

Photo by Alan Mason

Thanks to Jim and Margret Price.

At the recent lunch, at Wolfscastle Country Hotel, Jim and Margret Price were given vouchers as a small token of appreciation for the big part they have played as supporting members of PNTA, and their key roles on the committee for many years.
They are in the process of moving house to the Bristol area. We wish them well, and will miss them.

Photo by Alan Mason

Tourism-The Benefits and Challenges it Brings. November 4th 2021

Ian Meopham has been a National Park Ranger since 1983 covering the area from Newgale to around Fishguard

Forty masked members, well wrapped up to cope with the open windows policy, gathered at Crundale Hall for the first indoor PNTA meeting for over eighteen months, since the onset of the COVID pandemic.

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Warden, Ian Meopham, took us on a verbal and photographic celebration of the county, expressing his own opinions. We share our magical corner with wildlife, such as the peregrines, whose numbers are recovering well, after past persecutions. He recalled a day on the coast with a specialist in snakes. Normally Ian regards himself lucky if he sees one adder per year. With this expert as a guide, 30 adders were sniffed out, in one session.

He referred to the special part played by the National Trust, as owner of much coastal land, some purchased as part of Operation Neptune.

He highlighted places such as Amroth, Newgale and Freshwater West, where rising sea levels will have significant impact.

Agriculture has dominated the scene for generations, but now farming is on its knees, with small farms disappearing and farmers turning to tourists as their cash crop.

It is said that Pembrokeshire is twenty years behind Cornwall, in relation to tourism, but as a Cornish friend told Ian, “the Perranporth I knew has disappeared”.

With places like Stackpole seeing a recent rise in visitor numbers by 30%, inevitably the popular spots, such as Barafundle and Porthgain, become overwhelmed.

Skomer Island can control numbers visiting, by limiting the number visitors landing per day. That is harder to do on the mainland.

Discussion ensued. The topics of tourist taxes, dogs and transport options all had an airing.

Ian urged us not to let the nature of the area we value, slip through our fingers.

Report by Andrew Weaver

“Pwll Deri looking beyond to Stumble Head. Furniture in a wild place”

Photos by Andrew Weaver.

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

Evening walk and talk Thursday 15th July at Stackpole.

Haydn Garlick describes the smokehouse.

We met at Lodge Park Wood car park on a beautiful evening. Our walk leader was Haydn Garlick, Lead Ranger for Stackpole Estate. Haydn started his talk by explaining that the Lodge Park Wood was the nearest wood to Stackpole Mansion and was originally laid out as an Arboretum of predominantly Beech, Home Oak and Scots Pine trees within which were several paths and seating areas for the family and visitors to enjoy.
From the car park we made our way to the main drive of the mansion and stopped at The One Arched Bridge. There was a pond on one side, but this was being taken over by a large reed bed. The other side was completely overgrown. Haydn feels that a major regeneration programme is needed to reinstate the lake system originally designed by John Campbell who had also worked for other estates in Pembrokeshire e.g., Picton and Slebech.

Walking further along the drive we came to the road. Haydn pointed out that the hill straight ahead used to be the main road to Pembroke although nothing remains of it now. The first Deer Park was also in this vicinity.
We crossed the road and walked up what was quite a steep track known as the Army Path. Walking along members noticed several trees with large red painted dots on them. Haydn explained these trees have Ash Dieback Disease and will need to be taken down. A tree is identified as having the disease if it has 50% or less foliage, it is a fungal disease and Pembrokeshire is one of the worst areas for it. Approximately 500 trees need to be felled on the estate. Evidence of coppicing was also seen as we continued on through Castle Dock wood.
Reaching the top of the path we came to the Belvedere. The Cawdors had a tower built here and used to entertain guests to tea and it enabled them to show off their large estate. The view was spectacular looking across to the sea, Stackpole Village and several farms. This is where the seat sponsored by the PNTA to celebrate The National Trust’s 125 Anniversary will be placed. It is being made by Anthony Griffiths from Stackpole Village.
Starting our return journey through the woods we passed Hill Lodge, previously a gate lodge on the main drive, now privately owned. A short detour was made to the smoke house where fish from the estate were smoked. Haydn explained that The Cawdors used Stackpole as a shooting lodge while their main estate was in Scotland although at one time, they were also the largest landowners in Wales with a motto “Be Mindful”. Unfortunately, after the mansion was sold on, use by the American forces in WW 11 it fell into disrepair, and it was eventually demolished except for the stable block which has been converted into accommodation.
Continuing our return journey we came into Caroline Grove named after John Campbell’s wife who was Caroline Howard and had been brought up at Castle Howard.  We saw  a large arch and a grotto made from Karstic  weathered limestone with an unusual local name of”Babaluobie”. The last feature we came to was The Hidden Bridge. This acts as an over flow bridge for the lake system and if people are seen walking along it from The One Arched Bridge where we stopped at the start of our walk it appears they are walking on water !!
We arrived back at the car park where members thanked Haydn for a most interesting and enjoyable evening and wished him and his team well in continuing with the huge task they are undertaking for The National Trust.

Pat Morgan

Haydn points out features of the landscape. The memorial bench, soon to be put in place, will have a similar view.

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.