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Clywedog Valley
Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Making of the Clywedog Valley Landscape


Prehistoric and Roman settlement and land use

Though there is relatively little direct evidence of land use in the historic landscape area before the medieval period, it is nonetheless quite evident from field monuments and chance finds that human communities were active within the area, no doubt in ever increasing numbers, during the late Mesolithic to early Neolithic period and throughout the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods. From evidence elsewhere in Wales it seems likely that earlier, nomadic hunter-gatherer groups were replaced by more sedentary lifestyles with the introduction of farming from the Neolithic period onwards. Evidence of Mesolithic activity, dating to between about 4600-4000 BC, was recovered from below a Bronze Age barrow and associated standing stone at Ystradhynod at the very heart of the Clywedog valley, excavated before the valley was flooded in the 1960s. Further widespread activity during the Neolithic and Bronze Age has mostly come from upland sites, though it is likely that this is due to the fact that intensive cultivation of the more valuable low-lying fields has tended to obscure evidence of early settlement in these areas. In addition to the Ystradhynod barrow, a significant cluster of 6-7 burial mounds is known from the upper basin of the Clywedog, in the Staylittle area, as well as a cluster of upland burial mounds and possible standing stone on Cefn Llwyd, and single burial mounds on a hillslope at Pengeulan and a hilltop at Pen-y-cerrig. Further evidence of activity is indicated by a thin scatter of chance finds including a flint scraper from Nant-yr-Hafod towards the headwaters of the Clywedog, a polished axe from Croes Uchaf, a flint dagger of Beaker type from near Ysgubor Pen-y-bryn, and a stone axe-hammer near Pen-y-banc farm, all on the hills south-west of the Clywedog, and an axe hammer from near Faidre Fawr to the north-east of the Clywedog. Although evidence of permanent settlement has still to be identified within the area, the general nature and distribution of these sites and finds suggests that a wide range of both lowland and upland resources were being exploited during the earlier prehistoric period, probably in support of a mixed farming economy and involving the exploitation of woodland resources and the clearance of areas of native woodland to create land suitable for both grazing and cultivation. Possibly from an early date there was seasonal movement from permanent settlements in the valley bottoms to temporary settlements in the uplands during the summer months.

A network of enclosures of varying size with defensive banks and ditches and probably of later Bronze Age and Iron Age are known towards the eastern side of the historic landscape area. They occupy prominent hills around the upland edge, between a height of 250-400 metres above sea level, and are spaced up to 2 kilometres from each other. They include the large and possibly unfinished Dinas hillfort occupying a prominent hill jutting southwards into the Clywedog valley, the Pen-y-gaer defended enclosure overlooking Clywedog dam, the Pen-y-clun enclosure towards the head of the Cerist valley, Pen-y-castell occupying hill spur overlooking Y Fan between the Cerist and Nant Gwden valleys, and the Dolgwden enclosure occupying a spur on the northern side of the Nant Gwden valley. The Dinas hillfort, which covers a substantial area of about 14 hectares, seems likely to represent a tribal centre which once accommodated a substantial community, around which the smaller defended enclosures are scattered which perhaps housed extended family groups. It is uncertain at this stage, however, whether these enclosures were permanently occupied or whether they were all in use at the same date. Their siting, however, fringing the uplands, suggests that as well as having a defensive function they played a role in controlling the exploitation of upland and lowland resources. It is likely therefore that they were associated with fields, farms and meadows in neighbouring low-lying areas, of which as yet we have no evidence.

The exploitation of upland and lowland resources in support of a mixed farming economy is likely to have continued unabated throughout the subsequent Roman and early medieval periods, between the later 1st century AD and about the mid 11th century AD, but evidence of the kinds of settlements that may have been occupied during this period is currently lacking. The Roman fortlet at Penycrocbren on the hills near the head of the Clywedog valley, south of Dylife, lies midway between the Roman forts at Caersws in the Severn valley to the east and Pennal in the Dyfi valley to the west and is approached by a Roman road which is thought to run across the northern side of the area from the Trannon valley via Gwartew and Staylittle. The fortlet and road, which appear to have been in use during at least the earlier 2nd century, were probably of military significance but may have played a role in the administration of the lead mining industry during the Roman period.

