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We are delighted to welcome Lee Turner to the team who has been appointed as our new General Manager. Lee officially started his new role on 3rd November and will be the senior on site manager with responsibility for the overall operational management of Penllergare as well as for supporter and volunteer development and revenue generation.
Lee has most recently been working as Director of Operations for Groundwork. With a history in Horticulture, Arboriculture, Environmental Management and Forestry, Lee has a wide range of experiences to bring to Penllergare Valley Woods
It will take some time for Lee to meet everyone but do pop in to introduce yourself and to say hello if ever you’re passing our lovely green cabin office in the car park. As you can imagine, it’s starting to feel somewhat cramped in there!
The restored lake has become the subject of dozens of fantastic photographs from visitors – many of which have been featured on our Facebook page. It has been suggested that the main purpose of the lake was to reflect the gnarled and ancient oak trees on the eastern bank as part of the plan to create a picture of the landscape. Unfortunately, many of the ancient oaks are gone.
We’re planting oaks once again on the east bank, and in time – in our children’s time more likely – and with support, this picturesque scene and landscape will be recreated!
Despite the rain, Selwyn Jones the stonemason and his team, have made good progress with the masonry repairs to the carriage drive wall. Although this work is largely unseen, several of the fine masonry arches that support the carriage drive have collapsed leaving the drive vulnerable to slippage down the bank.
Several large trees that are growing in the wall are due to be removed in the next couple of weeks to prevent further damage and to open up the views out across the valley. Once this phase of work is completed, a metal railing fence is planned alongside the carriage drive against the steep drop – there is evidence of an earlier railing fence here. Larch cleft fencing is also proposed for a substantial section of the carriage drive. This feature became a popular photographic subject of John Dillwyn Llewelyn in the 19th century. Many views survive of the drive itself and of views from it.
The carriage drive would have been an important picturesque feature that would have at one stage been very visible from the bottom of the valley. The work we are doing now is only the tip of the iceberg and gives us a good feel for the extent and cost of work involved at some stage in the future. There are several very fine stone arches, the purpose of which can only be guessed at.
The stonemasons also discovered an interesting feature in the wall. As they were cleaning back the ivy and moss to repair the masonry, they came across a vertical joint in the wall, where there didn’t appear to be a need for one. So far, we haven’t been able to explain why this is here – it doesn’t appear to relate to any steps or a path – Penllergare Valley Woods is really full of surprises!
The bad news! Contractors returned on 1st December to rectify some of the defects to the drainage in the car park and also the slabs on the coffee shop terrace. Regrettably, it was decided to close the coffee shop for 5 days during the week from 1st – 5th December. Thank you to you all for your cooperation.
The good news! We are now back open as usual and thanks to the dedication of our wonderful volunteers, our coffee shop will be open over the Christmas and New Year period too. Here are our Christmas opening hours. We’d love to see you over this festive season!
Everyday up to 23rd December: 10.30am – 3.30pm
Christmas Eve: 10.30am – 1pm
Christmas Day: Closed
Boxing Day: 10.30am – 3.30pm
27th December: 10.30am – 3.30pm
28th December: 10.30am – 3.30pm
29th December: 10.30am – 3.30pm
30th December: 10.30am – 3.30pm
New Years Eve: Closed
New Year’s Day: 10.30am – 3.30pm
2nd January onwards: 10.30am – 3.30pm
We’ve said it before, but it really is amazing the progress our woodland volunteers are making with clearing the invasive rhododendron and felling larch in the former Ancient Woodland site at the bottom of the Red Ash track. It’s already possible to see how these areas will look as the years pass with many native trees and other woodland plants now able to flourish. A lot of the larch is to be used for the cleft fencing proposed for the carriage drive over this winter too.
