Image copyright Iain Robinson
Cwm Cynfal, one of Snowdonia’s hidden gems, is at risk.
In Cwm Cynfal ghosts gather amidst hut circles and mediaeval tracks, old copper mines and heavy-timbered houses.
Such places are characters in their own right.
Afon Cynfal, Llech Rhonw, Bryn Saeth, Llyn Morwynion; for a thousand years this river catchment has whispered its names through the stories it has inspired, stories of Blodeuedd, Gronw Pebyr, and Lleu Llaw Gyffes.
More ancient life inhabits the Cynfal gorge itself, where the rocks are richly drenched with mosses, a fine carpet of green and woven gold, worn and remade over millenia.
Over Cwm Cynfal’s north-facing slopes a peregrine arcs between the bass notes of the river in spate and echoing ring of an ouzel in full song.
Life is full here, the past profuse in a place of poetry, ancient and immediate. Reason enough, then, to care about the present and the future of this place.
Planning application NP5/59/495B proposes a run-of-river hydroelectric scheme in Cwm Cynfal.
With a maximum capacity of 600kW, the proposed scheme is modest in terms of energy generation; a single large offshore wind turbine produces 13 times more electricity at full capacity.
However this proposal is anything but modest in terms of its impacts on Cwm Cynfal’s landscape, cultural heritage, wildlife and habitats. Construction of the 1.2km long pipeline involves gouging a new road into the valley side, building new structures in concrete and blockwork and steel, obliterating the historic public footpath, itself now serving a new purpose as part of the Snowdonia Slate Trail.
Once built the development will leave longer-term impacts which include a concrete intake weir, rock cutting, metering building, river crossing scars, pipeline scar, material deposits, turbine house, outfall pipe and power supply connection.
Cwm Cynfal today is an important place for nature – home to peregrine falcons, ring ouzels, lesser horseshoe bats and a nationally important diversity of plants, with hundreds of species of mosses, liverworts and lichens clinging to the dewy walls of the gorge, each in its niche in the reach of the river.
Parts of Cwm Cynfal are designated Site of Special Scientific interest and Special Area of Conservation for their habitats and Special Protection Area for a number of threatened species.
In operation, the scheme would take 70% of the water from the Afon Cynfal, above a modest allowance. For much of the year the river’s flow will be severely reduced, impacting on life in the river itself, along the gorge and in habitats to either side.
Our view? Renewable energy proposals in a National Park may face more stringent tests than those outside, precisely because National Park designation reflects other things that society also needs and values – tranquillity, wildlife, cultural heritage, landscapes which move the soul, and access to enjoy them. Important considerations, all of which will be impacted by the proposed scheme. The key test for a renewable energy scheme in Cwm Cynfal is this: does the power generated justify the environmental damage consequent on installation and operation?
To give some context to our position, of 135 hydroelectric scheme applications in Snowdonia in the past 6 years, we have:
- actively supported those schemes which are genuinely community owned/run
- opposed 7, including the Conwy Falls/Fairy Glen scheme and a previous proposal in Cwm Cynfal
- raised concerns about 5 more
- publicised the reality of poorly built or run hydro, including the criminal actions of hydro developers who polluted Llyn Padarn and operators who breached licenses by taking too much water, running rivers dry in summer to boost their profits.
Energy from hydroelectric is only environmentally friendly if schemes are sited, designed, built and operated with care and responsibility. Freshwater habitats are the most fragile and threatened there are. Very few rivers are in anything like a natural state and very few have not had obstructions built in them.
Whatever happens needs to be based on proper evidence. which is why we are asking that planning application NP5/59/495B should be subject to scrutiny in the form of a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
We believe EIA is essential for this planning application because:
- Parts of the area directly impacted by the proposed development are SSSI, SAC and SPA designated.
- Annex 1 habitats both inside and outside the above designations – such as a stunning wetland (M15 mire) – are likely to be damaged or destroyed.
- Scheduled species such as Peregrine which are features of the SPA, and species of the highest conservation concern such as Ring Ouzel all need to be properly considered.
- Protected species such as Lesser Horseshoe Bat are known to be present in close proximity to where works including rock drilling and/or blasting will take place
- The supporting documents with the application are, in places, inaccurate, wrong or misleading on a range of issues.
- Only the requirements of an EIA can set the standard of evidence needed to inform a decision on a major project in such a sensitive place.
What can I do?
You can look up the details yourself and respond to the planning application by entering the planning reference NP5/59/495B into the Snowdonia planning portal http://planning.snowdonia-npa.gov.uk/swiftlg_snpa/apas/run/wphappcriteria.display
If you do respond, please ask the planning officer to request that the developer carries out an Environmental Impact Assessment to ensure that there is an opportunity for proper scrutiny. We’ll be doing our bit and will provide more information shortly.
Learn more about Cwm Cynfal:
Renowned writer Jim Perrin brings Cwm Cynfal’s cultural roots to life here:
For a report of one person’s experience of Cwm Cynfal, see this blog post on Secrets of Cynfal Gorge
Better still, go and see for yourself!: walk the Cwm Cynfal section of the Snowdonia Slate Trail