The wonderful history, landscape and wildlife of the Dinefwr Estate

I have been exceptionally lucky recently to have been asked to prepare a conservation management plan for the estate at Dinefwr (Din-ev-or) near Llandeilo in West Wales, which is owned and cared for by the National Trust.

It is quite a difficult task to paint a verbal picture of Dinefwr and it isn’t possible to convey the importance of the place in strictly factual terms.  It’s only when you are lucky enough to visit Dinefwr that the sheer unusual beauty of the place strikes you in a way that the words that you have read cannot.  It is a very, very special place indeed.

Dinefwr is of exceptional significance for its archaeology, designed landscape and buildings.  The present day landscape was set out by George Rice and his wife Cecil with some assistance from Lancelot ’Capability’ Brown in the second half of the 18th century.  It has been widely admired ever since with impressions recorded by means of painting, sketching and the written word – it even appeared on a dinner plate, part of a service commissioned by Catherine the Great.

Today the park is widely acknowledged to be one of the finest designed landscapes in the UK.  At its centre is Newton House, originally constructed in the 17th century to a simple but elegant design, it was encased in limestone to a Venetian-gothic design in the 1850s.

Photo: Mike Alexander

Photo: Mike Alexander

Trees and open grassland are so important to the appearance and aesthetic qualities of Dinefwr’s landscape and they were deliberately set out as part of the landscape design, with most of the trees planted on the higher ground and the grassland occupying the valleys and the areas immediately adjacent to the house and the main drive.

Archaeological surveys have, inevitably, revealed evidence of earlier landscapes including the defensive structures of an Iron Age fort and most remarkable of all, two overlapping Roman forts.  Faint earthworks mark the outlines of tracks and field boundaries that predated the construction of the deer park in the middle of the 17th century.

One of the most significant archaeological monuments in the park is Dinefwr Castle.  The 12th century stone buildings and walls seen today apparently replaced an earlier timber structure dating to the 8th century.  This castle was the capital of most of west and south Wales in the 12th century so the surrounding woodland and park must conceal evidence of medieval tracks and paths.

Dinefwr Castle

The park is well known for its fallow deer and, in particular, its white park cattle – a rare breed restored to the park in 1992 after a long absence, but that can be traced back to Dinefwr from at least 1000 years ago.  Both the deer and the cattle are integral to the historic park in their own right, but also because they maintain a complex mosaic of ancient grassland habitats.

Ancient white park cattle Photo: Mike Alexander

Ancient white park cattle Photo: Mike Alexander

Fallow deer herd  Photo: Mike Alexander

Fallow deer herd Photo: Mike Alexander

One of the most striking features of the grassland in the deer park is the abundance of yellow meadow ant hills, which indicates how undisturbed this grassland has been for centuries.

Photo: Mike Alexander

Photo: Mike Alexander

In some parts of the park there are remnants of medieval woodland featuring many ancient trees that are at least 400 years old.  And at its core, this wood pasture is dominated by nearly 300 huge oak trees, including some of the oldest and largest trees in the UK – one, the Castle Oak, is thought to be over 700 years old.

Photo: Mike Alexander

700 year old oak tree Photo: Mike Alexander

Dinefwr’s ancient trees, important in their own right, are host to a remarkable assemblage of wood decay invertebrates including 400 “saproxylic” beetle species, 26 of which are classified as nationally scarce.  More than 160 species of lichen have been recorded in the park, several of which indicate a long history of ecological continuity.

The assemblage of breeding birds at Dinefwr is very impressive, and some of the most important are the lesser spotted woodpecker, an increasingly rare species in the UK, as are the green woodpeckers, which thrive on the impressive colonies of yellow meadow ants, conspicuous by the presence of hundreds of ant hills in the deer park grassland.  Other notable bird species breeding in the woodlands include tawny owl, tree creeper, sparrowhawk, tree sparrow, jay, long-tailed tit and pied flycatcher.

On the lakes, ponds and ditches of the Towy floodplain greylag geese, Canada geese, swan, widgeon, goldeneye, heron and snipe amongst many others can been found year round.

Flood plain at Dinefwr  Photo: Mike Alexander

Flood plain at Dinefwr Photo: Mike Alexander

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About Mike Howe

I am an ecologist and a composer of guitar based instrumental melodies signed to the Real Music label in California. I like to write about my work, music and nature conservation and how it all comes together. I try not to write about things I don't know much about.
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8 Responses to The wonderful history, landscape and wildlife of the Dinefwr Estate

  1. Jason Murphy says:

    Hi Mike, Really nice article and great shots. My family run 2 holiday barns in Llandeilo and I’d like to put a link to your article on our website – http://www.tirylan.com – would that be OK?

  2. I love your photos and love your writings. What a rewarding and honourable other work you have! The cattle lying under the clouds are amazing.

  3. What a beautiful place. What is your connection to Dinefwr, and why were you chosen to prepare the conservation plan? Doe this mean you will spend some significant time there? I have never been to Europe but surely do want to visit one day.

    • Mike Howe says:

      Conservation management planning is my other job and I was asked to write the plan for Dinefwr. I hardly knew the place before I started but as you can see I’ve got to know it quite well now. I’ve nearly finished so sadly I have to move on, but luckily I have been asked to do the same for several other places, so its exciting 🙂

  4. montucky says:

    My, what a place! It is a great honor to prepare a conservation plan for it. What a thrill that must be!
    Mikes’ photos are wonderful!

    • Mike Howe says:

      Yes you are right, it is an honor to prepare a management plan for a plcae like this, and I couldn’t do it without my friend Mikes beautiful photos. So glad you like it 🙂

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