We always know when our woodland volunteers are at work because of the smoke rising from the bonfires at various points in the woods. The work carries on in all weathers, though the woods offer good shelter from rain and wind and a good work out and a bonfire are a great antidote to the cold as well! We’re delighted to welcome new volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Talking about bonfires in November, did you know that one of the earliest surviving photographs of a Guy Fawkes bonfire in Wales was taken at Penllergare Valley Woods? A John Dillwyn Llewelyn bonfire photograph was exhibited in the early 1850s and Queen Victoria even requested a print for her collection. Check out a couple of the historic bonfire photos here:
ARCHIMEDES SCREW HYDRO TURBINE
Our volunteering family continues to grow and expand! We now have two volunteers assisting with the management and maintenance of the hydro scheme and they came together this week to carry out the monthly maintenance check. We really are most fortunate in having so many people willing to join in with our restoration journey – thank you to everyone. Can you believe that the archimedean screw was installed a year ago this month!?!
We’re receiving quite a few questions about the turbine, including how fast does the Archimedes screw rotate and how many ‘blades’ are there on the screw – well we can confirm that at full power, the screw rotates at around 25 revolutions per minute, and there are two blades on the screw.
Landscaping works around the hydro scheme have started. Some small trees have been relocated from elsewhere in the woods. More works are planned in the coming weeks and over the winter. If you’d like to know more about the turbine, then please don’t hesitate to ask!
MARKETING AND FUNDRAISING
We are delighted to be working with a local Swansea agency, Copper Bay Creative, to improve our online presence and develop a brand new website for Penllergare Valley Woods – which will go live in the next month. The new website will enable everyone to join us on our restoration journey by providing lots of interesting information about the stories, history, wildlife and people that make Penllergare so special! What’s more, it will provide more opportunities for the people of Swansea and beyond to support us in our ambitions to save, protect and restore Penllergare Valley Woods for everyone to enjoy.
Penllergare Valley Woods turned into a TV production location for one day in November with the car park full of cast, crew, catering and make-up trailers as well as film equipment.We can’t tell you anymore at this stage but we’ll share all when this popular TV series is aired next Spring. Don’t forget that Penllergare will also be featured on Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys series in January. We’ll remind you about this closer to the time.
Not only do TV appearances such as this bring great publicity to Penllergare Valley Woods on a local as well as international stage, but we are also pleased to receive a kind donation for hire of the site – all of which goes towards the future maintenance of Valley Woods. Keeping the balance between raising funds through projects such as this as well as meeting the needs of our regular visitors and protecting and conserving our special place and wildlife will always be the biggest challenge in achieving our long term ambition.
On a similar note, we have been presented with a vehicle, for free, from the Earth Science Partnership, an engineering consultancy firm in Cardiff. One of the Directors lives in Parc Penllergaer and is a keen supporter of the Trust and wanted to help. We’re most grateful for this generous gift.
Did you see us at the Green Fayre at the National Waterfront Museum at the end of November? Thank you so much to all of our wonderful volunteers for offering to help man our stand. It was a great opportunity to promote what we do and why. Thank you also to Swansea’s Environment Centre for organising it.
We are getting more and more groups coming for a stroll (or hike!) in Penllergare Valley Woods – it’s great to see so many people enthusiastic and astonished by the progress and coming back time after time to see how things are going. If your group intends on visiting us, we would be most grateful if you could give us a quick ring or email in advance to let us know. Here’s a lovely photo of regular visitors Mike (centre) and Mali the dog with members of U3A enjoying their walk in Valley Woods.
Did you know that a Girdled Knight and a Burnt Knight were found in the woods last week? No it’s not another TV production, but two species of fungus found by the Glamorgan Fungus Group on their recent fungi foray. In all they found 33 different species of fungus with some wonderful names like ‘Blusher’, ‘White Brain’, ‘The Deceiver’ and more…If anyone would like the full list, then please get in touch.
Check out also these beautiful early morning photos from Nyddfwch by Carey Beor. If you haven’t had a chance to walk up to the old medieval site to take in the views across the valley, towards Fforestfach and Blaenymaes and towards Mynydd y Gwair – it’s definitely a must!
