Posts and Trees

Monoliths and Ponds looking West to East


A busy month down on site for the Maesteg Landscape project.

It was great to arrive back on site after a month or two away time to start putting some fencing in.
The contractor Jonathan and his mate Dai arrived a bit late and a bit lost with a mad bit of kit…a tracked post driver, very handy…and then did a cracking job of driving my nice oak fence posts into the ground. A couple of lines of Stock fence then arose. I was worried about how this would look, but it actually framed the site really nicely and gave a sense of protection to the water. A nice bit of local vernacular as Aled Singleton from BCBC pointed out. This fence will also act as a barrier to keep dogs out of the ponds as well affording protection for the newly planted trees .

Jonathan Lean and his crazy machine

Jonathan Lean and his crazy machine whacking fence posts in

 Having put up the fences we then moved on to the charred riven oak posts. This grid of oak posts will form the protective supports for over 250 Betula pubescens (Downy Birch) that will be planted next to each post.
The charred black oak posts reference the pit props once use in coalmines, their use now subverted to support trees. As they slowly decay they will add organic matter and a bit of biochar to the soil and help the birches grow. The oak posts came from a woodland a half mile from my house, near Machynlleth. They are thinings from the re-growth from stumps of an old oak wood that was clear felled during the great war around 1916, this was used to provide pit props fro the South Wales mines…..what comes around.

The contractors were dragging their feet a bit by now, smoking too many fags and totally underestimated the time it takes to drive the posts in despite my nagging. By fall of light we still had another 30-40 to go. Not my favourite pastime, holding a torch in the cold and rain so someone can bash posts in the dark!

All done Jules Russel my swarthy assistant woodsman, and I re retreated to the Crystal Palace Chinese restaurant, as we do evry night in Maesteg, so that Sam and his family could spoil us with amazing food and hospitality for the night. My warmest thanks to  them and the cosy Afan Lodge for making our stay in Maesteg comfortable.

The monolith semi circle

The monolith semi circle

We were also able to see how the water has been behaving and settling into the ponds. All the ponds were holding water…but at different levels?
So out with the shovel and spade, and after a while we had reached an equilibrium with each pool flowing into another….there is so much child like fun and wonder to be had working on this project, big diggers and mud pies!
We spent the next day raising the levels of all the ponds by building a stone outfall which cannot be eroded by the over flow, this in turn seeps into the land drain,under the cycle path and onto the stream to the North of the site.
This meant some of the bunds have started to disappear, losing the flow of lines I had imagined, this however has created an interesting broken line which will hopefully soon be colonised by vegetation. Only time will tell the combined action of water, wind and life will have on the site.

Raised path between seating and mound

Raised path with limestone dust running between the seating feature and the pond mounds.

Retreating back to the hills of mid Wales for a few days allowed me to pick up the tree and plant orders and gather spades in preparation for the tree planting session the following week. A trip to the Dingle wholesale nursery in Welshpool which I have been visiting for a number of years secured all bare rooted tree stock needed. They have over 200 acres of nursery there which is very impressive.
I also ordered a tub of ‘Friendly’ mycorrhizal fungi that you dip the bare roots into.

At the dawn  of time  when (the earth looked like the Maesteg washery) plants were just beginning to colonise our planet mycorrhizal fungi were there living in a symbiotic relationship with plants enabling them to extract nutrients and hold onto water in very difficult soil conditions.
In effect, the fungus provides a secondary root system, a system that is considerably more efficient and extensive than the plants own root system.
These fungi are living organisms and will live with the plant, sourcing a continued nutrient supply for its entire lifetime. In exchange the plant provides carbon and sugars to the fungi.
Boy the soil on site needs all the help it can get!

Riven oak grid with eager tree planters from Maesteg Comp

Riven oak grid with eager tree planters from Maesteg Comp

We then planted trees with a seemingly endless trail of school kids from Maesteg Comp…and how they can plant trees. After the first day we had manage to get well over 600 trees in the ground and were starting to worry there would be non left for locals to plant on the weekend!
We then got very wet, and planted more trees and got very wet..etc.

Needless to say the local folk of Maesteg showed up over the weekend despite the rain and rugby, and all the trees were put in the ground -over 1800 of them.
The following species were planted.

