The changing face of Idwal
There is evidence that humans have lived in Cwm Idwal since the late Mesolithic period. Archaeologists believe that early inhabitants used to shape rocks from the site in order to make their own hunting equipment. It is quite possible that people of the time would not live here permanently but move around the area as hunter gatherers.
There are various traces of round huts and old residences here. On closer inspection, one of the huts has a chimney which suggests that residents might have stayed all year round and burned peat as fuel. Some of the nearby sites also seem to be enclosed,suggesting the cultivation of crops and keeping chickens and pigs.
Moving towards the Neolithic period, a more stable period evolved which bought established patterns in agricultural techniques. Our forefathers would continue to hunt deer, wild boar etc, evidence suggests that they would also stay in the same areas for longer periods of time. This is a time when early changes would occur in the biology of our habitats. Some plants would reduce in numbers because they would be collected as feed for domestic animals and it would also be the time where early peat blankets would form on our highlands because of early tree felling.
We know that sheep and cattle have been kept here for centuries. There is evidence in Cwm Idwal and Nant Ffrancon that historic species of cattle have been kept here because of place names such as ‘Cwm Bual’, ‘Clogwyn y Tarw’ etc.
Not allowing grazing means the Roundleaved Sundew flourishes (© SNPA)
More recently, we saw over-population of domesticated animals after the two World Wars. Grants were paid to keep more animals in the valley because of food shortages. It wasn’t until very recently that things changed and more focus was put on agricultural and environmental planning in order to safeguard natural habitats such as Cwm Idwal. The valley has been sheepless since 1998, primarily to protect the Arctic-Alpine plants and shepherds are now employed to keep animals out.
Man has shaped Cwm Idwal’s habitats for thousands of years. Even though visitor numbers are higher now than ever been before, environmental plans mean that the natural vegetation of the area is flourishing again.