Penllergare Valley Woods

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2014 in review: Happy New Year

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Following 80 years of neglect and 14 years of planning, volunteers representing local charity, the Penllergare Trust, have been working tirelessly over the last two years to restore Penllergare Valley Woods for everyone to enjoy.

What a transformation!

Guided by the pioneering photographs taken by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (the creator of Victorian Penllergare in the 19th century), historic paths, steps, cascades and views have been uncovered; terraces have been cleared and planted; and stonewalls have been rebuilt.

The Waterfall in Autumn 2014. Photo by Carey Beor

The Waterfall in Autumn 2014. Photo by Carey Beor

The one and only waterfall in Swansea has been repaired; a hydro-turbine has been installed to generate much-needed income; and the old stone-arch bridge has been restored using traditional methods.

Restoration of Llewelyn Bridge Collage 2013 by Meryl Thomas

Restoration of Llewelyn Bridge Collage 2013 by Meryl Thomas

In 2014 in particular, we also completed the one key feature that everyone had been waiting for – the Upper Lake. It certainly is a sight to be seen with its picturesque island, lakeside promenade and wildlife area.

Upper Lake on Icy Morning. Photo by Carey Beor (Dec 2014)

Upper Lake on Icy Morning. Photo by Carey Beor (Dec 2014)

Over the next few months, our focus will turn to the restoration of the equatorial observatory – a scheduled ancient monument – where one of the first photographs of the moon was taken.

Building the Observatory by John Dillwyn Llewelyn

Our community coffee shop – opened in September 2013 and run by over 30 local volunteers – is also going from strength to strength. We are proud to have become known in the local area as the place to go for a warm and friendly welcome, a beautiful setting, good quality proper coffee and delicious homemade cake! This is and will continue to be at the heart of our work in the future as we welcome more people to Valley Woods to enjoy the historic and wild qualities that make it so special.

Our fantastic coffee shop volunteers. Photo by Julie Osborne (Dec 2014)

Our fantastic coffee shop volunteers. Photo by Julie Osborne (Dec 2014)

The fantastic feedback that we’ve been receiving is just a reminder of how lucky we are to have this secret and magical place on our doorstep. It’s hard to believe that it’s a stones throw away from the M4 and that only a few years ago, this national treasure was close to being lost forever to neglect, vandalism and encroaching development. We cannot thank our volunteers and local communities enough for their commitment, efforts and support.

Putting Swansea on the map
Unlike other restoration projects, we have deliberately chosen not to close our doors to visitors but rather to involve and engage as many people as possible in our restoration journey. We have organised guided walks and evening talks, attended fetes and festivals and hosted meetings and conferences for like-minded organisations and community-groups.

Adele's Wanderers - Aug 2014. Photo by Christine Clarke.

Adele’s Wanderers – Aug 2014. Photo by Christine Clarke.

Only in October did we host a regional networking event for Llais y Goedwig, the community woodland network for Wales. We’ve also been able to host events, activities and play schemes for schools, children and families thanks to a partnership with the outdoor education charity, Forest Schools and the South West Wales Wildlife Trust.

Forest School Blaenymaes Project 2014.  Photo by Forest School SNPT

Forest School Blaenymaes Project 2014. Photo by Forest School SNPT

What’s more, we have been delighted with the support for this year’s fundraising events – the May bank holiday Potting Shed Sale and the September Car Boot Sale. Not only did a record number of volunteers and local people attend the events, but we were overwhelmed by the number of items donated. Bedding plants, cakes, books, trees, walking sticks – you name it, we had it. Thank you to you all. We raised nearly £4,000 to go towards the future maintenance and restoration of Valley Woods.

Potting Shed Sale 2014. Photo by Christine Clarke via Facebook

Potting Shed Sale 2014. Photo by Christine Clarke via Facebook

Look out too for our brand new website – to be launched in 2015 – as well as new signage, information boards and leaflets to help improve your visits to Penllergare and to keep you up to date with seasonal news and events.

On a national level, we have also had lots of publicity relating to our restoration progress in national newspapers, magazines and TV news broadcasts. Penllergare Valley Woods will even be featured in Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys on BBC2 on Monday 26th January 2015 and we have been involved in filming for a popular American TV series. We really are putting Swansea on the map!

Michael Portillo at the waterfall. Aug 2014. Photo by Ray Butt.

Michael Portillo at the waterfall. Aug 2014. Photo by Ray Butt.

A green corridor
Despite the disruption and major restoration works underway, Penllergare Valley Woods in 2014 has proved to be popular not only with visitors but also with wildlife. Both otter and water vole have been spotted and photographed at Lower Lake proving the importance of Penllergare as a green corridor for a diverse range of wildlife.

Otter at Lower Lake by Peter Thomas 16/06/13

Otter at Lower Lake by Peter Thomas

Water Vole at Penllergare. Photo by Official Carmarthenshire Wildlife Watch via Facebook. Sept 2014.

Water Vole at Penllergare. Photo by Official Carmarthenshire Wildlife Watch via Facebook. Sept 2014.

We have great hopes for the Upper Lake too. It is anticipated that the western zone will rapidly become a conservation area as the shallow water will allow a wide range of aquatic plants to grow providing a nesting area for birds and a breeding area for amphibians and insects. The kingfishers have already been seen skimming the Upper Lake. We can’t wait to see the bluebells and rhododendrons next Spring and Summer.

Kingfisher at Penllergare - Photo by Keith Cooper

Kingfisher at Penllergare – Photo by Keith Cooper

People power in action
As we head into 2015, more than ever our minds are turning to how we can be sustainable in our ambition to protect and restore Penllergare Valley Woods for everyone to enjoy.

Muddy Volunteers on the West Bank. Photo by Edward Tucker. Feb 2014.

Muddy Volunteers on the West Bank. Photo by Edward Tucker. Feb 2014.

We have big ideas and plans for the lower lake and dam, the carriage drive and the walled gardens, but with a need to generate some £100,000 per year to pay the rent and maintain and manage the estate, finding ways to develop support, generate core revenue and not be too reliant on the stop/start legacy of grants is a priority.

The sale of the Council’s Penllergaer Civic Centre, including the site of the former Penllergare estate house, is also a reminder of the ongoing threat from development to Penllergare Valley Woods.

There’s no doubt that as an independent local charity, to achieve our ambitious vision requires courage, determination, optimism and a great deal of effort! We are already getting the feeling that this is more of a community ‘movement’ than just another project – ‘people power’ in action for a cause worth fighting for!

Above all we ask people and organisations who love and value Valley Woods, as a growing number already do, to lend us your support – either through volunteering, joining our Friends of Penllergare membership scheme, giving a donation, fundraising for us or leaving a legacy.

Come and join in and be a part of the Penllergare adventure!

Wishing you all a Happy New Year

from everyone at Penllergare Valley Woods

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