Alnus glutinosa – common alder
Acer campestre – Field maple
Cornus alba – Red stemmed dogwood
Cornus Sanguina- Dogwood
Crataegus monogyna – Hawthorn
Sorbus aucuparia – Mountain ash
Viburnum opulus – Guelder rose
Viburnum lantana –Wayfaring Tree
Rosa canina – Dog Rose
Quercus Petera -Oak
Corylus avellana – Hazel
Malus sylvestris – Crab Apple
Sambucus nigra – Elder
Betula pendula – Silver Birch
Betula pubesencs – Downey birch
Cytisus scoparius – Broom
Lonicera periclymenum – Honeysuckle
Pinus Sylvistris – Scots Pine

So its over to the elements and nature to take its course on site.
I will return in the spring to sow the following wildflower seeds.
These will be ‘artistically sprinkled’ in different coloured drifts around the site.

White Campion
Hedge Parsley
Birdsfoot Trefoil
White Melilot
Vipers Bugloss
Basic Mix
Corn Poppy
Corn Campion
Water edge mix
Devils Bit Scabios
Meadow Buttercup
Purple loosestrife
Ragged Robin
Self heal
Yellow Flag Iris

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Artwork comes to life!

Catherine Stephens-Ward, Arts Officer Sustrans Cymru

Despite the wet and windy November weather we had a fantastic time tree planting with pupils and teachers from Maesteg Comprehensive School. Together with artist Jony Easterby and Guy O’Donnell, Arts Officer at Bridgend Council we managed to plant over 2,000 trees! Well done everybody!

042H65A3309 Mission PhotographicOver 200 children participated over the two days, and Jony was brilliant at engaging everyone, imparting his knowledge of the variety of plant species and planting techniques! A wide range of trees and shrubs were planted, all carefully chosen by Jony to attract biodiversity and encourage the development of natural habitats while complimenting existing ones.

Recent storms had made the ground very soft and muddy, so the digging was easier than I had expected. As we dug down further we discovered coal deposits, black sticky bitumen a reminder of the site’s mining history. I helped to plant betula pubescens, more commonly known as downy birches each supported by a charred oak post.

049H65A3338 Mission PhotographicPools of water had formed around some of the saplings so I helped Jony to fill in the pools to avoid the roots rotting. We antcipate that not all the trees will take, so Jony has accounted for this by planting more than is needed. After all the pupils had participated and they left for the day, I could not resist staying for longer to help plant a hedgerow, which will eventually flank the wetlands.

I can’t wait to see how the trees mature and develop and the subsequent wildlife they will attract. In spring time Jony will be putting the finishing touches to the project by sowing wildflower seed amongst the existing scrub. Imagine how colourful this once barren landscape will look then!032H65A3257 Mission Photographic    *Photographs by Mission Photography.

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Join us in some community tree planting

Catherine Stephens-Ward, Arts Officer Sustrans Cymru

Join us on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th November to plant your own unique tree and help complete this spectacular new landscape art project in Maesteg.

Come along with your friends and family; it’s open to all ages and is completely free! Make history by helping to create a living legacy that will be enjoyed for generations to come.

We will be tree planting from 10.00am to 4.00pm. You can plant as many trees as you wish!

Where?  The old Maesteg Washery, next to Maesteg Comprehensive School.

How do I book? To register your interest and for further information please contact Guy O’Donnell by emailing: or phone 01656 642727.

Important information  On the day it is advised that you dress appropriately; it’s very exposed on site so please wear warm and waterproof clothing and boots/wellies. If you have a spade please bring this with you, however equipment will be provided.

Further details will be sent to you before the day confirming the arrangements. Hope to see you soon!

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Community tree planting…. coming soon!

Catherine Stephens-Ward, Arts Officer Sustrans Cymru

After much digging and sculpturing the heavy construction of the project is now complete, this marks the beginning of an exciting new phase, tree planting! Trees will be planted in a grid like formation at the bottom end of the site (see picture below). We have received over 800 trees from the Woodland Trust’s Diamond Jubilee initiative. The birch trees will be supported by charred oak posts, which will make a strikingly dramatic sight!

The lovely students at Maesteg Comprehensive School will be helping us to plant the trees at the end of November, but we are also inviting members of the community to participate, as the old saying goes, many hands make light work!

Join us to plant your own unique tree and help complete this spectacular new project. The event is open to all ages, so come along with your family and friends. Dates of the tree planting have not been finalised yet, but once they are I will update this blog and provide more information. 