SALE OF THE COUNCIL OFFICES
We’re sure you’ve heard the latest news about the sale of the Council’s Penllergaer Civic Centre, including the site of the former Penllergare estate house, in the local paper recently. This is a reminder of the ongoing threat from development to Penllergare Valley Woods.
We’re not against development in principle, and fully understand the need to build more houses and places to work, but we strongly feel that in the process of development, special places like Penllergare Valley Woods need to be protected for future generations to enjoy.
Many historic features have already been lost – the old park that graced the now demolished Penllergare house has been built over for housing; the M4 motorway and the A48 have truncated the beautiful John Dillwyn Llewelyn designed landscape garden; the A483 was constructed over the old Home Farm site and balancing ponds that once served the water features in Valley Woods and the Walled Garden, and a Business Park has been built right next door to Valley Woods.
The sale of the Penllergaer Civic Centre and surrounding land raises more questions and concerns about the impact on Valley Woods and also the future of the historic Observatory, presently being restored back to working condition.
Now, more than ever, we need your support to protect this secret and magical place and to campaign hard to ensure that the inevitable developments on adjacent land, such as on the Civic Centre site do not further erode the special qualities of Valley Woods. We are appealing to anyone who shares our love for this special place to show support by becoming a member of the Friends of Penllergare. This is a powerful way that we can demonstrate the ‘value’ that local communities place on Penllergare Valley Woods, and will strengthen our voice with the local planning authority in the planning process.
To find out more about the Penllergare Trust’s stance on the matter, you can read our full press release here. You can also sign up to become a member in our coffee shop. In a few weeks you’ll be able to sign up online too on our new website.
ANNUAL VISITOR SURVEY
It’s that time of year again. We would be most grateful if you could support us by filling in our annual Visitor Survey. Not only is it an opportunity to share ideas and to get your feedback on our restoration journey at Penllergare Valley Woods but it also provides us with valuable information to improve for the future. We would really appreciate 5 minutes of your time (even if you filled in a similar one last year). Thanks so much for your continued support. It means a lot to us.
Thank you so much for your support! Enjoy the festive activities in the run up to Christmas. Do you think we’ll have a white Christmas? 🙂
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!
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.
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.
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:
Even our canine friends are enjoying the new lakeside paths! 🙂
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.
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!
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.
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.
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’!
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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! 🙂
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!
It has felt like the ‘calm before the storm’ this week. Contractors have returned to site in the last few days to set up their equipment and facilities in readiness for the final stage of de-silting the lake. We have now agreed the most suitable approach to be installation of pumps at the head of the upper lake. The water will be pumped in pipes to below the waterfall to allow the remaining silt to be worked in a semi dry condition. This will speed up the operation and should result in easier carting of the material to the silt site. Subject to the weather, this work should take about 8 weeks to complete, once they get started. The waterfall will also run dry during this period as the water is pumped around it – allowing us to view and inspect the structure.
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.
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.
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:
Autumn is always a beautiful season in Penllergare Valley Woods. This year, the wet weather resulted in muted colours as the leaves on the trees turned, but there have been some stunning yellows and golds as November progressed. The muddy tracks and paths and heavy vehicle movements of October were replaced by drier conditions underfoot with a carpet of colourful leaves and needles everywhere – the woods really are a magical place at this time of the year. It’s lovely to see so many people enjoying the wet, muddy and wild conditions in Penllergare Valley Woods. It’s a great place to get outdoors, in all weather for all ages, and to follow the development of the restoration project!
Autumn so far has brought about many exciting events and challenges. The photo below – taken in early October 2013 – shows the extent of the work currently being carried out in the north of the valley. It also shows a snippet of the vast area of woodland that we now manage for local people and wildlife – primarily through voluntary management and support. To see elements of the restoration project finally reaching completion this month has been most rewarding for us all.
Well, we most certainly have had a busy month keeping on top of the major physical works and getting the new visitor centre and car park ready for opening. It’s fantastic to visibly see the hard work of volunteers coming to fruition. There are exciting developments everyday. Well done and thank you so much to everyone involved!
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: