It was in 2013 that I first wrote about the slate landscape of Northwest Wales with my article Forgotten Snowdonia which highlighted the hidden landscape around Blaenau Ffestiniog and its exclusion from the Snowdonia National Park. Subsequently, in 2018 I wrote about Slating the World – World Heritage Bid for North Wales Slate Quarries confirming that the slate landscape around Gwynedd was to be the UK’s preferred nomination for UNESCO World Heritage Status and that it was to be presented to UNESCO in 2019 with a decision due in 2021.
Now in 2021, the slate landscape of Northwest Wales has been granted UNESCO World Heritage status becoming the UK’s 33rd UNESCO World Heritage Site and the 4th in Wales, following the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd(1986), Blaenavon Industrial Landscape(2000) and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct(2009). The award reflects the international significance of the Welsh slate in “roofing the 19th-century world”.
This process started as far back as 2009 and I have said that the entire process of being selected for World Heritage Status could take between five and ten years but it has actually taken twelve years.
Many congratulations to everyone involved, particularly Gwynedd Council for leading on the quest through their hard work with a range of public, voluntary and private sector partners and perseverance in bringing this to fruition
The slate areas are as follows:
- Ogwen Valley
- Dinorwig Quarry
- Nantile Valley
- Gorseddau and Prince of Wales
- Ffestiniog and Porthmadog
- Abergynolwyn and Tywayn
The landscape tells the incredible story of the evolution of an upland agricultural society to one dominated by the slate industry; with towns, quarries and transport links carving their way through the Snowdonia mountains down towards the iconic ports.
It is not my intention to go into great detail about the individual areas and the detail of the process because you can find out all about that at Wales Slate and by reading my posts linked above which includes many images of the slate industry and its effect on the landscape particularly around Blaenau Ffestiniog.
To be quite honest it has been so long in the making that I had forgotten that the announcement was due this month but coincidentally I had intended to write a short article on a unique feature of the slate landscape that I saw again recently on my journey to and from my last photo trip to the Captivating Cregennan Lakes near Dolgellau.
I refer to the invasive non–native plant Rhododendron ponticum which is considered to be impairing the natural habitat and a big problem in Snowdonia. First introduced to the British Isles during the Victorian era as an ornamental shrub and planted in gardens of many large houses where it grew very successfully. It thrives in areas of high humidity with damp substrates and acidic soil making the naturally occurring habits of Wales ideal for its growth. A single flower is capable of producing many thousands of seeds each year which are primarily dispersed by wind, enabling the plants to spread widely.
However, in many of the waste slate heaps in early Summer, it brings a wonderfully colourful spectacle to large dark grey heaps which in many locations can be a blight on the landscape. To see it in full bloom is certainly worth a visit whilst also taking in the history of this iconic North Wales industry and its people. These images will almost certainly become part of my Intimate Landscapes Collection.
So two contrasting stories with one of a successful campaign to bring long-overdue recognition to Wales, the world’s first industrial nation, an important part of Welsh history and one of a potential ecological catastrophe both now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you want to see more images that are not included here then please take a look at my Snowdonia and North Wales gallery.
Comments are always welcome either on the successful bid or the invasive species.