The Gorges ^top
Another important environment threatened by the Llyn Brianne Order was the gorges. The gorges of the heads of the Tywi valley were fashioned by the water of the rivers and streams flowing rapidly from the mid-Wales plateau (Cambrian Mountains) and falling into the valleys as waterfalls, cataracts and springs. This process erodes the loose shale of the Silurian rock and forms deep ravines or gorges in the courses of the rivers and streams. In these gorges the light is poor and the air is damp. Water washes over the moveable soil of these gorges and these conditions create an ideal environment for certain plants, especially mosses, liverwort and ferns. The best examples from the gorges of the Upper Tywi valley vanished under the waters of Llyn Brianne, notably the gorge on the river Camddwr between Soar-y-Mynydd Chapel and its confluence with the Tywi and the very narrow gorge on the Tywi near the Fanog Farm. On both sides of the Allt yr Hwch there were gorges. Among the flowering plants of the nature reserve’s gorges which disappeared were the water avens and the globe flower. With the drowning of the river Camddwr we also lost the only colony known in the Upper Tywi Valley of the Welsh poppy.
In order to catalogue the mosses and liverworts which would disappear from the gorges of the reserve when the valley was submerged, Dr Derek Ratcliffe came here on March 33, 1967 as the leader of a group of three research students from the Botany School at Cambridge, namely Hilary Birks, John Birks and John Dransfield. On that date they noted 88 types of mosses and 34 liverworts.
The members of the Defence Committee tried to be constructive in their opposition to the Llyn Brianne water scheme. There was agreement that West Glamorgan needed a water supply and desalination of the sea water was suggested as an alternative to drowning a valley which had special natural features. The Water Board was asked to consider other sites for its reservoir; one which attracted special attention was the Upper Tywi. This site, about five miles up river from the site of the Llyn Brianne dam, had numerous advantages over the Brianne:
1. It was less damaging to the ecology of the area and to the natural beauty of the upper reaches of the Tywi Valley, and consequently it was not expected to draw much opposition from organisations concerned with nature preservation and with the beauty of Wales. The gorges would be safe-guarded and the oak woods of Allt yr Hwch and Coed-cae-Gwartheg preserved.
2. Less agricultural land would be drowned (almost all the land in this scheme was the property of the Forestry Commission) and there would, be less opposition by the farmers of the neighbourhood.
3. The Forestry Commission would lose many fewer roads and bridges, plantations and oak forests.
4. The dam would be higher up the river than the furthest point reached by migratory fish in the Tywi (the high waterfall near the Fanog prevented fish such as salmon and sewin from going further) and the damage to fisheries would be much less. There would be no need for a fish-ladder nor a dubious scheme to trap fish and convey them by lorry as was adopted for Llyn Brianne. Nor would it be necessary (as in the Llyn Brianne scheme) to release fish in a part of the river which they had never previously seen.
(Eventually this proved to be a total disaster and the fish traps were decommissioned).
5. Messrs. Binnie, Deacon and Gowley, consultant engineers to the Swansea County Borough Council (as the Swansea City Council) was then called reported as follows to The Council on the Upper Tywi scheme in July 1960: ‘The Towy (Upper) Scheme offers the greatest advantage to River Towy users as a whole by maintaining a higher dry weather flow over most of the non-tidal stretch. The reservoir would cause no serious inconvenience and the scheme is an example of the ideal type of river regulation.’ So the Upper Tywi Scheme which we had placed before the Water Board at the Inquiry was approved by Swansea’s own consulting engineers.
The Upper Tywi reservoir would provide a supply of 56 million gallons a day, but it was rejected because the supply was not sufficient to meet the Water Board’s requirements; in this context we should remember the particular effort made and bitter feelings aroused by the threat to take the Llangyndeyrn opponents to prison in order to achieve a reservoir supplying 25 million gallons a day. (Reservoir project – eventually abandoned in the face of understandably fierce local opposition before setting sights on the upper Tywi valley). When they came to the Tywi Valley immediately after the Llangyndeyrn confrontation, they became more greedy; a reservoir providing more than double the supply of Llangyndeyrn was not enough. Did the officers and councillors of Swansea, intend at the time on promoting the status of the town to that of a city, entertain ambitions to lay claim to having a reservoir with the highest dam in Britain? A childish and unworthy claim you might say? Possibly, but to those who were in the throes of the struggle, it is not without a grain of truth in it. It is doubtful whether they need all this water – 86 million gallons a day – when we consider what happened to industry in South Wales. It has contracted, many coal mines have closed, iron and steel production has been restricted and unemployment has increased.
The Inquiry closed on February 9, 1967. The Inspector, representatives of the West Glamorgan Water Board, the farmers and representatives of the organisations which had fought against the scheme, visited the proposed works and also the Upper Tywi site on February 13 and 14 1967. All that remained was to await the Inspector’s Report and the decision of the Secretary of State in the light of the Report.
By June 19, 1967 the Inspector had completed his Report and he submitted it to Cledwyn Hughes, the Secretary of State for Wales at the time. This was not known to the opponents of the scheme at that time, nor to anyone else, so far as I knew. Indeed, we had to wait until December 1967 to receive a copy of the Report from the Welsh Office and Mr Cledwyn Hughes’ decision: the verdict was to grant permission for the Llyn Brianne Water Scheme to go ahead. The battle was over and we had lost – but the dust had not yet settled.
