Penllergare Valley Woods

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Restoration Update: September 2014

On 20th September 2014, we celebrated the 1st year anniversary of the opening of the coffee shop. Can you believe that a year has passed already?! In that time, we have had the pleasure of working with over 50 volunteer coffee shop assistants in order to provide you with a warm welcome and delicious homemade refreshments as well as generate revenue for the future maintenance of Valley Woods.

Not only have sales been good (we had a record-breaking month in September), but we’re receiving an increasing amount of donations from visitors. We’re sure that this reflects the appreciation that you all feel towards us as a local voluntary group taking on such an ambitious project and doing such a good job in the process – we are all very proud of our achievements!

Enjoy the BBQ! Photos by Faye Maher (Sept 2014)

Enjoying the BBQ! Photos by Faye Maher (Sept 2014)

To celebrate in style, we organised a BBQ on the terrace of the coffee shop in early September. Thank you to everyone for coming along with some sumptuous food to share and making it a very special evening to remember.

1st Year Celebration BBQ. Photo by Faye Maher

1st Year Celebration BBQ. Photo by Faye Maher

If you would like to join our community coffee shop team, do get in touch. We are particularly looking for volunteers who can help in the afternoons on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

UPPER LAKE

Peace returned to Valley Woods at the end of September! The lake contractors finally left site having completed the restoration of the main tracks and lakeside promenade used during the lake de-silt. It’s a strange but lovely feeling – with no machinery around the upper lake and only the sound of birds and running water. Check out the difference a year has made:

Panorama View of Upper Lake 2013. Photo by Jamie Morris.

Panorama View of Upper Lake 2013. Photo by Jamie Morris.

Panorama View of Upper Lake 2014. Photo by Jamie Morris.

Panorama View of Upper Lake 2014. Photo by Jamie Morris.

View of Upper Lake and Island from Eastern Bank. Photo by Philip James (Sept 2014)

View of Upper Lake and Island from Eastern Bank. Photo by Philip James (Sept 2014)

Even our canine friends are enjoying the new lakeside paths! 🙂

Photo by Big Al Tomlinson via Facebook. September 2014.

Photo by Big Al Tomlinson via Facebook. September 2014.

Did you know? The lake originally covered 1.35 hectares, but the massive embankment of the M4 motorway and A48 now cuts across its upper end. A small boathouse called “The Shanty” lay on its Western side too and at the head of the lake, there would have been a footbridge and a flight of stone-cut steps leading down to a landing place – both of which unfortunately disappeared beneath the M4 embankment.

Now disappeared beneath the M4 embankment. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (19th century)

Now disappeared beneath the M4 embankment. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (19th century)

The Shanty. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (19th century)

The Shanty. Photo by John Dillwyn Llewelyn (19th century)

Writing in 1886, A Pettigrew provides us with a description of the lake in its Victorian heyday:

“Advantage has been taken of the narrowness of the valley here to make a lake by throwing a bank across it and damming the stream. The lake is beautifully situated and its surface along the margin is covered with different kinds of Water lilies, while the steep banks on all sides are wooded down to the water’s edge. In the middle of the bank, at the lowest end of the lake, there is a strong bulwark composed of large blocks of stone, which forms the resisting power to the heavy weight of water at a point where the lake forms a cascade, which leaps boldly over a fall of 18 feet, … Both lakes are well stocked with trout which afford good sport to Mr Llewelyn and his friends from boats during the fishing season.”

After nearly 80 years of neglect and encroaching development, we are so pleased that as a local independent charity, we intervened just in time and are able to bring Penllergare back to life for everyone to enjoy! With your support over the months and years to come, we very much hope that our restoration journey will go from strength to strength! We mustn’t forget that without us and without you, our secret and magical place could have been lost forever!

ARCHIMEDEAN SCREW

Good progress has been made with our negotiations with Ofgem about the Feed in Tariff arrangements – the payment mechanism for electricity produced by the Archimedean screw hydro turbine. The turbine is still in standby mode because of the long dry spell and the low water level in the lake. For the technical minded – the turbine has generated 5553kWh to date – just a fraction of what we expect over the winter! We hope that it will generate £10,000 per year to go towards the maintenance costs of managing Valley Woods.

WOODLAND GARDENING

Our wonderful woodland volunteers continue to make a huge impact on the woods with more rhododendron being cut and treated to prevent it re-growing and large areas of disturbed ground being picked over for stones and grass seeded – even in this dry weather, you can see the new grass coming through. Our volunteer woodland ‘gardeners’ have also been busy planting in the area close to the coffee shop – we can’t wait to see what this will look like next Spring (and of course in the years and seasons to come). What would we do without them?!? We’re so lucky to have such excellent and active support from a wide range of people and communities. If you would like to join us, please do get in touch.