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How ponds made me like the rain…

So finally I am able to get to my computer and find time to write about my experience of working in Maesteg (confession…this is the first time I have ever blogged!).
It’s been an amazing journey from initial site visits, ideas, practicalities, research, budget and implementation, and I have to say I have enjoyed every minute of it. Watching a landscape take shape before your eyes, seeing materials arrive, talking to local people, driving plant and imagining how the space could look in one year, five years, twenty years…. is all part of the journey.
The response from local people has been amazing. I have made lots of friends whilst working on site, who are always up for a chat and find out how it’s going and how I am! Sometimes I feel a bit rude when the clock is ticking the machines have to go off hire and I have to get on with the job. I have only experienced one negative reaction from a chap who asked me what I was doing, after my reply his eyes look up and he just says, ‘Oh ponds is it? tut’. Still make me chuckle. I mean… whats not to like about ponds! Guess he had a dragon fly phobia or something.
The heavy machinery is now off site and I have lots of great stuff to do now with choosing the right plants and seeds for the site alongside erecting a few hundred meters of stock fencing. The fence is to keep people from certain areas, never mind the stock,  to allow the vegetation to move in and stop the casual snapping of trees by bored teens! The kids around the site have been super friendly and apart from pushing the porta-loo over (hey who would not want to do that, horrible things) I have had no trouble so far…so thanks for that kids. One group really wanted to use the plate whacker…sorry guys wrong shoes!

Blue pennant monoliths under construction on site

The first few days on site were I confess a bit stressful as I went through the steep learning curve of how to deal with moving and digging coal shale. It was all going well until it rained and then oh my god, previously rock hard ground started to turn into slurry of porridge…. my goodness what a trial that was, especially when the track became detached from the digger in a huge pit of mud. Thanks Travis Perkins for coming out and sorting that one out! The contractors then showed up with the wrong machine, a massive 25tonner, no shutters and no replacement in site. A few manic phone calls around the valley secured the services of a machine with shutters from Shillibier construction and a friendly young driver called Anthony whose knowledge and application to the job in hand was invaluable in the days and weeks to come. Highly recommended. The ponds produced a huge amount of spoil which we then moved around to create a long raised path and a series of bunds to equalise the ground level, thus allowing the ponds and gradients to be achieved. Then followed a week with a smaller 8 ton machine to sculpt the sides’ gradients and edges of the pond complex. This was a lot harder than I thought. Trying to get the curves and edging I had drawn out originally was a very complex operation as the machinery had to be manoeuvred into very tight corners to grade and scrape the desired angles without trashing what we had already achieved. Keith the new agency driver worked like a demon on this.

Meanwhile the great weather that had blessed us with drying out the sloppy ground and allowing us to work with a now very sculptable medium was due to change. A massive down pour predicted by the met office maeant I worked through the weekend to try and move the spoil piles around to complete the job on the ponds.
Leaving the site in torrential rain on the Sunday, I returned the next day to an amazing site of a landscape of newly filled ponds! The main arc which takes the run off from the whole of the top section of the site was full to brimming. I could then see the fruits of my labour, all those days running around with a laser level and spray can, some rough edges but considering the crazy conditions…not bad.
So what of the ponds now?
The mining spoil is a rich composition of materials from deep in the earth made up of pretty toxic materials (to plant life), mostly pyritic sulfide, manganese and aluminium. Highly acidic this thwarts the take up of nutrients and the nutrient cycle and any plant life establishing. The lime should help with the pH. The use of surface drained wetland in this case aims to allow sediment to draw down these toxins to hopefully allow a reed bed system to develop. Allowing reeds and sedges to take hold will be the starting point for the establishment of plant colonies and a new ecosystem.
The irony is that 300million years ago this material was actually a wetland to start with.From Black to White

So now we are moving into the planting season as nature shuts down for the winter. The hope is to plant up to 2-3000 trees and shrubs on the parts of the site which have been prepared for this. Some  120 tons of lime have been mixed into the coal as well as around 200tons of top soil which has been spread and mixed into the site. I have been looking at a lot of the planting which was done eight years ago on the surrounding slopes to see which trees and plants have taken well and which look a bit sickly or dead. Ash and Rowan have not fared well. Alder Birch Willow and surprisingly Oak have done much better as have Field Maple. So these will be my main choices to establish a pioneer species cover. I will experiment with a few other natives for berry’s fruits and colour.

The main planting ‘feature’ will consist of around 2-300 birch trees laid out in a grid, each supported by a sturdy split oak post, charred black in a nod to the pit props once used in the mines. Over the past century the oak woodlands of North Wales have been stripped for this purpose. I will be repeating this, using sustainable thinnings from oak plantations around my home.
From wetlands to wetlands. From forest to mine.

What comes around….watch this space

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Developing habitats and eco-connectivity

Aled Singleton, Regeneration Officer, Bridgend County Borough Council

Following natural regeneration, the community in Maesteg and Llynfi has been making great efforts to develop the habitats on former industrial sites in the upper sections of the valley.