Medieval and earlier post-medieval settlement and land use

The upland areas of Arwystli are amongst the least well documented parts of Wales during the Middle Ages, and whilst it is difficult to be certain about the nature of land use or settlement within the historic landscape area during this period some pointers are provided by fieldwork and placename evidence, meagre documentary sources, and by ancient customary practices and administrative institutions which survived up to the later 18th and earlier 19th century.

In agricultural terms the area has always been relatively poor, but historically land use in the area has been based upon a mixed farming economy, with extensive upland areas that have offered little more than rough grazing, steep hill slopes around the upland edge that have been less suited to agriculture but which have been important for providing woodland resources, and lower hillslopes and valley bottoms which provided areas suitable for arable in better-drained areas and meadows and hay fields in wetter areas.

It is likely that the pattern of manorial townships that are known to have emerged in the area by the early post-medieval period, including Penegoes Uwchycoed, Glyntrefnant, Esgeiriaeth, Brithdir, Manledd, Dolgwden, Glynhafren Iscoed, Ystradhynod, Cilmachallt, had emerged as administrative groupings of farms and other holdings by the earlier Middle Ages, including lands that were either freely held according to native custom, lands directly owned by local rulers, or bond settlements whose inhabitants owed services and duties to local rulers.

Clearance and enclosure of the more valuable arable, pasture and meadow appears to have been undertaken throughout the medieval and earlier post-medieval periods in piecemeal fashion. This is recognisable by patterns of larger or small irregular fields, generally below 250 metres, which characterize parts of the lower-lying ground towards the south-eastern side of the historic landscape area, in the middle Clywedog valley (before it was flooded), the lower valley of the Clywedog, the middle valley of the Cerist and the lower valleys of the Nant Gwestyn and Nant Gwden. Similar patterns are also evident on the slightly higher ground at the headwaters of the Nant Cwmcarreg-ddu, a tributary of the Trannon, near Fairdre Fawr and Fairdre Fach. These two latter farms occupy a pocket of relatively fertile soil on the edge of the uplands which by the later 13th century formed part of an upland maerdref or bonded settlement attached to the maenol of Talgarth, the principal administrative centre (analogous to the English manor) of the commote of Arwystli Uwchcoed, centred in the valley of the river Trannon near Trefeglwys, about 4 kilometres to the east, where the lord’s principal arable lands lay.

In addition to this more valuable farmland were more extensive commons including extensive moorland pastures, woodland and some lowland meadows over which rights were exercised by neighbouring holdings. By the early post-medieval period the control of the commons was in the hands of the lord of the manor who arbitrated on disputes about illicit enclosure and other infringements of common rights through manorial court leets.

Substantial areas of upland grazing in the historic landscape area were granted by the rulers of southern Powys and of Arwystli to the Cistercian monastic order in the period between the late 12th and mid 13th centuries. These included a substantial area towards the headwaters of the Clywedog, between the Afon Bachog and the Afon Lwyd granted to the abbey of Strata Marcella, an area west of the headwaters of the Clywedog, between the Afon Lwyd and the Afon Biga granted to Cwmhir abbey, and a more low-lying area further downstream, between Bryntail and Hiriaeth, again granted to Strata Marcella. These properties appear to have continued to function as monastic granges until the dissolution of the two abbeys in about the middle of the 16th century. There is little evidence of how these monastic granges and other secular holdings were managed during the medieval period, though it is likely that this was largely accomplished by means of temporary upland settlements occupied by those tending herds of cattle and sheep during the summer months before returning to grange centres and farms on lower-lying ground, once the arable crops and meadow hay had been harvested. Thomas Pennant spoke of this tradition in describing the area around Llanidloes in his A Tour in Wales, published in 1793:

‘This is a country of sheepwalks. The flocks, like those of Spain, are driven to them from distant parts to feed on the summer herbage. The farms in the vallies are only appendages, for winter habitation and provisions’.

Though Pennant perhaps understated the economic importance of the lowland farm, it appears to be corroborated by a remark John Evans’s A Tour through North Wales, published in 1798, which refers to farms and cottages in the Llanidloes areas ‘which were only winter habitations’, though this may be a borrowing from Pennant.

Evidence of this seasonal land use pattern is suggested by placenames of potential medieval or early post-medieval origin in some of the remoter areas towards the head of the Clywedog valley and the foothills of Pumlumon to the west of the river which contain the element hafod (plural hafodydd) ‘summer house’. These including the stream and farm name Nant-yr-hafod and the names Cefn Hafodcadwgan and Hafod Cadwgan between about 300-400 metres above sea level to the south-west of Staylittle, of which only Nant-yr-hafod survives as a place of habitation today. Physical evidence of possible early upland seasonal settlements of the medieval to early post-medieval periods is suggested by a cluster of abandoned house platforms around the headwaters of the Clywedog and by existing or former small, dispersed farmsteads such at Hirnant, Dolbachog, Dolydd, Llwyn-y-gog, Pant-y-chwarel and Pant-y-rhedyn which are associated with small islands of irregular fields. These have the appearance of discrete encroachments onto formerly unenclosed upland grazing and may have originated as hafodydd.

Another series of upland settlements, again on placename evidence, appear to have originated as small-scale or temporary habitations in the area of upland pasture south-east of Staylittle, parts of which remained unenclosed until the earlier 19th century. Lluest-y-dduallt and the now-abandoned settlement of Lluest-y-fedw both contain the element lluest (‘hut, cottage, shieling’) and are shown on early editions of the Ordnance Survey as small islands of irregular fields up to 2-3 hectares in extent in a sea of rough grazing.

Placename evidence also perhaps provides a clue about some particular aspects of early land use in these areas. The second element of the name of the farm Cwmbiga first recorded in the early 13th century at the head of the Afon Biga, a tributary of the upper Clywedog, is thought to be related to buarth (‘farmyard’) and buwch (‘cow’), suggesting an association with medieval stock rearing or dairying. The former farmstead of Ty’n-y-fuches in the Clywedog valley and Fuches which applies to the extensive area of grazing north of the Clywedog valley both contain the element buches (‘herd, fold’) which indicate an historical association with upland grazing. The farm Gwartew (formerly Gwair-tew) to the east of Staylittle derives from the elements gwair (‘hay’) + tew (‘thick’) whilst the names Dolbachog, Dolydd Llwydion and Dol-gwyddel-uchaf around the headwaters of the Clywedog contain the element dol/dolydd (‘meadow/meadows’). The names Cwm y Ffridd, Banc y Ffridd, Ffridd Newydd and Ffridd Fawr to the west of the headwaters of the Clywedog and all contain the element ffridd suggesting mountain pasture or perhaps more particularly enclosed rough pasture on the mountain edge, the element being recorded locally in the name ffreeth Cwm Bigga in the 1540s.

By the later medieval and earlier post-medieval periods a pattern of fairly small and dispersed farms associated with irregular field patterns appears to have emerged in the valleys of the lower Clywedog and Cerist and their tributaries and in more favourable areas of the adjacent upland margin, associated with a scattering of hafodydd (‘summer houses’) some of which may have already become inhabited throughout the year, possibly as upland dairies. Many of these farms will have been freehold properties, though some as noted above at an earlier period belonged to bonded settlements or were probably attached to monastic granges. Specific reference to encroachments on the wastes of Arwystli, formerly unenclosed upland and possibly lowland commons, is given in a survey of the lordship of Arwystli prepared on behalf of the earl of Leicester in 1574.