Volunteer Woodland Gardeners Ray and Janet. Photo by Christine Clarke (Sept 2014)

Volunteer Woodland Gardeners Ray and Janet. Photo by Christine Clarke (Sept 2014)

Christine, Janet and Janet making progress on the upper terraces. Photo by Faye Maher (Sept 2014)

Christine, Janet and Janet making progress on the upper terraces. Photo by Faye Maher (Sept 2014)

LITTER

A big thank you to everyone who picks up litter in the woods! We have come across quite a few people quietly going along and collecting litter of their own accord while out for a walk – often accompanied by mutterings as to why people spoil such a lovely place by leaving litter about! We often get asked why we don’t put more litter bins around the woods. At other sites, owners and managers are taking litter bins away as they attract litter! Also, it is very labour intensive. Having taken soundings from other places, we have to date adopted a zero waste policy – our message is simple – ‘if you want to keep Penllergare open, safe and welcoming for everyone to enjoy, please help us to look after it and take your litter home with you’!

WILDLIFE

Exciting news – a water vole has been spotted and photographed at Lower Lake proving the importance of Penllergare as a green corridor for a diverse range of wildlife. According to the Wildlife Trust, the water vole is Britain’s fastest declining wild mammal and has disappeared from many parts of the country where it was once common. It is threatened by habitat loss, but has suffered particularly from predation by the introduced American Mink. We are working with Swansea University and other experts to help respond to this brilliant finding.

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.

Lower Lake at Dawn by Carey Beor. September 2014.

Lower Lake at Dawn by Carey Beor. September 2014.

As the trees relax after a busy summer and turn the valley into splashes of reds, yellows, oranges, browns and greens, we have started to witness the emergence of  nature’s army of recyclers – the mushrooms. October is the best time for a fungi foray! Look out for them along the damp woodland floor or on dead wood. You can even download family fungi activities here: http://www.naturedetectives.org.uk/download/fungi.htm

Shaggy Ink Cap - Photo by Brian Meredith (Sept 2014)

Shaggy Ink Cap – Photo by Brian Meredith (Sept 2014)

FUNDRAISING

Bright sunshine, a warm breeze and the thought of a bargain brought many people to the Car Boot Sale at the Penllergare car park in early September.  There was an eclectic mix of goods on offer and trade was brisk. The event was organised entirely by volunteers and a huge thanks goes to them for all their preparation and hard work resulting in just over £1,000 (with Gift Aid) going towards the future maintenance of Valley Woods. Well done and thank you to all who came along to support us!

Car Boot Sale 2014 - Photo by Christine Clarke

Car Boot Sale 2014 – Photo by Christine Clarke

The local Moto Area Manager visited us to present their cheque for £1000 from their community grant fund this month. Volunteer Managing Director, Paul Baker received the generous grant which is to be spent on upgrading paths and steps. We are Moto’s local charity of the year for 2014. If you know of any other local companies who might like to ‘adopt’ us in this way, then please get in touch.

Paul Baker and local area Moto General Manager (Sept 2014)

Paul Baker and local area Moto General Manager (Sept 2014)

EVENTS

Forest Schools Swansea and Neath and Port Talbot are back in the woods again after a short summer break. The Forest Schools philosophy is “to encourage and inspire individuals of any age through an innovative, long term, educational approach to outdoor play and learning in a woodland environment”. The local group is particularly go ahead and have been working with us in Valley Woods for a couple of years. They have two sites, one at either end of the woods, and bring school children and young people into the woods for outdoor play and learning. They also hire our Woodland Centre for training courses for future Forest Schools leaders.

Forest School in action. Photo by Philip James.

Forest School in action. Photo by Philip James.

A small group of our woodland volunteers visited the 10th anniversary open day of Blaen Bran Community Woodland in Cwmbran in September with the aim of finding out more about the methods in which other community woodlands are sustainable.They had a great time discovering more about their wide range of woodland products and being envious about their well-equipped woodland work yard.  In late October, we will be hosting a regional network event for community woodlands in Wales organised by Llais y Goedwig which will give us other opportunities to share knowledge with like-minded organisations.

What’s more, we have been running lots of walks and talks this month as part of the Love your Countryside Festival, the Open Doors weekend and of course in response to your numerous enquiries and hunger for information.

Restoration Walk with David Connick (Sept 2014 - Photo by Christine Clarke

Restoration Walk with David Connick (Sept 2014) – Photo by Christine Clarke

The third of our annual “Introducing Penllergare” guided walks will take place on Saturday 18th October at 2.15pm and the last of this year’s evening Restoration Walks will take place on Wednesday 29th October at 4pm (not 6pm as usual because of the change in daylight hours). The former focuses on the Penllergare story: the history, wildlife and restoration of the estate, while the latter concentrates on the restoration project currently ongoing in the northern end of the valley. For both walks, meet at the Penllergare car park and don’t forget sturdy footwear. Dogs are more than welcome provided they are kept on a lead.