Bridgend County Borough Council is about to launch a new eco-connectivity project, providing support to community organisations to learn about habitat connectivity and to develop proposals that complement the impressive work being done by Sustrans. With this project Jony Easterby is working to connect habitats at the former Maesteg Washery.

Less than ten years after this site was an industrial wasteland, people are already starting to relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings of the old washery site (above). Within this new project, Jony has created a new pathway (below) going north towards the ponds and stone art feature. The path meanders through the alder trees that have grown naturally on the site in the past 10 years. Jony has taken into account what has grown successfully on land close to the site and made efforts to support similar habitats.

If you are interested in the environment, here is how you can get involved with other projects:

Bridgend County Borough Council, with support from the Countryside Council for Wales, will be supporting groups to help people learn about habitats, management techniques and develop ideas for future projects. The main groups to benefit include: the Friends of Maesteg Welfare Park, Rivercare Group, Valleys to Coast and the Friends of Brynheulog (Caerau Park Estate) and Groundwork (Caerau Market Garden). The workshops will be happening in Autumn and Winter 2012 and early 2013.

For more information get in contact with any of these groups or email Aled on

Maesteg Rivercare Group

Friends of Maesteg Welfare Park

Caerau Market Garden

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Artwork is taking shape

Wall of blue pennant stone and wetlands

This week we have had glorious weather in Maesteg which has meant that Jony has been able to make good progress with the artwork construction.  I’ve just been speaking to him, from an equally sunny Cardiff and he tells me that the heavy machinery should be off site by the end of the week, which means that most of the groundwork has been completed. The lack of rain however has meant that the new wetland area is currently empty, but I’m sure it won’t stay this way for long. I’m going to visit the site on Friday, so I’ll be posting new pictures very soon.

Pathway being made

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Oh my what a beautiful garden!

Here is an artist’s impression of what we can expect the site to look like when it’s in full bloom. Doesn’t it look beautiful? The design is focused around utilising and enhancing what already exists in the landscape, while incorporating subtle sculptural interventions such as the pathway. While some of the existing scrubland will be left untouched, new plants will be added such as colourful wildflower and birch trees which will encourage new habitats to grow.

If you are familiar with Maesteg, you will know the site of the project as the old Maesteg Washery, the former coalfield. It’s right next to Maesteg Comprehensive School and is bordered by Sustrans’ Llynfi Valley cycling and walking route. If you are in the area, be sure to check it out!

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Construction of the artwork begins

Catherine Stephens-Ward, Arts Officer Sustrans Cymru

Construction of the artwork has begun, and today I visited the site to see how the artist, Jony Easterby is getting on. Despite having visited the site on numerous occasions I am always taken aback by how vast it is! Measuring just over one hectare, it’s a huge site for a public artwork, making it arguably Sustrans’ most ambitious art project to date.

Jony has been working tirelessly on the site for the last three weeks, and it shows! Already the site, a former coalfield has been transformed and the artwork is taking shape. There are diggers excavating the ground to create a wetland area at the centre of the site and the leftover earth is being used to create a raised pathway which will provide access into the artwork. I also saw monumental blue pennant stone boulders, which will eventually be used to form a partial screen around the wetlands.

Having worked with the artwork design on paper over the last several months, it is so exciting to finally see it come into fruition. The vastness of the site makes everything seem much larger in real life than I had expected. Jony was excited to give me a guided tour of the site however I was not prepared for how boggy the ground was. Wearing sandals meant that I was forced to observe from afar, however this meant I was able to take some good photographs.

Jony giving my colleagues a guided tour of the site.

In the short time I was there, I spotted many families walking past and stopping to look at the construction work. I spoke to one local family and explained the project and what it will eventually look like. They seemed impressed and said what a difference it would make to the area.

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A new public artwork for Maesteg

Catherine Stephens-Ward, Arts Officer Sustrans Cymru

Sustrans Cymru have been working with artists over the last several years to develop innovative and memorable public artworks along the Valley Cycle Network, part of the National Cycle Network in south Wales.

Public art has greatly enhanced the walking and cycling routes, adding interest for users, providing recreational spaces and opportunities for community engagement and social interaction.

Our latest artwork is an environmental, land art piece which will be situated in Maesteg, nestled within the beautiful Llynfi Valley. This blog will document the artwork’s journey from its conception through to construction and Sustrans participation with the local community.

The site for the forthcoming artwork, a piece of scrub land measuring over 1 hectare in size!

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