By their very nature it is unsurprising that no hafodydd have survived as standing buildings within the historic landscape area. There are also no surviving medieval or late medieval rural houses, though a number of early post-medieval and later buildings and former buildings may point to earlier traditions of timber-framing that probably characterised the area during the Middle Ages, such as the timber-framed houses and cottages at Glangwden, Pant yr Ongle and Cwmeryr Bach, all in the lower-lying areas to the south-east. At least two former timber-framed buildings at Ystrad-hynod and Coppice-llwyd, with wattle and daub infill panels, were demolished when the Clywedog valley was flooded in the 1960s. The use of timber appears to have been giving way to stone perhaps from the 17th and 18th centuries, though it was not unusual for timber and stone to be used in combination during this period of transition. A relatively late example of timber building tradition is represented at Hiriaeth, a property first recorded in charter granting lands to Strata Marcella abbey in the early years of the 13th century, where the farmhouse is dated 1722.

The earliest surviving rural buildings of 17th- and 18th-century date are predominantly of stone, however, and usually constructed of rough rubble, sometimes, particularly in the case of domestic buildings, rendered and/or limewashed. Farmhouse seem to have been relatively small, being generally 2-3 unit houses, forming part of a farm complex that was either planned as a single range or as a simple cluster, with much of the accommodation in the case of older farm buildings evidently being for cattle. Long-houses with living accommodation at one end and accommodation for cattle at the other do not appear to have been specifically recorded within the historic landscape area, though Iorwerth Peate’s The Welsh House, published in 1940 describes a house of this type just outside, at Bryndu, to the south-east of Llanidloes, which had ‘a two-feet drop from the dwelling-end to the cow-house’. These were probably once much more common. The relatively low-lying farm at Cwmdylluan, just north-east of Y Fan, comprises a probably 17th-century farmhouse with early farm buildings including a barn and cow-house. In the case of the small farmstead on the upland edge at Cwmbiga (once part of a monastic grange) the farmhouse is of late 18th-century date but retains fragments of earlier buildings.

Before the 19th century most of the rural buildings within the historic landscape area fell firmly within a vernacular tradition. Perhaps the one exception is the farmhouse on the edge of the Clywedog at Glyn Clywedog, which was a major Renaissance building, built as the lodge to a mansion of the Glynne family that was probably never built.

The only nucleated settlement of medieval origin in the historic landscape area is the town of Llanidloes, in the Severn valley towards the extreme south-east. The town, first documented in 1263, appears to have essentially a new town created by the lords of Powys in the second half of the 13th century as an administrative and commercial centre for the commote of Arwystli Uwchcoed, perhaps to balance the failed borough 10 kilometres further downstream at Caersws in Arwystli Iscoed. Its grid-like street layout is highly characteristic of planted medieval towns, its principal roads focusing on the original market cross, the raison d’etre of its creation, where the Old Market Hall is now sited. The town remained relatively small, though its markets and fairs serving the surrounding rural area were evidently of some economic importance. The date of the earliest settlement is uncertain, but the presence of the church dedicated to St Idloes, first recorded in the mid 13th century and the only medieval church within the historic landscape area, may suggest an early medieval origin.

Agricultural improvements in the 18th and 19th centuries

A number of radical changes to patterns of settlement and land use were to follow from the improvements in agricultural practices and road transport that swept the country during the later 18th and earlier 19th century, notably the introduction of land drainage in more poorly-drained low-lying areas, the improvement of agricultural implements and the introduction of mechanisation, and the introduction of improved breeds of sheep and cattle. Other innovations at this period included the adoption of new crop rotations to improve soil fertility, the growing of root crops such as turnips to assist in the overwintering of livestock, and the introduction of potatoes as part of the human staple diet, which here as elsewhere helped to sustain small-scale subsistence agriculture in more marginal areas. Further stimulus was provided by improvements to roads and bridges during the later 18th and earlier 19th century, by the extension of the Montgomeryshire canal to Newtown by the early 1820s and by the construction of the Newtown and Llanidloes Railway in 1859, which made the importing of lime and other materials and the export of agricultural produce much easier and cheaper.

An indication of the state of agriculture in the area in the middle and later 19th century is provided by the tithe surveys and a number of local histories which show that about 5% of the historic landscape area was wooded, about 65% was down to meadow and pasture, with the surprisingly high figure of almost 30% under cultivation, producing crops such as wheat, barley, oats, rye, beans, peas, cabbages, potatoes and turnips. Whilst it was common in the 19th century for lower-lying farms in the river valleys as well as upland farms to have at least a few fields under cultivation, today, by comparison, the amount of arable within the area is negligible and woodland accounts for about 12%.