Soon after the completion of the Report on June 19, 1967 (the date of the Report signed by Mr. A S R Mutch, the Inspector), a farmer who stood to lose land under the scheme brought some astounding news. While shepherding he had come across a Land Rover vehicle on his land. On the seat was a document with the following title page:
WEST GLAMORGAN WATER BOARD
RIVER TOWY SCHEME
Contract No. 3
ROAD DIVERSION AND IMPROVEMENT WORKS
Instruction for Tenders
Conditions of Contract
Bills of Quantities
Iorwerth J. Watkins, Esq. Binnie & Partners
Acting Clerk Chartered Civil Engineers,
The West Glamorgan Water Board Artillery House,
Swansea, Artillery Row,
Glamorgan, London, S. W. 1.
It is instructive to quote to quote one of the ‘Instructions to Tenders’: ‘IT.4 One completed copy of the bound document shall be addressed in a plain cover, marked ‘Tender for River Towy Scheme, Contract No. 3’ but bearing no mark by which the identity of the Tender might be ascertained, and shall be delivered to the Acting Clerk, The West Glamorgan Water Board, The Guildhall, Swansea, Glamorgan, not later than August 11, 1967.’
As can be seen, the date by when the tender was to be in the hands of the clerk to the Water Board was four months earlier than the Secretary of State’s decision that the scheme was to go ahead !
At the request of the Defence Committee, the matter was raised in Parliament by Alderman Tudor Watkins, Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnor. When the Water Board was accused of going ahead before the Secretary of State had come to a decision, the reply was that the Board was trying to save time. If so why did not the Board not announce its intention to seek permission from the farmers and tenants to go on their land? Moreover, there was no mention in Contract No. 3 (a document of 58 pages) that it depended upon a favourable decision by the Secretary of State, nor was there any reference to compensation for the tenders if the contract failed to develop. Distributed at the same time as Contract No. 3 was Contract No. 4 relating to the pipe (under dam wall), and Contract No. 5 which referred to the tunnel at Tumble (transferring water from the river to a storage installation).
Following Tudor Watkins’ Parliamentary question, a report appeared in the ‘Western Mail’ on July 13, 1967 entitled: ‘Welsh Office raps reservoir moves’. The Welsh Office’s meek response was the mild rebuke ‘We are aware that this is going on and we have reminded the West Glamorgan Water Board that the Secretary of State has not yet announced his decision’. The Water Board’s action in inviting tenders six months before Cledwyn Hughes came to a decision on the scheme left a bitter taste behind it and cynicism towards the ‘democratic’ process of a Public Inquiry. The impression gained by the opponents of the scheme was that the members of the Water Board knew beforehand what the Secretary of State’s decision would be!
As a footnote to the Llyn Brianne campaign, it is worth noting that a similar case was proceeding at the same time in Upper Teesdale in Durham. In that instance the Cleveland and Tees Valley Water Board wished to build a reservoir in the Cow Green area above Caldron Snout in Upper Teesdale to meet the needs of ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) on Teeside. Attempts were made at a national and international level to save the area from being drowned. In the vanguard was the Botanical Society of the British Isles, because the site was unique in the botanical sense. At risk were rare floral specimens. The presence of a large number of Arctic/Alpine plants so far from their usual habitats made this site of the greatest interest to botanists and the sum of £5000 was raised in order to fight the campaign. (considerable sum in the 1960’s). Botanists of the greatest standing gave testimony, but just as the opponents of the Llyn Brianne scheme, the Botanical Society was also defeated in Upper Teesdale. At the time of these campaigns, public awareness of the environment was much less than today, I wonder whether the results would be similar if the inquiries were to be conducted today ?
For anyone who knows the Doethie valley, surely will agree that this is one of the most beautiful places in Wales. The fact that the defence committee thwarted the plan to build a main road through a part of this valley was in my view a victory in itself. As you will see from the preceding account from Dafydd Dafis the building of this reservoir was more or less a foregone conclusion from the start and the public enquiry was merely a formality.
I will leave the last words to the writer Jim Perrin…….
……‘There are many places in Wales of which I am fond, all of them entrancing in their different ways and at their proper seasons. But if I were asked by a stranger to this loveliest of all countries which place is the most beautiful, then I would tell of the pleasure in walking up the Afon Doethie on a fine day in the high spring of May or June when hawthorn blossom beacons the hillsides and bluebells shimmer like a low flame amongst the woods.’
…..’It’s reached from Rhandirmwyn by walking up towards the new reservoir of Llyn Brianne, the disfigured hand-shape of which grasped too much of Wales’ beauty when it drowned the infant streams of Camddwr and Craflwyn, Tywi and Nant Gwrach. Those culpable surveyors looked, no doubt, at the adjacent valleys of the Doethie and the Pysgotwr, and I don’t for a moment disbelieve that they are capable of looking there again (at Blaen Doethie currently there are plans to install a huge wind-farm development, which would be desecration here)’.
Jim Perrin has long been recognised as the finest of British mountaineering and outdoor writers, with regular, outstanding features in the Daily Telegraph, Climber and The Great Outdoor.
He gets his joy and expresses it like a poet, from solitude and nature.’ - The Observer
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The wind-farm is still only a proposal. Lets hope it stays that way. That really would be the final nail in the coffin of this the most beautiful, picturesque part of Wales you can imagine.