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Opinion

The Cambrian Mountains of mid-Wales: outstandingly, naturally beautiful

09 Aug 2022 5 minute read
Photo Lorna Brazell

Lorna Brazell

The Cambrian Mountains are the upland backbone of mid-Wales, stretching from the northern edge of Carmarthenshire to the southern edge of Snowdonia.

These wide hills are, unfairly, far less well-known than the Brecon Beacons or Snowdonia. Their low density of population has long led to the region being somewhat overlooked by governments in either Westminster or Cardiff, neglect which contributes materially to the ongoing ebbing of population from rural mid-Wales.

Currently, the principal economic activities are farming, forestry and hospitality and tourism services.

Although for centuries it has been a farmed landscape, the industries which are growing in the region today are forestry, which generates limited local employment, and hospitality and tourism.

Accordingly, measures to sustain farming while also preserving and promoting the attractions of the uplands, are key to retaining living communities in and around the hills.

The landscape is under threat from two principle changes which are encroaching across the region.  In the present dash for renewable energy various sites – including adjacent to Plynlimon, the highest point in mid-Wales – are now being identified as potential sites for marine-scale wind farms with turbine blade tips a massive 180m (580ft) above the ground, three times higher than traditional onshore wind turbines.

Such enormous towers would massively over-dominate the surrounding landscape: Lluest y Gwynt’s own report shows that their towers would be visible from Aberystwyth to Llandovery.

Investors

Consequently, though enriching the lucky landowners who are able to sell their land to the investors, they risk undermining the future value of the entire region for tourism and those who depend in whole or part upon it.

Furthermore, as Wales already generates as much renewable energy as it is able to consume, the purpose of these new developments is not to bring Wales closer to carbon zero but to cash in on the curious pricing structure of the electricity market through exporting renewable energy to England and Ireland.

By all means let us use the Cambrians to generate renewable energy, but with its many rivers and reservoirs, hydroelectricity is far better suited to reduce carbon emissions, conserve the landscape and help local communities to thrive.

Photo Lorna Brazell

A completely different threat arises from the increasing number of mid-Wales farms being bought by companies to plant essentially monoculture confers in the name of future timber production and/or offsetting carbon emissions.

Land within the Cambrian Mountains, particularly the south and east, is already being bought by investors who offer prices for the land which local farmers simply cannot match.

Such monoculture plantations, highly vulnerable to climate change and tree diseases, blight the landscape for other uses as well as reducing biodiversity, harming the soil’s suitability for future pasture, and changing water run-off leading to acidification of rivers and greater variability in flow.

In the light of these trends, the Cambrian Mountains Society, a charity campaigning to promote and preserve the Cambrian Mountains, is arguing for designation of the Cambrian Mountains as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Iolo Williams

The area – described by TV naturalist Iolo Williams as “Wales’ last true wilderness, a place where you can lose yourself in nature” – easily fulfils all the statutory requirements for designation.

Such spaces are increasingly rare in an ever more developed world, and their importance for present and future generations is greater than ever.

In addition to providing a home for endangered species such as the curlew, golden plover and snipe, the uplands have huge areas of peat bog – an essential element in the fight against climate change as they sequester more carbon than woodland.

Development work for either wind farms (and their necessary infrastructure) or conifer plantations damages these fragile environments and releases carbon, undermining the very rationale for either activity.

Economic benefit

Designation, by officially recognising the beauty of the area, would deliver an immediate and significant economic benefit by putting mid-Wales on the map for the first time for visitors from Wales and further afield.

AONB status would also help attract funds for environmental projects such as the restoration of river catchments and native woodland – projects that would benefit many amber-listed species such as pied flycatcher and redstart, as well as enhancing the tourism offer.

An AONB Partnership would provide a forum for regional co-ordination and holistic management of the uplands between all stakeholders, including farming communities and the three County Councils which administer it, without imposing additional bureaucracy that more institutional mechanisms such as National Parks entail.

AONB status is needed as a matter of urgency, as piecemeal developments threaten the area at the very time when an integrated regional approach is needed to protect this unique and beautiful landscape.

Please support our Senedd Petition here…..

Lorna Brazell is secretary of the Cambrian Mountains Society


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Ruth Elliott
Ruth Elliott
1 month ago

I’m Welsh by birth but now living in Switzerland. I promote Wales and it’s tourism all the time to friends and neighbours. Since lockdown end 3 families and a couple have all been to west Wales from my tiny little area of Switzerland. They loved it. The couple are wondering where to go next and I suggested mid-Wales. They’re considering it but the poor transport connections mean they will either go to North Wales or the Brecon Beacons. So yes please to an area of AONB and the Senedd to improve transport connections.

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago

The appetite for land of any description among big corporations keen to engage in the carbon offset scam is only matched by that other group ( with some overlapping members) that cannot see further than wind turbines to secure our net zero aspirations. The essential truth is that both factions are largely made up of greedy grant grabbing, virtue signaling companies. If aid packages were not available these deals would not get done yet the recipients seldom if ever report losses unless their stakeholders have drawn excessive salaries, benefits and dividends. Time for a quick rethink before Elenydd becomes yet… Read more »

One of the two witnesses
One of the two witnesses
1 month ago
Reply to  hdavies15

So you’re a fan of coal and nuclear then? Taken a look outside recently?

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago

Don’t deflect. The biggest threat to Elenydd is from large scale wind turbines that are far from “net zero” in their manufacture and installation. They have become a preferred choice despite their intermittent performance seldom achieving the efficiencies claimed in paper reports written by those who benefit most from them. Check out how much those jokers are trousering from manipulating the climate and environmental crisis. I accept that we need a response but it needs to be far more coherent, diversified and less driven by hysteria. As for coal, there were several positive developments to clean the solid and gaseous… Read more »

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
1 month ago

Wales is such a beautiful country with an incredibly varied landscape for its size. We have the best beaches in Britain. Soaring mountains & hills. Towering waterfalls you’d normally see in tropical paradises. Deep wooded valleys Crystal clear rivers & lakes. A magnificent microcosm, and it’s ours. But living in such a spectacular country has its responsibilities. And as a Welsh people must protect our national asset by ensuring our Welsh Government & Senedd act on our behalf not allow Westminster to overrule Senedd competency so they can exploit Wales to its own ends as done in the past. For… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Y Cymro
Richard
Richard
1 month ago

Never heard of “ The Cambrians “
or “ the Glyders “ or “the Carnedds “ or “ The Arnegs “ or the Pressellys “ ( a
cornish ice cream ? ) or “!the Brecons “. …….my old geography lecturer Dafydd Orwig will be turning in his grave 🥹

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