I’m just finishing off a job I had last summer writing conservation management plans for several National Trust castle and mansion gardens, and this photo has briefly transported me back from the cold and the rain to more serene days of glorious summer…
It’s difficult to do justice to the place where I’ve been working today. Dinefwr Park in West Wales is a beautiful, historic designed landscape, laid out by the people who lived here in the 17th century.
A mixture of parkland and farmland, with hundreds of oak trees that are over 500 years old. Today we were working out how to maintain these ancient trees for another two hundred years, and how to create the right conditions for their successors. So we’ve been thinking very long range thoughts today indeed.
And if that wasn’t enough Dinefwr is home to a very rare breed of the White Park Cattle. This beautiful breed can be traced back in history over a thousand years.
And if the trees and cattle are not ancient enough, then just under the soil here there are rocks containing thousands of trilobite fossils, aged a mere 400 million years.
It was a wonderful day immersed in such ancient beauty.
This week I have been back in the mountains of the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales working, although it didn’t feel like work, on an upland farm. I was there to help advise on management and to survey the magnificent heathland that has developed on the mountain in the last 30 years.
There are some rare and unique plant communities growing up there now because the traditional farming practice of burning and grazing by sheep has been absent for all that time.
On the valley floor is the beautiful lake (Llyn Dinas)….
I only have a very small, cheap digital camera, but it’s a times like these that I wish I’d made that upgrade! Here’s one from someone who has…
This week we are management planning for the National Trust at the wonderful landscape and gardens of Erddig in North Wales….here are some nice photos courtesy of the other Mike.
So this week I’ve been in North Wales doing some more work on my grasslands project for the National Trust, and I visited Bodnant Gardens which apparently are world famous, although I hadn’t heard of them and you probably haven’t either, which is a shame because they are absolutely magnificent! Because I wasn’t being a tourist (I was working!), I didn’t take lots of photos of all the lovely herbaceous borders and lawns and the mansion house, so I can’t show you those. I did, however, have to take photos of the amazing laburnum tunnel and the magnificent old trees that dominate and seem to exist in a different dimension and time to you and I. Anyway have a look first at the delightful laburnum tunnel, hand crafted by the very gifted National Trust gardeners who were all really nice to me and showed me around…..
And now feast your eyes on these humungous trees…..
Here’s an idea of the house and lawns (which I secretly love and would like to play tennis on given half a chance!)…
I can also report that the cream teas served were absolutely divine. It was a tough job but someone had to do it 🙂
I’ve been away this week helping the National Trust out with some of their management issues at Penrhyn Castle in North Wales. My first impression of this place, because of its incredibly grand appearance on a truly large scale, was that this mock castle must have been built either by somebody with a great sense of humour, or someone with a whopping ego. I’m reliably informed it was the latter.
The castle is another reminder of the ubiquity of Britain’s links with slavery. It belonged to the Pennant family, famous for their slate quarries in North Wales, but whose major fortunes came from the exploitation of the slave trade in the Caribbean in the 17th century.
The family acquired plantations in Jamaica and held high office on that island, before a new generation returned to Britain and started trading from Liverpool. With the money the family made from these varied slavery-based enterprises, the Pennants acquired substantial holdings in Wales and also developed slate quarries.
Penrhyn Castle was developed on the site of an ancient property, but it is a 19th-century version of a Norman castle. Alongside Harewood House, it provides an example of the levels of material wealth that was accumulated by those engaged in the slave trade, which was then invested into British property and land.
The family apparently were not liked by the indigenous Welsh population. Apparently they didn’t treat the quarry workers at all well.
These days the castle is owned and managed by the National Trust, and the gardens are lovely.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.