Parks & Gardens
Like most regions of the British Isles, Wales has a rich inheritance of historic parks and gardens. They are part of Wales’s national identity, enriching the texture and pattern of our landscapes and forming a valuable record of social, cultural and economic change. Parkland is made up of a range of features, including the pattern of woodlands and trees, avenues, main drives, water features, buildings and other structures. Most parks are, or were, focused on a country house or a castle residence around many of which were gardens, enclosed spaces cultivated with fruit or food or else laid out for pleasure. The presence and relationship between their various features contribute to the unique character of individual parks and gardens.
These landscapes are a fragile and finite resource that can easily be damaged or lost. It was in response to the attrition suffered by them during the twentieth century that Cadw set up the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens (RHPG), launched in 1994. The Register is essentially a comprehensive catalogue of parks and gardens of special historic interest in Wales. Published as a series of regional volumes between 1993 and 2002, the Register initially contained some 375 sites. More have been added in recent years bringing the total close to 400. The Register includes a wide variety of landscapes ranging from medieval deer parks and Tudor gardens to twentieth-century hospitals, cemeteries, public parks, and even some industrial sites. Several private suburban gardens are also featured. Descriptions of historic parks and gardens can be viewed through Coflein, the Royal Commission’s online database of sites and monuments, and also in the printed registers held in the National Monuments Record library.
Registered parks and gardens are valued historic assets. Each is a unique source of information about the past, each has its own story to tell. They may contain important evidence about how and when they were created, how they were used, and how they have changed over time, contributing to the history of parkland and garden development. They are also valued for the integration of the natural environment including water features, lakes, ponds, rivers and streams, native and exotic plantings and ancient trees. Many offer important conservation value for wildlife as well as opportunities for public recreation, both of which contribute to the well-being of local communities and to our economy through tourism. In this way they help to meet the goals set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act (2015). As a source of enjoyment and learning, and a valuable network of green spaces, our historic parks and gardens have an important part to play in building a healthier and greener Wales.
A crucial purpose of the Register is to raise awareness of the significance of these designed landscapes and to encourage those involved in their management to treat them as valued and distinctive places. They are protected through the planning system, and local authorities are supplied with data that enables them to be incorporated into Local Development Plans.
The Register was originally set up as a non-statutory instrument. The Historic Environment (Wales) Act (2016) recognised the Register as an important source of information in support of protecting historic landscapes. It placed a statutory responsibility on the Welsh Ministers to compile and maintain the Register, to be carried out in practice by Cadw, the Welsh Government’s Historic Environment Service. In advance of moving the Register onto a statutory footing during 2020 it has been necessary to conduct a programme of consultation with owners and managers, preceded by a review of all park and garden boundaries. The consultation has been carried out in partnership with the Royal Commission. Landowners have been contacted and information passed on, both to raise awareness and to allay concerns. In many instances sites have been visited. In some cases this has led to the removal of some sections of parkland from the Register where distinctive features have been
erased through recent developments. In others, parkland boundaries have been enlarged as previously unrecognised characteristics have been identified.
Although the purpose of registration is to protect and preserve the essential features of historic parks and gardens, this is not intended to block change. Historic landscapes continue to evolve as they always have done and change is often necessary to secure their long-term sustainability. Change can involve many types of activity ranging from routine maintenance to new work or alteration. Changes that are likely to affect historic parks and gardens or their settings may alter their significance and historic character, and so they continue to be protected through the planning system.
Threats to historic parks and gardens that triggered the creation of the Register in the first place – and which continue to operate – are primarily conversion to agriculture, and urban/industrial development and expansion. To these threats must now be added climate change.
The effects of climate change will be many and varied and are already being felt. The distinctive character of historic parks and gardens will change. More frequent storm events will result in damage caused by high winds, rainfall, and periods of extreme drought and cold. More than half could be affected by flooding. Some exotic, heat-loving plants may benefit from warmer conditions and a longer growing season. But higher temperatures are also likely to lead to threats from invasive species, pests and diseases. Species already at the threshold of tolerance may well be lost. With hotter, drier summers visitor pressure on public spaces will increase.
Whatever the threat adaptation will be needed in order to mitigate the impact of change.
In adjusting to change, whether it is desirable or necessary, it is essential that it is well managed. This will ensure that our registered historic parks and gardens keep what is special about them for the benefit of current and future generations.
Although a park and gardens have existed around Dyffryn House since at least the eighteenth century, the site is best known for its grand Edwardian gardens which were established from the end of the nineteenth century on the now reduced parkland. In the Grade 1 listed gardens expansive formal areas are combined with more intricate, intimate elements, the work of Thomas Mawson, the foremost landscape architect of the time, and Reginald Cory, the owner, who was a well-known plant collector. Many newly arrived plants from countries such as China were grown at Dyffryn.
Its situation on rising ground close to the sea, facing the prevailing south-westerly winds, makes the campus one of the most exposed in Britain, its buildings needing protection from salt-laden air flows. Planting began even before construction started, buildings were then inserted in spaces between. Planting is dense, both tall and low-growing, mainly with evergreen shrubs and conifers. Shelter belts now protect the site. Having the appearance of a large woodland garden, the campus is Grade 1 listed in the Register as one of the most important modern landscaping schemes in Wales.