Translation of Issue 51 pages 20-23 Afordir gwyrdd – rhy wyrdd?

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A green coastline – too green?

IWAN EDGAR, on changes to the landscape in his native Llŷn that agricultural policy has encouraged farmers to implement.

On May Day Bank Holiday, having extensively consulted Google for weather forecasts, we decided to venture along the north coast of Llŷn: a journey of some 30 miles from Yr Eifl in the north-east to Mynydd Mawr above Bardsey Sound in the south-west.  All in all, and with the occasional breaks, it took about fourteen hours to walk. As a native of Llŷn there was no area unfamiliar to me, but  the walk did offer an opportunity to see a part of the country in its entirety.

It did not surprise me to see that much of this coastline environmentally, was significantly degraded. Despite the designations, including an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty encompassing the entire area (with the exception of the area around Nefyn), there are some areas which are significantly impoverished in quality. This may be thanks to good farming in those parts of Llŷn. Since everything comes down to money, good farmers make the most of their land. But if there is any aspiration to protect and promote natural and semi-natural habitats on a coastline such as this, we should seek to amend the situation and aim for a much more environmentally friendly farming policy in these places.

The walk itself began by walking up Bwlch yr Eifl at the edge of Nant Gwrtheyrn. It was good to see some of the odious pine plantation having been cut down. As someone who remembers the place as it was previously with no conifers, I sincerely hope that a policy of replanting these dreadful trees as it has been in so many areas of environmental value. As to the village of Nant Gwrtheyrn itself,  it is often a paradox when people wish to visit those places off the beaten track but on getting there, seem bent on destroying the very essence of what  they sought initially. There was an urbanised feeling due to the unfortunate light pollution we saw early that morning.

Putting that aside, the value of this natural habitat in this area was commendable. There was very little to find fault with in passing Carreg Llam and Pistyll and walking through Nefyn and to Morfa Nefyn and Porthdinllaen (noting the incredible spread of the Three-Cornered Leek Allium triquetrum in many areas along the way.) It appeared also that the Golf Course in Porthdinllaen is a place that, perhaps inadvertently, promotes a good variety of wild habitats of reasonable quality. But at the end of the Golf Course at Aber-geirch – less than halfway through the journey the awful degradation began.

This was not a revelation to me, as I am so familiar with the area, but it did emphasise what I knew. Some three years ago I had a similar experience in walking along the north coast of Pembrokeshire. This part of the Welsh coastline is very similar to northern Llŷn, with rocky cliffs and steep drops to the sea, with minimal space for walkers at the top of the cliff.  Here also a narrow strip for walking where natural plants were in evidence but, aside from the land which had been fenced in order to create a zone for walkers, it was nothing but a vast green wilderness where  overflowing with sheep.

As in Pembrokeshire, some parts of this margin are full of sturdy farmyard plants: docks, thistles and nettles. These plants are good indicators of agricultural of run-off onto the  path and adjoining sea cliff. Occasionally one would sink up to the ankles on the path itself in lush green swards of grass and nettles. Clearly, therefore, fertiliser was  not only coming with the water run off but also being blown across the path to the ‘wild’ section.

Perhaps that would not bother many walkers, except that it was practically a bit difficult to tread, but obviously the environmental quality of any journey is a factor which contributes to its value. Perhaps this phenomenon struck me more than most as I have more focused on plants and habitats. But predictably an increase in awareness of environmental issues will heighten awareness on this unfortunate degradation. What then could be done to improve the situation?

One simple option would be to widen strip on top of the sea cliff itself and build a bank of earth further from the sea. This would not affect the grazing of sheep (and occasionally cattle). They could continue to graze on this section, if that is the environmental requirement in a particular part, and they could be restricted in other areas if another type of habitat was sought. On some of the western bits of this path this solution could be seen to have been implemented to the west of Porthor. I suspect that the National Trust was responsible for this, being the owner of a large chunk of land in this section.

Yet, however, the efforts of the Trust are, at best, only better than nothing. Despite the cloddiau (banks), many of the Trust’s fields shine in glorious green from the tonnes of nitrates dispersed on the fields, with the adjoining cloddiau covered with a forests of nettles. One cannot help but question why the Trust bought this land amid the bluster of its Operation Neptune. If the goal was to create this – why bother? No ordinary commercial farmer would have acted done any worse.

As can be gathered, I believe that that this area deserves better attention. Payments should be made to farmers for the losses incurred in correcting damage such as this, and those payments should be worth more than the losses in order to induce take-up. Farmers do not undertake environmental work out of the goodness of the hearts, and neither should they have to do so, no more than any other commercial body.

A targeted approach and better vision could consider restoring some lost habitats or extending those which remain. There is precious little moorland left on the north Llŷn coastline – one small section near Porth Ychain was the best which remained. But most importantly the coastal corridor should extend as much perhaps as a quarter of a mile from the sea, with an emphasis on improving the degraded environment seen on the Llŷn coastline and so many other areas near the coastal path. Although unfortunately that would not solve the problem of over-fertilisation further inland.

However, it is said that the coastal path is held in high esteem.  So its promoters should be provide more than just ridged fences and sturdy gates and consider that to many walkers one of the most important motivating factors to walk the path is to see nature at its best. Here I am afraid; there is considerable room for improvement.

Iwan Edgar – a native of Llŷn, who ventured to live in Eifionydd. Has an interest in plants and habitats, and is keen to see more innovative policies in place to protect and promote the natural world.