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DWC: Short Stories 1 - 10

Posted: Thursday 19th September 2019 by Emyr MWT

Short Story 1: Volunteering

Over 100 people donate their time at DOP every year and most of these folks will also be involved in the development of the new Dyfi Wildlife Centre.

From de-construction to re-construction and everything in-between, our volunteers will play a key part in the new centre - including the specialist help we need for all the information displays we will be producing.

But for now, here are some of those volunteers proving that it is possible to de-construct a 60-foot double-timber fence in less than 30 seconds...


Short Story 2: Recycling

A key thread running through the ethos of the new Dyfi Wildlife Centre is recycling.

Why buy new when you can reuse and repurpose the old. It saves money and the environment.

The 30m of old boardwalk we've taken up will be cleaned, sanded and used as a wall finish.

The old visitor centre and volunteer cabin have been moved to the car park and are now used by our contractors - when they've finished with them we'll use them on another MWT reserve.

Finally, the small bits of timber and young birch we've taken down are being stored by the old hide and will air dry over the winter. Next year we will 'cucumber' them and use the birch disks as ceiling and cafe coverings.

Carbon is stored in timber (sequestration) thereby offsetting some the carbon emissions we generate.

You'll hear more about how the Dyfi Wildlife Centre will optimise carbon sequestration in further Short Stories...


Short Story 3: Piling

So how do you build foundations for a two-storey building in a peat bog?

The usual way would have been to use concrete – and a lot of it. To overcome the squidginess (technical engineering term) of peat we would have to put 2-3x the amount of concrete into the ground.

Clearly, we weren’t going to do that.

The most environmental way was is to use steel piling.

These are tubes driven into the ground and then concrete put into the tubes to give them strength. We are using two types – fat and skinny (more technical terminology).

The fat ones (diameter 11 inches) go in the middle of the building as they take more of the load and the skinny ones (diameter 8 inches) on the sides, 33 piles in all.

We're using timber bog mats (second-hand, reused) to protect the peat while putting them in and once we're finished, we'll reuse them again - look out for a later Short Story about the bog mats.

The combined weight tolerance of the Dyfi Wildlife Centre on these 33 piles will be 2,490 tonnes, or 922 African elephants in old money.

In total, the combined area taken up by the 33 piles will be just 1.61m2 - less than the size of a small single bed; although we don't recommend sharing your single bed with an elephant - let alone 922 of them.


Short Story 4: Interpretation

200 years ago the Dyfi was a bustling, industrious river where thousands of people made their living.

They quarried, mined, farmed, forested, transported, constructed railways, bridges and built ships - 17 boat yards at one time. Before that there was salt panning, the wool industry and even Romans. There is a Roman fort (Cefn Caer) right besides Cors Dyfi on the north side of the river.

The way those people, our ancestors, engineered and worked the land led to huge changes in the wildlife and ecology of the river. What we see around us today is the byproduct of how the people that came before us eked out their livelihood and survival.

Today the river is a much quieter place. Indeed, at first glance you would hardly know that the Dyfi River has been anything else.

The ground floor of the Dyfi Wildlife Centre will be about ospreys - that's where DOP will be - the educational side, anyways.

Upstairs in the Galeri we will attempt to join the stories of the Dyfi River's past as key themes - Natural, Industrial and Cultural Heritage as well as Future Legacy.

This week our volunteers started research work on six key topics to begin with: Wildlife, Shipping & Trade, Railway & Bridges, Mining, Metals & Coins, Peatbog Ecology and Historical Figures of the Dyfi. This is a two year project and over 2020 and 2021 we will design and produce educational materials that relate to these topics. We call this 'Interpretation'.

You'll be able to see them on a rotational time basis in the Galeri. We'll also put some of them up on social media.

By understanding the past we make greater sense of the present allowing us to make better decisions about our future. 


Short Story 5: Metals

As many of you are aware from our pre-decimal coin collection appeal, various metals will form a key feature in the new Dyfi Wildlife Centre.

Why is this?

For centuries (millennia for some metals) the hills and mountains around the Dyfi River have been the focus of rampant mining activity. It has all come to an end now, but the landscape our ancestors left behind still bear the hallmarks (pun intended) of their metallurgic activities.

