Hydro power helps protect first Welsh bible

Press release
A close up over the shoulder of the Custodian looking at the 1588 Welsh Bible at Ty Mawr Wybrnant, Snowdonia
Published : 22 Nov 2019 Last update : 26 Nov 2019

One of the most important books in Welsh history is now being protected by harnessing the power of the very element that has been threatening its future.

One of only 24 known copies of the first bible translated into the Welsh language is displayed at Ty Mawr Wybrnant near Betws-y-Coed in Snowdonia, now cared for by the National Trust.

The 16th-century farmhouse was the birthplace of Bishop William Morgan, whose translation of the text, published in 1588, was a major step in ensuring the survival of the Welsh language today.

However, the culturally important book, along with over 200 other bibles in different languages on show at the property, is susceptible to moisture in the air. Increasingly heavy and persistent rainfall, flooding and damp have put the collection at risk.

Now, through a ‘pico’ (known for its small size) turbine, hydroelectric power is being generated for the first time by the National Trust for the primary aim of protecting a historic collection. Pico hydro is perfectly suited to remote communities that need only a small amount of electricity of under 5kW. At Ty Mawr Wybrnant it will borrow water from the stream close by.

The renewable energy generated will help the conservation charity to control humidity levels in the house and protect the collection more sustainably.  It is estimated that the project will reduce the property’s greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 tons of CO2 per year.

Keith Jones, the National Trust’s Climate Change Advisor explains:

“Earlier this year we experienced the worst flood at Ty Mawr Wybrnant in living memory and that extra moisture meant we needed to use more heating to ensure the humidity levels didn’t get too high. Climate predictions indicate likely increases in the severity and frequency of rainfall in the area.  This small-scale technology is allowing us to adapt to future changes more sustainably.”

At Ty Mawr Wybrnant, the Trust sought a more sustainable approach with help from the Dwr Uisce Project, which included researchers from Bangor University and Trinity College, Dublin. Having considered all options for more efficient heating that is also sympathetic to a Grade II listed building, they opted for a 4.5kW pico hydro.

Keith Jones adds: “The hydro will only borrow a certain percentage of the water from the stream once the water levels reach a certain point. This means we are generating the electricity when we most need it, when there’s more moisture in the air after rainfall. The energy is consumed directly onsite, solely for the conservation of this priceless bible collection.

“We must reduce our impact on the climate, but we can harness the tools nature gives us to adapt to the challenges we are facing.

“At Ty Mawr Wybrnant, water is actually helping us solve a problem it’s creating in the first place, so there’s some kind of poetic justice there. We’ll be exploring how this principle could be used where other collections may be similarly at risk.”

Tim Pye, the National Trust’s Libraries Curator comments:

“The bible at Ty Mawr Wybrnant is a hugely important part not only of the property’s story but of the history of the Welsh language. William Morgan’s translation of the Bible, primarily from Hebrew and Greek, helped standardise the Welsh language and is considered to be the single most significant step in ensuring the survival of that language today.

“Extreme weather is one of the threats to our collections, with sensitive and fragile objects like books, manuscripts and other documents especially susceptible to conditions such as damp. The energy-efficient and sustainable pico hydro solution for Ty Mawr Wybrnant will help greatly in its efforts to safeguard the bible collection for today’s and future generations to enjoy.”

Ty Mawr Wybrnant has closed for the winter but will re-open to visitors in the spring.