You’ll also find us at the Blaenymaes Xstream Market Day on Friday 10th October. If you’re coming along, do pop over for a chat! 🙂

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This month we will love you and leave you with a fantastic video of a visitor’s journey through Penllergare. A big thank you to James Dewitt for creating this and sharing it with us all.

We hope to see you soon! Thanks a million for your support!

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What are we doing at the Upper Lake 2014

We’re completing the work started last year to dig out the silt and spread it on the old park area down the valley. We’re also finishing off the earthworks around the turbine site. The lakeside track is closed while dump trucks are carrying silt away. The waterfall will stop flowing when the lake is drained down and the river pumped around the lake. Depending on the weather, this work is due to be completed by the end of September. We regret any inconvenience caused. We hope that you will take the opportunity to explore other paths and tracks available – there are nearly 7 miles of paths and tracks altogether.

What's going on01

Why are we doing this?
The lake is being reinstated to its historic form and to prevent total reversion to marshland and woodland, as part of the first stage to restore the historic landscape design:

Penllergare Valley Woods is notable as a partial survival of a very important picturesque and Romantic landscape of the mid-nineteenth century created by John Dillwyn Llewelyn, a nationally important figure in horticulture. Despite the neglect of recent decades, the well watered and wooded landscape still retains the original designed qualities of magnificence, surprise, beauty and seclusion. (Conservation Management Plan, 2008)

The upper lake, or fish pond as it was described in some old maps, was made by damming the river Llan in the 1840s. The dam, made of stone quarried in the valley, was carefully designed to mimic the natural rock strata. The falls have three channels over which the river falls in picturesque and sometimes spectacular style. The falls are one of the striking historic features of the estate.

By 1936, the lake had almost completely silted up and disappeared and was shown on maps as marshland. A partial restoration was carried out in the 1980s, but we believe that this is the first time that a full scale restoration has been attempted.

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Restoration Update: February 2014

We are now well into the second half of the three year landscape restoration project and what a transformation we’ve seen already? Even though there is still a lot of physical project work to be done, our attention is turning more towards future financial sustainability and next steps. We are greatly encouraged by the regular positive feedback we receive, and our visitor survey just before Christmas shows that we are going in the right direction. We’ve teamed up with the Groundwork Trust to gauge opinion and support on our next steps.

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 value Valley Woods, as a growing number already do, to lend us your support – we do not receive any public subsidy. We are very grateful for the support and confidence shown to us by our current funders and we look forward to building on that. We’re building up more support through membership and volunteering – our membership has increased by over 20% since September last year, and we’re developing a fundraising plan to sustain us in the future – so if you love Valley Woods – come and join in and be part of the adventure! Here is a summary of what has been happening since Christmas:

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Restoration Update: August 2013

The restoration project at Penllergare Valley Woods is well and truly underway! In the next two months, the upper lake will be desilted, the Archimedes screw will be installed, the Llewelyn bridge will be rebuilt, and the new visitor centre and car park will open to the public. Isn’t it exciting!?! Here’s a progress update:

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And the June winner is…

A massive thank you to everyone who entered our June photography competition! Today, Trustees, Paul Baker and Helen Thomas, judged the entries.

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Going Wild for Wildflowers

Edward Tucker, Woodland Warden, and Keith Clements, volunteer ranger, organised a wildflower walk on Saturday 15th June to mark Wales Biodiversity Week. Nearly one hundred species were seen and named – these were just a few of them.

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Otter Spotted!

Thanks to the patience and commitment of wildlife photographer, Peter Thomas, we finally have some clear photographs and video footage of an otter at Penllergare Valley Woods. This one was spotted at Lower Lake early on Sunday morning.

Take a look….. and enjoy!

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What’s On in June 2013

Wildflower Walk
15th June 2013. Join volunteer ranger, Keith Clements and woodland warden, Edward Tucker, for a wildflower walk at Penllergare Valley Woods. 2pm. Meet at the Council Office Car Park. Donations welcome. Wear sturdy footwear.

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What’s On in May 2013

Weekend Woodland Volunteering Session
Saturday 4th May. Interested in conservation? Like working outdoors? Come along and get stuck in on a range of woodland/restoration tasks. Meet in the Woodland Centre. 9am-12pm. Wear sturdy footwear, waterproofs and gloves. Free.

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Interested in Research?

On Tuesday 23rd April from 10am-12pm, we’ll be arranging a taster session at the Woodland Centre for anyone interested in historical or ecological research.

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