Romans mined copper on the north side of the Dyfi and Charles I found great success with silver on the south side, so much so, he moved the Royal Mint from London to Aberystwyth Castle in the 1640s and then even nearer to Cors Dyfi in 1649 – the little village of Furnace (the clue is in the name).

Charles I half-crown minted right next to Cors Dyfi in Furnace, 1649

Zinc and lead were also mined at various locations.

All these metals are elements produced by natural geological forces over billions of years; at DOP we’re sitting right in the middle of the “Welsh Basin” – the very reason why this part of Wales became the world’s most prolific slate industry in Victorian times - more on this in another Short Story.

So, by changing their environment around them to make a living, those people that came before us left us a legacy of environmental changes – just like we are doing now for our descendants. The ecosystems we see today on the Dyfi River have changed and evolved over the millennia based on changes people made to the landscape.

Dylife lead & zinc mine

The Dyfi Wildlife Centre will be built from timber and metals – those very materials that have played such a pivotal role in the history of the river over time.

The metal caps we use to lay the building on are coated in zinc, many of the key features and fittings will be made from recycled copper and then, of course, we have the Galeri floor – made from 50,000 pre-decimal British coins covering the middle one-third of the Exhibition Centre, 36m2 in total.

Zinc galvanised caps that the Dyfi Wildlife Centre will sit on

We’ll have recycled tin on some of the walls, reclaimed copper on the side of the Mary Evans Staircase… even the 3D signage on the building front itself will be made from metals we can salvage. 

A copper-faced longcase clock made by Machynlleth clockmaker Ezekiel Hughes in 1790


Short Story 6: Slate

Solar panels are going on the south-facing roof of the Dyfi Wildlife Centre, but what materials should we use for the north side that are the most environmentally sound, has virtually no carbon footprint and is culturally important?

Last month these slates were on the roofs of a row of council houses in Llanberis, north Wales. By next month they will be on the roof of the Dyfi Wildlife Centre, along with another 4,000 or so of their geological siblings.

They are 'Welsh Heather Blues', so called because of their colour - a deep blue-to-purple shade. Some say, some of the best slates in the world...

They come from Penrhyn quarry in Bethesda, near Bangor, a quarry that has been going for 500 years and was, in the late 1800s, the largest slate quarry in the world.


Penrhyn quarry in 1852

Most Welsh families in north-west Wales have fathers, grandfathers, relatives etc that have worked in the slate quarries over the centuries, we feel that it was important to reference Welsh slate and industry in our new centre rather than buying 'new' cheap slate (or worse still, tiles) from thousands of miles away.

Welsh slate such as these quarried at Penrhyn were designated by the International Union of Geological Sciences as a 'Global Heritage Stone Resource' earlier in 2019 in recognition of its significant contribution to world architectural heritage.

We agree.


Short Story 7: Top Brass

Upstairs in the Dyfi Wildlife Centre will be The Galeri - an Exhibition space to be used by communities and visitors alike.

A key feature of The Galeri will be the 10 pendant lights that will hang down from the vaulted roof, clad with local timber from Esgairgeiliog, just three miles away.

In keeping with the the rest of the centre, (a significant amount of the building is being made from recycled materials) these pendant lights are very much second-hand.

Our friend Carwyn has been busy for three months now building the main DWC staircase in his workshop (spoiler - it looks amazing!). It's called the Mary Evans Staircase - in honour of the largest ship that was built on the Dyfi River, right on the banks of Cors Dyfi reserve 152 years ago. More on this is a future Short Story.

Taking Shape: Steam bending oak to look like the Mary Evans' hull

So, in keeping with the maritime theme, what better way to illuminate the Mary Evans staircase and Galeri area than to use vintage lights reclaimed off an old ship?

These are made from copper and brass, again a reference to the copper mining of the Dyfi area in times gone by.

We've been busy bringing these old ship lights back to their former glory (they're very shiny now!) and will soon replace the old bulb fittings with modern ones, so that they will take energy efficient LED lights. 

Having one of these lights on will consume less than 50% of the energy that all 10 used to take the last time these lights were used.

Victorian ships built on the Dyfi sailed at high speed around the world in the 19th century, soon our Galeri lights will have done exactly the same before eventually finding a more sedentary and terrestrial retirement.



