Promoting observation, free range exploration, sense of place and citizen science, through the field notes of a naturalist.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Heritage hawthorns

Heritage in the South Wales valleys is one dimensional. Ask any layperson what they understand by heritage and I wager their response will be framed around our industrial past. Yet heritage comes in many forms and whilst I understand peoples affection to coal mining and the valley towns that grow around the employment that the winning of natural resources brought, for me my heritage is rooted in nature. 

There are of course strong links between industrial heritage and nature. Some of the most biodiverse habitats occur on areas formerly despoiled by mineral working. Coal spoil tips, redundant reservoirs and quarries all conspire to create a landscape that can tell us much about the regenerative nature of the natural environment as it does about mans short sighted drive for a society based on carbon.

With such a focus on the industrial revolution it can be easy to oversee that there was a worked agricultural landscape that pre-dates heavy industry. To find evidence of this one needs to look at the landscape with a different eye. This can be done through the medium of trees. Therefore my recent, new found quest to record notable, mature, veteran and ancient trees had me searching the disused farmsteads and field patterns of Blaenavon for evidence. 

Along with dry stone walling, hawthorn field boundaries were common place in the uplands of South Wales. Whilst stone walls have fared better it can now be difficult to find extensive field margins of hawthorn - nowadays replaced by fencing. All that often remains are remnant features. But it is these natural artifacts that will often contain some of the more aged trees that I seek. And its these remaining features that I believe are as important to the story of Blaenavon as the Ironworks or Big Pit.

A couple of hours in the field towards Pwll Ddu provided enough evidence that notable hawthorns can still be found. The tree illustrated below measured approximately 2 metres in girth. All hawthorn trees over 1.5 metres girth are regarded as ancient trees.

Whilst I was able to measure the above tree, others that appear to be more aged proved to be just out of reach on private land. I was only, therefore, able to view and photograph from adjacent common land. Below are some of the images to whet the appetite.

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