St David's Commons

Traditional breed cattle grazing on wet heathland common near St David's © Andrew Tuddenham

Traditional breed cattle grazing on wet heathland common near St David's

People have been using the patchwork of rough grassland and heathland areas across North Pembrokeshire for generations. The rough land, most of which had an owner, was used in 'common'. Eventually the traditional arrangements for sharing out the products of this 'common land' became formalised in law. 

These places played a central part in the farming system from the Middle Ages to the first half of the 20th century. They provided locals with grazing for their livestock and gorse for the kitchen fire. It also gave them clay for building materials and fuel, when mixed with coal dust to make 'culm'.

Pembrokeshire's wet heaths

Over half of Pembrokeshire's heathland can be found on this common land. However, the wet heaths of Pembrokeshire and west Wales don't at first seem to be heaths at all. The heathers, usually bell heather and cross-leaved heath, are often scattered and sometimes hard to find. They're a far cry from the purple-clad moors of upland Britain.  

The beauty of our inland wet heaths can be fleeting. It's the blaze of bright, almost white leaf litter from the purple moor grass in the winter sun. You can see it in the early morning dew on spiders' webs strung between the rushes and in the vivid orange spikes of the bog asphodel in late summer.

The best stretches of lowland heath in North Pembrokeshire are on the shallow clay basins to the east of St David's. The National Trust owns and cares for most of these areas. They sit within a web of swamp, fen, wet pasture and heathland habitats around the St David's Peninsula, which is surprisingly rich in flowering plants. 

Heathland plants

More than 300 species of heathland plant have been recorded. From bog asphodel to the heathers and western gorse, these are the plants that, for a few months of the year, bring the commons to life. Some of them are scarce, such as the lesser butterfly orchid, wavy leaved St John's Wort and pillwort, a tiny, grass-like aquatic fern.

Bird life

Meadow pipits and whitethroats are among the many different songbirds that enrich the show in the summer. Merlin and short-eared owls and hen harriers can provide added drama to the commons in winter.