The Cambrian Mountains are often regarded as one of the last wild and neglected regions of Wales. The Cambrian Mountains Society’s David Bateman and Roger Bray argue that the environment must be at the heart of efforts to build a strengthened economy and social structure.
THESE days the term Cambrian Mountains refers only to the central part of the upland spine of Wales – Pumlumon, Elenydd and Mynydd Mallaen – occupying most of the space between the Snowdonia and Brecon Beacons National Parks.
From the hilltops the landscape appears to be almost uniformly flat, though there is in fact considerable variation – from 300 metres or so where the boundary follows the bases of the steeper hillsides to 752 metres at the highest point of Pen Pumlumon Fawr (Plynlimon).
Most of the area is moorland, providing extensive hill grazing for sheep. The remainder mainly comprises conifer forest and large reservoirs.
Native woodland is largely confined to steep hillsides, and the farmsteads and enclosed fields occupy the more fertile valleys.
There are no significant towns within the area, but there is a necklace of attractive small towns and villages round the periphery.
Above all, what distinguishes the area is its feel of remoteness. Despite the extensive impact of man over thousands of years, there is still a quality of apparent wilderness.
It is possible to walk all day without coming across a tarred road or even a person.
The immense variety of plants and animals include a few red squirrels, while otters and polecats are widespread.
For many people, these mountains were best known as being the last refuge of the British population of the iconic red kite, now much more widespread.
The oak woodlands support abundant mosses, ferns and lichens, many rare or scarce in Britain.
Historically, economic issues have been the main concern, with agriculture still the biggest single source of jobs, and population decline impacting on society and culture.
Conservation concerns both those who value the apparent wilderness qualities and those who see the future economy as one that will depend on the attractiveness of these qualities to tourists.
Pressures on agriculture may lead to changes in land use.
Already conservationists are concerned that the replacement of the Environmentally Sensitive Area by Tir Gofal is proving less beneficial than was originally envisaged as resources are diverted to Tir Mynydd.
Some of the forested areas are unproductive and alternative uses may be even more unattractive. One of these is wind turbines.
Already there is one large wind farm in the north at Cefn Croes and others are in the pipeline.
There is serious concern over carbon release from peat disturbance as well as more general worries about impacts on landscape, archaeology and historic environment – including the scene of Owain Glyndwr’s famous victory at the battle of Hyddgen.
Off-road vehicles, inappropriate tourist developments, quarrying and mobile phone masts are further possible causes of damage to landscape, biodiversity and environment.
Underlying all these issues is the lack of official recognition of the area at any level – either UK, Wales or even in terms of the policies of the counties in which the Cambrian Mountains lie. As a consequence, it is not widely known, visited, or appreciated.
One response to these problems has been the setting up of the Cambrian Mountains Society (CMS) as a charity, encouraging debate and ideas towards an interrelated approach to environment, economy and community. The concept is to build a strengthened economy and social structure based on landscape and environment – making conservation an economic and social imperative.
The Cambrian Mountains area has been largely forgotten but is nevertheless important from many points of view – landscape, biodiversity, geodiversity, archaeology, history, society and economy.
After many years of drift there is a sudden resurgence of interest. Though this is welcomed, there is the possibility that irreversible change could occur unless all of these points of view receive adequate attention. What is required is a serious independent study of the facts and of the wishes of both residents and visitors.
* David Bateman is chairman of the Cambrian Mountains Society. He is Emeritus Professor of Agricultural Economics. Roger Bray has worked in wildlife conservation in Wales since 1970 and is a CMS Trustee. To join the Cambrian Mountains Society, log in to the website at www.cambrian-mountains.co.uk
** This is an edited version of an article which appears in the autumn edition of the magazine Natur Cymru – The Nature of Wales. As a special offer to Western Mail readers, if you send the reduced price subscription of £23 for two years (eight issues), we will send you FOUR back copies free. Why not give a subscription to a friend for Christmas? Annual subscriptions cost £12.50, or £11 by Direct Debit; single copies of the latest issue are £3.50. Please send cheques (payable to Natur Cymru) quoting WM to: Natur Cymru, Maes y Ffynnon, Penrhos Garnedd, Bangor, LL57 2DW
13 November 2007
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