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Letter from Waunfawr

15 Jun 2024 6 minute read
Photo: Sian Shakespear

Sian Shakespear

Every time I move house I’m convinced I have arrived at my nirvana – but this time, which is probably my last time of doing so under my own steam – yes, I have arrived at that stage of my life – I really think I have reached a bit of heaven on earth.

Several things contribute to this feeling, and amongst them are the small fields encircled by traditional drystone walls which clothe the hillsides around my new home.

Many of them have narrow entrances compared to the usual wide ones which proliferate these days, and have heavy wrought iron gates beaten and welded by local blacksmiths filling the gaps.

Why celebrate the small fields considering I am surrounded by exceedingly rugged and scenic mountains which tend to make any mountaineer like me salivate.

The simple fact is, a wonderful green untidiness abounds on the edge and between these fields. As a result Waunfawr is a haven for wildlife and so it is heaven for me!

Previous residents of Waunfawr, particularly farmers, have nurtured large mature trees, smaller woody specimens, bushes and general ‘brwgaits’ – the nearest to this in English is rough vegetation  – dotted across the fields and slopes around my village, by leaving them be and not clearing them.

Photo: Sian Shakespear


There isn’t one good term which encompasses that type of messy growth which provides food and shelter for so many creatures – the gwyllt or ‘wild’ in other words.

Yes, I’m afraid I am going to use that controversial term which has so many meanings foisted onto it these days.

I do this because this is what the original term ‘wild’ meant in the context of the land!

Photo: Sian Shakespear


I guess there is a reason for the patchwork of small fields and many wooded spots! Probably the job of getting rid of all the growth, stones and boulders was just too back-breaking and soul-destroying and so it was easier to farm the land as it was.

Neither was there an urge to take large machines into many of these fields to plough and sow, or to cut in order to make silage.

It was easier to leave the heaps of stones and anthills dotted here and there across the fields and to put a small herd of hardy cattle to graze the grass together with a range of flowering plants, once the seeds had set.

It was easier to leave the fields more or less as they were and to allow various shrubs including blackberry bushes to make the edges and patches in between the fields their home.

Photo: Sian Shakespear


This wasn’t laziness but a pragmatic approach in the face of extremely lumpy bumpy land, which can be soaking wet for extensive stretches of the year, due to the frequent, long and heavy showers of rain here.

But there we are, in some people’s eyes this is untidy, messy land. It’s certainly a contrast to some of my neighbours’ bowling-green lawns, which are a result of them regularly feeling the urge, and maybe the sense of duty, to wield a mower in order to cut every blade of grass to within an inch of its life.

Thank goodness, this lawn is only one patch in the middle of a glorious diverse patchwork which entrances every time I step outside and wander.

Although I haven’t undertaken a scientific study of my new environment I’m convinced that a myriad of insects and invertebrates thrive amongst all this untidy growth.

In turn, this is one reason why so many different birds chirp and twitter at dawn …and throughout the day to be honest – in my new heaven.

Photo: Sian Shakespear


OK – I’m one of these people who adores birds – but several of my new neighbours have commented that the place is brimming full of bird-song at the moment, since we are in the middle of the nesting season.

I ask: who finds it impossible to be enchanted by the dawn chorus when bird song emanates from every bush? Imagine a silent world with no bird song at all?

It’s one thing for a country-person like me to extoll the virtues of birdsong but it appears that city dwellers also take pleasure from listening to birds singing.

This was exemplified by the actor Bill Nighy, who was seen recently standing stock still in the middle of the pavement in London doing just that. Nature enthralling at its best!


Back to the small fields and patchwork around my new home.

It’s possible to hypothesise that previous generations of Waunfawr residents lived a hard life on the margins, which was also true for the residents of much of Arfon, due to the land type and climate which exists here.

A poor life in one sense maybe, but there is a great deal of wealth here but this is a richness in wildlife.

Photo: Sian Shakespear

Certainly there is an abundance of pollinators which feed on all the rank vegetation around-abouts and these in turn contribute to the survival of us as a race on this planet.

I know this is a bold statement but it is only by having thriving populations of various pollinators that crops can be pollinated and food will continue to be available for humankind.

Photo: Sian Shakespear

If the new farm support scheme, which is in the middle of its long and painful gestation, does its job properly then maybe future farmers of Dyffryn Gwyrfai will receive some financial wealth for the type of farming they practice, in addition to having a clear conscience that they are doing the right thing for wildlife and the future of humankind.

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