Parliamentary enclosure of the commons and wastes was also influential in the agricultural improvements that took place in the area during the earlier 19th century. The manorial rights of Arwystli were inherited by Sir Watkin Williams Wynn of Wynnstay, a prominent improving north-Walian landowner, accorded the unofficial title of ‘Prince of Wales’, who actively promoted the enclosure of the commons and wastes of the hundred which were said to be ‘of little value in their present state’. Enclosure would permit investment to be made in clearance, fencing and drainage which would improve the productivity of the land, would allow for the cultivation of fodder crops to assist with the overwintering of stock, and play an important role in controlled breeding programmes. The enclosure act for Arwystli was passed by Act of Parliament in 1816 and came fully into force in the 1820s.

The Arwystli enclosure act affected an area of over 18 square kilometres of the historic landscape area, just under 30% of the total area of the historic landscape area. Most of the previously unenclosed land was rough pasture on which freeholders had turned out their sheep and cattle, whose boundaries had in most instance never previously been mapped or defined and which under the terms of the enclosure act were now subdivided amongst the landowners who had rights of grazing and the lord of the manor. The enclosed areas were as follows: much of the higher ground on Mynydd y Groes and Bryn Mawr to the south of the Clywedog; land on the hills to the north of Staylittle towards Pant-y-chwarel; the area south of Lluest-y-dduallt towards Dinas to the north of the Clywedog; the upland area of Bryn y Fan; patches of the higher ground to the north of Y Fan and around the valley of the Nant Gwden; the area of Garth Hill southwards to Cringoed, across the lower Clywedog valley; the hills to the north of Llanidloes, from Alltgoch to Gellilefrith. It also included lowland commons in the valley bottom to the north and south of Llanidloes, and the summit of Gorn Hill to the east of Llanidloes.

Distinctive new fieldscapes were created as a result of the enclosure movement, characterized by small, large and very large straight-sided fields or moorland enclosures often defined by single species hedges and particularly by the use of post and wire fences whose use became more widespread from the first decade of the 19th century and permitted the economical enclosure of large tracts of upland pasture. Various areas remained unenclosed following the passing of the Arwystli enclosure act, notably an area to the south and east of Staylittle, on the hills north of Lluest-y-dduallt towards Esgair-goch and Gamallt to the north-east of the Clywedog. These appear to have been enclosed by private agreement between the 1820s and 1880s and are likewise characterized by large and small straight-sided enclosures. An area of hill land on Mynydd Du and Banc y Groes south of the Afon Biga and west of the Clywedog survives as registered Common Land but is now partitioned into large, straight-sided fields.

The significant amount of native oak woodland being felled in the historic landscape area during the second half of the 18th century encouraged a number of the larger landowners to carry out planting schemes during the 19th century, such as that at Berth-lwyd on Gorn Hill to the east of Llanidloes. Other areas of woodland appear to have been planted or replanted during the 19th century on land that had recently become available through enclosure, as for example at Allt Goch and Pen-yr-allt on the west side of the Severn valley north of Llanidloes.

Excluded from the enclosure act were areas of over 11 square kilometres belonging to the manor of Talerddug which had formerly formed part of the holdings of the Cistercian abbey of Strata Marcella, which included some of the hill land north of Bryntail towards Penyclun, and a substantial area of the upper Clywedog basin, between Dolydd, Llwyn-y-gog and Staylittle and on the hills to the south and west, including Bwlch y Garreg-Wen to the south of the Clywedog river and Fign Aberbiga southwards to the Afon Biga. Some of the previously unenclosed areas in the former manor of Talerddig appear to have been enclosed by private agreement during the course of the 19th century.

