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Llanelli Naturalists Newsletter - Winter 1994/1995 - No 58
R.H. Davies

The recent application by British Coal to opencast en area of 136 hectares at a site they term Tir Dafydd would, if it had been succsssful, Led to the Loss of Britain's oldest documented meadowland.

The site lies a mile to the west of the village of Llandybie, Ammanford, Dyfed. A portion of the proposed site has teen previously opencasted, but the major part, (78 hectares) is previously undisturbed Land.

This undisturbed area contains within it a grassland called Waun Henllan (Old Church Meadow, SN599155). This meadow is mentioned in a grant of land to the Church of Llandeilo Fawr in the ninth century (Jones, 1972). This grant is recorded on the margin of a Gospel book kept at Lichfield Cathedral: 'Llyfr Teilo" or the "Book of St. Chad".

This Gospel Book has been dated from the style of its calligraphy to the early 8th Century. :t is believed to have been written in Ireland. There are six entries relating to grants of land written in the margins dating from Eighth, Ninth and Tenth centuries, whilst the book was in Llandeilo. It was transferred to Lichfield c972-992 AD, during the period when Wynsi was Bishop.

The sixth marginal entry refers, partly in Latin and partly in Welsh, to a "maenor" known as Maenor Meddyfynych and defines its area. From the evidence of palaeography and philology this entry can be attributed to the period around 900 AD. The area of the graht is delimited by landmarks which encircle an area approximately co-terminus with that of the parish of Llandybie.

The bounding landmarks cited are:-

Gwyddfan - a stream

Llwchwr - a river

Cymer - the junction of the rivers Llwchwr and Amman Aberfferws - the junction of the Fferws with the Llwchwr Pen Nant y Carw - a tributary of the Fferws

Gwaun Henllan - a meadow

Marlais - a stream

Aceristyll - the outflow of a stream from Core Astell

These are among the earliest written place names in Wales. This is the first reference to the word "gwaun" in Welsh. (Geiriadur y Brifysgol). The second recorded use of the work occurs in the twelfth century. Thus Gwaun Henllan is the first meadow mentioned in the history of Wales.

The Oxford English Dictionary shows that the earliest use of the word "meadow" or "Medwa" was in a lease dated 967 AD.

The Welsh use of "gwaun" predates the English use of "meadow" by nearly a century. Gwaun Henllan as the first Welsh "gwaun" to be noted is the oldest meadowland in Britain.

Apart from Gwaun Henllan, all the boundary features used to delineate Maenor Meddyfynych are natural features. The use of Gwaun Henllan as a landmark implies that the area was subject to agricultural management. As Henllan's meaning in Welsh is "Old Church" or "Old Enclosure", this is indicative of a coherent communal tradition in existence much earlier than 300 AD.

The biological evidence submitted in the Environmental Statement submitted with the opencast proposal shows that the ecological value of these grasslahd and hedgerows to be high to very high. The widespread distribution of Whorled Caraway Carum verticillatum is often indicative of old unimproved grassland communities in South-west Wales. There has teen a great loss of Carom meadows through agricultural improvement" over the last fifty years. The significance of these grassland should be safeguarded on purely ecological grounds.

Originally, Gwaun Henllan occupied a far greater area than the present 6 hectare field of that name. There is evidence showing the existence of shared hay meadows on the site. A few of these fields are relatively unimproved and the antiquity of the present flora may be well over 1200 years old.

The survival of relict landscape features such as rhandir" and "hendre" illustrate a much greater continuity in the landscape than in the lowlands to the south. This is because the Cammote of lscennen came late under Anglo-Norman rule and thus preserved the pre-existing Welsh systems of land tenure and kinship structures.

This is, without question, an historic landscape. If this isn't to be saved - where shall be?

References

Jones, G., Post-Roman Wales, In 'The Agrarian History or England and Wales". Vol. I.II    Editor H.P.R. Finberg. Cambridge, 1972, CUP.

Postscript

Planning permission as subsequently refused by Dyfed Couhty Council for the following reasons:-

The proposed develoment would have continued open cast working in    ah area which had already been subject extensive open casting, to the detriment of the looal communities.

The proposed site would have engulfed a a significant area land of high ecological, historical or archaeological merit.

There are other, alternative sources of coal.

Dyfed County Council has sihce requested the assistance of Dinefwr Borough Council,    CADW and the Countryside Council for Wales in providing for historic landscape, such protection as they are able.