National Trust Cymru bring ‘time capsule’ landscape in Snowdonia into its care to benefit nature, climate and communities

Press release
A person stands of a hillside of Y Foel, Snowdonia with the valley and mountains behind
Published : 24 Jan 2022

Hundreds of acres of hillside in the slate landscape of Snowdonia have been brought into the care of National Trust Cymru to bolster wildlife populations, tackle climate change and increase interest in the area’s mining history.

The remote 1,600-acre site of Y Foel lies south of Conwy and houses three former slate quarries, tumbling mountain streams and steep heather-clad cliffs with views across the National Park. 

Located at the head of the Conwy Catchment[1] where National Trust Cymru and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) have been working for over a decade to slow the flow of water to reduce risk of flooding and create rich habitats to tackle climate change. Partners say Foel plays a significant role in continuing this work on a landscape scale for the benefit of people and nature.

Degraded habitats, including an expanse of nationally important peatland, will be restored so they soak up large quantities of carbon and water, helping the landscape to absorb the effects of extreme weather and minimising flooding in the valley.

It is estimated that the site could lock up over 350,000 tonnes of carbon once restored, the equivalent of taking almost 80,000 cars off the road for a year[2]. 

Culturally, the landscape has been described as a ‘time capsule’, with remnants of the area’s mining history scattered across the hillside. 

Artefacts such as a water-powered incline, used to move slate up and down the steep slopes, and rows of quarrymen’s cottages offer fascinating insight into a time when Wales was known as ‘the place that roofed the world’ and will be conserved and researched as part of the plans.

Trystan Edwards, General Manager for Snowdonia at National Trust Cymru said:

“Foel is a mesmerising place that is rich in history and has huge potential for nature to thrive - we’re really proud to be custodians of it.”

“In many ways it is the missing piece in a jigsaw that will enable us to join up several distinct sites and work with partners at scale across the landscape. There’ll be more space for wildlife, including a network of new hedgerows, and the ability to store huge quantities of water and carbon in the deep peat soils.”

“The layers of human interaction with the landscape are fascinating, from the old Roman road to the three slate quarries that helped the country to global acclaim. We have a real opportunity to improve access to this historic place and work with the local community to interpret and preserve its rich heritage.”

The site also adjoins the newly-designated UNESCO World Heritage Site[3] while the Snowdonia Slate Trail runs through its centre.

As well as striking evidence of Snowdonia’s mining past, the landscape has numerous features of post-medieval farming, with sheep folds, abandoned buildings and signs of peat cutting dotted across the site. 

Where peat was drained – largely in a bid to increase food production after the Second World War – ditches of up to a metre wide now criss-cross the land. These ‘grips’ will be filled in to stop further erosion and turn the habitat into a healthy carbon store.

The remote 1,600-acre site of Y Foel, south of Conwy.
Y Foel farm nestled in the valley surrounded by the mountains and hills of Snowdonia
The remote 1,600-acre site of Y Foel, south of Conwy.

According to the charity and its partners, the acquisition will allow for bigger interventions to tackle climate change and will complement National Trust Cymru’s Upper Conwy Catchment project[4] – the largest scheme of its kind in Wales.

Sian Williams, Head of North West Wales Operations at Natural Resources Wales said; 

“We’ve worked closely with the Trust on peatland restoration, woodland and other habitat creation, and river restoration in the Conwy catchment, and support the opportunity to work at the scale which Foel offers. The timing is critical, we need to deliver land management changes at pace in key areas. Foel offers the springboard for the Trust and Natural Resources Wales to look at the landscape in a much wider sense.”

The land, previously used as pasture, will continue to be grazed by sheep and cattle with the aim of creating a ‘mosaic’ of grass and heath lands, meadows and blanket bog. New hedges will be planted in the lower fields while the upper reaches will become an ideal nesting and feeding place for threatened birds such as the hen harrier, and other species including peregrine falcon, golden plover and red grouse.

To the east the land adjoins the Trust’s Ysbyty Estate, which is important for its natural and cultural value, and has 51 tenanted farms as well as the nationally important Migneint, a moorland of deep-peat blanket bog[5].

Its northern boundary borders the picturesque Carrog farm, a smallholding where the Trust has been working with its partners to remove man-made constraints in a section of river to allow natural processes and to help with flood alleviation and water quality.

Foel will be managed by National Trust Cymru in partnership NRW, with support from Snowdonia National Park Authority and RSPB[6], other land owners and members of the community.

A farm manager will be appointed to care for the livestock and work with partners and local farmers to improve habitat.

Trystan Edwards continues; 

“This is a fantastic opportunity for someone who has a passion for conservation and upland Welsh farming skills to play a part in caring for this extraordinary landscape.”

“We are looking to appoint enthusiastic naturalist and an experienced shepherd to manage the livestock as well as observe and record plant life as we work with partners and local farmers to protect this historic landscape and create a rich mosaic of habitats.”

“Being a stone throw away from Cwm Penmachno, and surrounded by a strong agricultural community, we’ll be looking for someone who’s a people person and will integrate well into the Cwm.”

For more information about the role, and how to apply, head to www.nationaltrustjobs.org.uk and search for IRC112472. Closing date 6 February.