The Arwystli enclosure act made provision for the compensation of cottage encroachments. All encroachments which were over 20 years old for which no rent or fines had been paid, became the occupier’s property, but were not entitled to any allotments of the commons. Where encroachments were less than 20 years old or where rent had been paid such encroachments were counted as the property of the person to whom the rent was paid, but these illicit encroachments or cottages were eligible for compensation if their inhabitants were poor. In some instances older encroachments appear to be marked by small islands of enclosed land in the land designated for enclosure by the Arwystli enclosure act, as for example near the farms of Bryn Mawr and Gwestyn on the hills south of the Clywedog of which only the latter now survives, and the now-abandoned farm of Lluest-y-fedw to the south of Lluest-y-dduallt on the hills to the north of the Clywedog. The former upland cottage at Potatoe Hall on the hills north of Llanidloes, surrounded by fields enclosed by parliamentary enclosure, may represent an instance of an encroachment which under the terms of the Arwystli enclosure act of 1816 was less than 20 years old or where the occupant had paid rent, and where there was thus no entitlement to an allocation of land. Little record has survived of the form and structure of upland cottages of this kind though the reference to the former roadside house known as Clod Hall near Bidffald, mentioned in Hamer’s history of Llanidloes, indicates the kind of lesser dwelling built of mud and turf of the kind frequently referred to in other parts of Wales in the first half of the 19th century.

The enclosure of common land opened up the opportunity for improvements to existing farms and the creation of new ‘improved’ farms by a number of the estates as a consequence of enclosure. The farm with brick-built farmhouse and courtyard like arrangement of farm buildings at Gellilefrith was built within an area of former unenclosed common on the hills north of Llanidloes between the enactment of enclosure act in 1826 and the tithe survey of 1846. Garth farmhouse and farm buildings of 1870, just south of Y Fan, have a clear estate character, and again lay on land enclosed during the early 19th century. The farm was the property of Earl Vane, lessor of the Van lead-mines, and provides an interesting illustration of the relationship of industry and agriculture in the area at this period. A number of other smaller farms in the Y Fan area such as Penisafmanledd, again on the edge of former common land, suggest investment in the later 19th century. Other new settlements on the edge of former unenclosed commons are suggested by houses in existence by the 19th century whose name includes the element ‘new’ or ‘newydd’, as for example at New House south of Y Fan and Borfa-newydd below the western flanks of Bryn y Fan.

Some large-scale landscape reorganisation involving the creation of a more orderly partitioned landscape was also undertaken alongside the drainage schemes which accompanied the construction of the Van Railway in 1871, a private venture of Earl Vane, when part of the river Cerist was canalized.

Land use since the 19th century

Various widescale changes have taken place in land use in the historic landscape area since the beginning of the 20th century. The 1920s and 1930s, in particular, saw a marked decline in the profitability of farming which resulted in the amalgamation of some holdings and the abandonment of some of the more remote farms and rural cottages, such as Ty’n-y-fuches and Rhol-y-felin in the upper Clywedog valley and Lluest-y-fedw on the hills south of Lluest-y-dduallt. Land use surveys of the 1940s show that at that period only the margins of the moorland within easy reach of the farms tended to be used and that some of the remoter areas and steeper hillslopes that had formerly been grazed had reverted to bracken and gorse as stocking levels had decreased since the end of the 19th century. The amount of arable land had also declined dramatically within the area and has continued to do so to the present day.

The depression in agriculture increased the availability of land for afforestation. The creation of the Hafren Forest involved the purchase of 12 upland sheep farms by the Forestry Commission. The first plantings were undertaken during the winter of 1937/38 and reached a peak in 1950. Following a temporary pause, planting resumed in the 1960s and the forest now covers about 40 square kilometres mostly composed of pine and spruce, of which parts fall within the historic landscape area. Early planting was undertaken by hand, but from the 1940s took place on ploughed ridges. Harvesting of the first generation of plantings has been carried out now for a number of years and consequently large areas have been felled and replanted.

