Penllergare Valley Woods, once a private Victorian paradise on the northern fringe of Swansea, has been a special, hidden world of natural, cultural and historical treasures for as long as people can remember. It is a nationally important historical landscape designed and created by the notable 19th century horticulturist, philanthropist and pioneering photographer, John Dillwyn Llewelyn. It is a sanctuary for wildlife, and it has more recently become a park for people in an increasingly urban area providing a wide range of recreation, leisure and healthy living opportunities.
For over half a century, it has struggled to cope with the damage, neglect and encroaching development brought about by increased urbanisation and commercialisation and there was a great fear that we would lose the woods forever if action was not taken. But after a decade of hard work and persistence with the aim of protecting, restoring and reviving Penllergare Valley Woods, the efforts of the Penllergare Trust have paid off….
A paradise regained
The leases of Valley Woods were finally assigned to the Trust on 26th April 2012, effectively securing them for public benefit until 2116 – that’s 104 years! This in turn initiated the award of £2.4m by the Heritage Lottery Fund through it’s Parks for People programme to support the first phase of an ambitious £2.9m restoration scheme focussed on the upper end of the valley.
Guided by the unique archive of John Dillwyn Llewelyn’s mid-nineteenth century photography, over the next 3 years, the upper lake will be de-silted, and steps, terraces, the stone-arched Llewelyn bridge, waterfalls and cascades will be repaired and restored to reinstate the picturesque and romantic design. The observatory will be leased from the Council, repaired and brought back into use and a hydro-electric generator will be installed alongside the upper waterfall to provide sustainable power for the estate. A walkway under the M4 will also link with the Forestry Commission forest, more than doubling the size of Valley Woods, as well as providing a ‘green’ route from the Gower to the Brecon Beacons. The construction of a small visitor kiosk and woodland car park has started and is due to be completed in June 2013. This work is supported by a grant from the European Regional Development Convergence Fund through Visit Wales and the Welsh Government as Valley Woods is part of the ‘One Historic Garden Project’ linking heritage, gardens and opportunities across South Wales.
Over the next 3 years, volunteers, staff and contractors will be working intensively in the north end of the valley. We will endeavour to keep all paths open and work sensitively in order to minimise disruption to people and wildlife as much as possible. We do apologise in advance for any inconvenience caused. As for the rest of the woods, these areas will be managed more or less as they are present. We are particularly keen to retain that “edge of wilderness’ feeling that’s so special today.
We also have an ambition to secure the former walled gardens for public access and benefit as well, though this will have to wait for the time being.
A park for people
After an eventful 2012, 2013 and beyond looks even better for Penllergare Valley Woods, especially with your help and support. While the majority of the grant money will go towards infrastructure, the involvement of local people will ultimately be the key to the success of the project and future sustainability of Valley Woods. The support provided so far by our strong force of Friends, volunteers, and regular visitors has been invaluable – we wouldn’t be where we are today without them. We’d like to thank everyone who has given so freely of time, energy and ideas to make this possible. However, it’s not too late for you to get involved and be a part of the story if you’ve not discovered us yet.
In 2013, we want to find more ways for people to get involved from practical work on the ground right through to decision-making behind the scenes. Learning and training will continue to be a high priority. We will organise an events programme including guided walks and talks, school visits, workshops and activities. We envisage many more people discovering and enjoying this free green space on Swansea’s doorstep, but we will work hard to retain those qualities that make the woods so special. We will increase our online presence via the website, social networking and directories, and also improve interpretation with maps and leaflets. We are also very keen to work with other local organisations to make the most of the opportunities presented.
A sustainable future
The milestones reached in gaining the leases and crucial funding in 2012 are certainly exciting, but they’re also a reminder that this is just the beginning. Penllergare Valley Woods is not the Council’s responsibility. The Penllergare Trust – a small and independent charity – has committed itself to a long lease and the payment of an annual rent to the landowner. Through implementation of the restoration project, we must therefore lay strong foundations for the future, sustainable upkeep of Penllergare Valley Woods and finding ways of generating income will always be a priority.
Remember, you make the difference every time you visit. If you love, value and enjoy Valley Woods as we do and want to keep them open, safe and welcoming for our children and our children’s children, please do join us by helping to look after them. If you haven’t visited us yet, we hope to see you soon!
The Penllergare Trust (December 2012)