September 2019 – Understanding and surveying the archaeology of our landscapes

A bronze age burial cairn at Abergwesyn

Now that autumn has arrived, it is time for us to plan for the survey work carried out during the winter months. Upland Ranger Huw details the various archaeological features across our sites and how we monitor this rich history in this month’s blog.


The work of an Upland Ranger

Most of my time during the year is spent carrying out a lot of practical conservation work on our highest peaks within the central Brecon Beacons, primarily focusing on erosion control on the footpaths. Along with many other duties we also have the responsibility to monitor and protect a vast number of archaeological sites within the various sites that the Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire team look after.

A rich history in the uplands of the central Brecon Beacons
Archaeological features in the central Brecon Beacons
A rich history in the uplands of the central Brecon Beacons

As winter nears and the vegetation begins to die back, it is the perfect time to survey the archaeology, as it will be more visible in the landscape. The archaeological sites can consist of anything from the remnants of a small wall to substantial Sheppard’s huts and cairns. So, as you can imagine locating some of these sites can be a difficult process.

There are around two hundred recorded archaeological features within the central Brecon Beacons alone. The mammoth task or surveying these features lies on the shoulders of a team of very enthusiastic volunteers along with myself.  Set up only last year, Hilary, Rob and Vic are well on their way to completing all the sites within the central Brecon Beacons.

A landscape not only rich in peat, but history too

Abergwesyn, a vast expanse of mountainous land consisting of open commons and large areas of peat bog is another of our properties located in Mid Wales.   We recently welcomed Abergwesyn Area Ranger Kevin to the team, who is continuing the vital work on site of bringing our peatlands into sustainable management as part of the Welsh Government’s 2020 target.  This wild and ancient landscape also has an overwhelming number of archaeological features, some of which are S.A.M.s (Scheduled Ancient Monuments) which are of great importance historically and nationally. During the colder months, I will be surveying these sites consisting mainly of quite large, impressive Bronze Age burial cairns. This will be tricky as the terrain can be quite challenging.

The sometimes-large mounds of stone which were erected thousands of years ago by our ancestors as monuments to their dead, originally held within them the remains of their important loved ones. Often the remains were ashes buried in pottery vessels along with artefacts such as bronze broaches and spear heads in a central cist within the cairn. These cairns situated on the summits are a clear reminder of the historic human impact on our land even to this day.

If we’ve peaked your interest with the survey work Upland Ranger Huw carries out throughout the year, come back for next month’s blog with Area Ranger Simon, who will give an update of the estate developments across our sites in Brecon Beacons and Monmouthshire.