Llwyn-y-gog, hailed by a contemporary commentator as a typical example of one of ‘Britain’s new forest villages’, is interesting historically as an experiment in rural housing in mid Wales in the immediate post-war years. The initial workforce of about 50 men employed by the Forestry Commission for planting the forest was composed of local cottagers and teams transported daily by motor lorry from Llanidloes. By the late 1940s a more stable workforce was required to carry out a thinning programme and consequently, following consultation with Montgomeryshire County Council the Commission between 1949 and 1951 began what had been intended as the first phase of construction of the forest village at Llwyn-y-gog. The scheme was designed by the prominent Welsh architect, T. Alwyn Lloyd of Cardiff, who in the inter-war had been engaged on the progressive and utopian designs of the Welsh Land Settlement Association’s ‘garden villages’, intended for unemployed miners in south Wales. The settlement was designed to include 80 terraced houses housing a population of up to about 300, a shop, a school and a village hall. In the event only 20 houses for a community of about 70 was built, together with a detached forestry officer’s house. Communal buildings at first included a temporary village hall, a general shop and a range of lock-up garages to house cars and motorcycles. A shelter belt of broadleaved and coniferous trees was planted around the southern side of the village. None of the houses are now directly associated with the forestry industry.

A second major land use change which has had a significant impact upon the area is of course the construction of Clywedog Reservoir, Llyn Clywedog, between 1964 and 1967 following the passing of an enabling Act of Parliament. The reservoir is contained by one principal dam across a narrow part of the Clywedog valley, the tallest concrete dam in the United Kingdom, designed by Sir William Halcrow & Partners, with a subsidiary embankment dam at Bwlch-y-gle. The reservoir involved the flooding of former agricultural land within the valley together with the loss of about 9-10 existing or abandoned farms and cottages, many of which were probably of medieval to early post-medieval origin. The prime purpose of the reservoir is to enable public water supply abstractions from the entire length of the river Severn to be sustained during dry summer months, whilst ensuring sufficient flow in the river to sustain environmental needs, though it also plays some role in flood prevention, particularly in the upper reaches of the Severn.

Since the 1960s the amenity and conservation value of both the Clywedog Reservoir and the Hafren Forest have been enhanced by the agencies responsible for them, Severn Trent Water and the Forestry Commission. The reservoir is the focus of a range of recreational activities including walking, cycling, bird watching, angling, windsurfing and sailing as well as picnic areas and view points overlooking the south side of the dam and to the north, near Waun y Gadair. New plantings in the Hafren Forest have followed revised guidelines in which the visual impact upon the landscape and the creation of more diverse habitats along rivers and streams play an important role. The recreational value of the woodland has been further enhanced by the creation of the Rhyd-y-Benwch picnic area which lies at the focus of a network of woodland walks and tracks. Other important recreational initiatives in the area have included the creation of Glyndwr’s Way, granted National Trail status in 2000, which runs through the area from near Dylife, across Pen Dylife to the Hafren Forest and beyond via Staylittle, Llwyn-y-gog and Cwmbiga.

There is some evidence for cyclical patterns of land use around the upland margin during the coure of the19th and 20th centuries involving the conversion of rough pasture to improved grassland followed by reversion to rough pasture, though the rate of conversion to improved grassland appears to have gained ground since the 1950s. The period between the 1960s and the 1990s in particular witnessed a renewed intensification of agricultural activity throughout the historic landscape area as a consequence of various grant schemes promoting land drainage, upland pasture improvement, improvements to vehicle access and programmes of ploughing and reseeding, all designed to boost agricultural productivity by supporting considerably larger flocks of sheep. As a consequence of this and the conversion to coniferous forest, the area of moorland and unimproved grazing within the area shrank to a fraction of its former extent and is now largely confined to isolated pockets on some hill summits such as Y Grug near the headwaters of the Clywedog and on parts of Bryn y Fan and Dinas.

The 1990s saw the introduction of a number of agri-environment schemes, such as Tir Gofal, which saw a shift in grant aid away from livestock production to the maintenance to a wider range objectives including the enhancement of the agricultural landscape, its wildlife, buildings and cultural and historical features and encouraging people to visit the countryside. This, combined with the particular crisis in the economic viability of hill and upland farming which arose in the 1990s may eventually lead to another retreat in the moorland edge and further farm amalgamations.

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