Short Story 8: Solar Power

We often hear about countries committing to being ‘carbon neutral’ by a certain date – 2050 usually, or 2040.

But why wait another 20-30 years?

These are country-wide targets. There’s nothing stopping regions, counties, towns, villages or even individual people and organisations making a commitment to be net zero polluters way before then.

Today we are happy to announce that Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust, as an organisation, will be a net zero carbon emissions organisation by the end of THIS year.

One way of achieving this seminal landmark is by utilising solar power. We are currently installing a 50kW solar array on the south-facing roof of the Dyfi Wildlife Centre.

The first 330W panels arrive at the DWC

This amount of solar generation, around 50 Megawatts per year, is the equivalent of providing all the electrical requirements of 12 homes for a whole year.

Energy produced by the UK’s renewable sector outpaced fossil fuel plants on a record 137 days in 2019 to help the country’s energy system record its greenest year.

Renewable energy – from wind, solar, hydro and biomass projects – grew by 9% last year and was the UK’s largest electricity source in March, August, September and December.

The rise of renewables helped drive generation from coal and gas plants down by 6% from the year before, and 50% lower from the start of the decade. Meanwhile, the number of coal-free days has accelerated from the first 24-hour period in 2017 to 21 days in 2018 and 83 days last year.

From April onwards we are proud to say that we will also be doing our bit.

The Dyfi Wildlife Centre will be the first 'Carbon Negative' building of its kind in Wales.

DEFINITION: Carbon Negative is the reduction of an entity’s carbon footprint to less than neutral, so that the entity has a net effect of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere rather than adding it.

DWC PV solar installation this morning...


Short Story 9: Capel Salem, Corris

King Henry VIII had banned the translation of the Bible into the Welsh language in the ‘Acts of Union’ (1536–43); however his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, essentially reversed this decision a few years later in the ‘An Act for the Translating of the Bible and the Divine Service into the Welsh Tongue’ 1563.

These translations were important to the survival of the Welsh language through the effect of conferring status on Welsh as a language and vehicle for worship, everyday communication and as a literary language.

The Welsh Methodist revival of the 18th century was one of the most significant religious and social movements in the history of Wales and by Victorian times practically the whole population of Welsh-speaking Wales were highly religious, belonging to one of four main denominations.

Against this backdrop, Capel (Chapel) Salem in Corris, eight miles upstream from the Dyfi Osprey Project, was one of thousands of chapels built in Wales during the second half of the 1800s.

The Annibynwyr (denomination: Independent) Chapel was built in 1851 and then rebuilt in 1868, a time of the rapid development of Corris as a small town and the growing prosperity in the valley as a whole due to the production of high quality slate slabwork from surrounding quarries.

Capel Salem started out, as many Welsh chapels did, as more of a meeting room than what you would consider the inside of a chapel to look like today. The chapel would get its third and final major overhaul in 1896.

Several tonnes of Pitch pine were shipped over from Canada and a team of local carpenters built a new pulpit, flooring, panelling, pews and a new upstairs gallery of five tiers of raked pew runs around three sides supported on modillion brackets.

The chapel is now a CADW Grade II listed building and was recently bought by Wayne Colquhoun, a specialist in the restoration of historic and listed buildings.

Wayne is well on his way to sympathetically restoring Capel Salem and transforming it into a community-based art gallery and performance theatre. The local community will soon be able to use the chapel as a village base once again.

We have been working with Wayne this week in reference to our own community-based building – the Dyfi Wildlife Centre.

Wayne told us that around two-thirds of the Pitch pine on the lower floor was in need of a good home – pews, panelling etc. Well, you can guess the rest…

Next month we will get to work on our ‘new’ timber and employ local carpenters to design it into our new centre – booths in the café area, panelling for the servery and other small projects like the Cwtch Brethyn (more about this in a future Short Story).

These won’t be finished by the time we open in April; we’re going to take our time to get it right.

Wayne has also offered to help - many thanks.

As our main carpenter, Carwyn, gets to work on these projects, we will reflect on the local Welsh joiners that built the chapel with the Pitch pine 124 years ago, and did such a beautiful job.

If only we knew who some of them were, where they came from, their names…

They would have been religious people, proud of their work, if only they had left their mark in some way on their work.

Well, two of them did.

We’ll tell you who they were in the next Short Story. 

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