Monday, 11 February 2013

Why we are here

Fresh Water West
The present third generation of tenants first of Lord Cawdor and now the National Trust, Terry and Michael Watkins are retiring and the National Trust are taking the farm in hand.
Both brothers are Volunteer Coastguards,as were their fathers and grandfathers.
Since seventeen ninety the whole valley has been farmed as traditional mixed arable farms.
During the war the cowsheds and dairy were built by German Prisoners of War.
Until the 1960 s the present tenants grandparents had twenty dairy cows Ayrshires, store cattle pigs sheep and poultry with fodder crops, the water meadows were managed traditionally flooded in the winter grazed in the spring hay crop taken in the summer then grazed again until the land flooded. The silt brought by the flooding fertilised the meadows, which were a botanists paradise when dry and a four hundred acre overwintering site for migratory birds, when wet.
Rabbits were an important source of income, trapped and snared they were collected once a week and taken to the Rabbit Factory on the Parade in Pembroke
This income ceased when Ronald Lockley, Orielton sold rabbits infected with the fleas that carry myximatosis.
When the tenancy passed to Terry the farm had to support two families and the dairy herd was increased to two hundred head. , collected in churns from the milk stand on the roadside,then some organic unpasteurised milk sold in in sachets and finally a bulk tank collection.
When the dairy herd was sold due to the collapse of the dairy market the herd was then 450 strong.
They negotiated with Tir Gofal to manage the land to strict conditions
When that scheme ceased the National Trust no longer maintained the drainage the Environment Agency insisted on flooding and government subsidies were no longer available because of the conditions imposed by these three bodies.
The valley supports badgers otters marsh harriers lapwings egrets, most migratory overwintering duck geese and other wildfowl.
They have never been disturbed, the last wildfowl were shot in the fifties.
In the spring it hosts migratory song birds and numerous raptors.
Plovers , lapwing nest there, almost every where else in Pembrokeshire have been driven away as ground nesters by free running dogs.
Here the Lapwings build their nests in the poached margins of the water meadows using the tumps raised above water level a very specific habitat.
Now the arable land is now stocked with calves to rear for market and several hundred store cattle over winter.
Why is the change of management important
One property Gupton Farm and parts of Castlemartin Corse are to be taken in hand and managed by the Trust.
Freshwater West, is undeveloped and sought  for  wildness and solitude.It is dangerous for bathing. The surfers and recent films made there has led to intense visitor pressure.
The beach and the sand dunes are of scientific interest one of the few relatively intact calcareous water meadows.
The area was improved by drainage by the Cawdors, the water levels managed for agriculture.
For most of my life with the outfall to the beach (recently removed)the area has contained seasonal dune slacks and winter flooding meadows with a calcareous alkaline soil.
The listed outfall has not been maintained and a decision was made to remove the tunnel, the structure which kept the drainage to the storm beach open for more than two hundred years, a beach which can vary in profile and height by up to three meters after a spring tide and a storm.
The tunnel ran through the pebbles to the sand so in a storm the pebbles were washed over the tunnel only sand could be forced into the structure, that was then easily washed out by the stream when the tide receded, Now the pebbles are forced into the stone chamber, are too heavy for the stream to wash them out this raises the water level further and provides a thirty meter block to the passage of migratory fish,as the water trickles through the pebbles and emerges over a large area instead of a free passage .
With dune stabilisation by the National Park the supply of wind blown ground up shell fragments, has not replenished the “machair”.The high rainfall leaches the lime from the sand which becomes acid the water draining into the streams is alkaline, When there are wind blown shells the top two or three centimetres are alkaline, which when combined with close grazing produces a herb rich grassland home to a multitude of flowering plants.
 The dune slacks and the watercourses are flooded with alkaline mineral rich clear water, a haven  for fish invertebrates insects with a profusion of water plants.
The land was grazed when dry in spring,in summer a  hay crop was taken for winter feed after the stock was taken off in the winter the land flooded, the silt fertilised the meadows. The stock were not allowed to poach the land.
Now high stock rate with store cattle in the winter, maize cultivation in summer can produce high nitrogen run off and poaching to bare soil.
The Corse to the east of the road now fenced off and planted  with permanent ley in my lifetime was closely grazed herb rich sward, it must be returned to its natural climax vegetation.
Reading a Consultants Report from 2007 the area has been changed by drainage not being maintained and by run off from upstream ploughing filling the drains with silt.
It is now an offence under the European Waters Directive to allow further degradation of historical waterways used by migratory fish for spawning purposes
The steam has an annual run of elvers in and mature eels out to sea. Lampreys are present (or were). The future pressures on the land are critical, the desire by Surfers to set up an International Surfing Centre, to quote their words”surfers will not walk far, they need car parks at the top of the beach  cafes and camping.”
Pembrokeshire County Council recognises Global Warming and predicts the destruction of the present road by rising sea levels, one proposed solution is to close the road from the road to Angle to Castlemartin and restrict vehicle access to householder access.
The farm has to produce an economic return to pay for Conservation, and to support local people.
The dune slacks and the seasonal flooding historically have been  a haven for waterfowl of international importance.
At present  there is no public access, any public access with free running dogs will degrade  this as  it has destroyed the sanctuary value  of other sites in Pembrokeshire.
These are some of the competing priorities, the debate about future use is too important to be left to Pembrokeshire Politics, this area is of international importance. Why is the complete valley not a Ramsar Site?

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