This is an educational template for a management plan of ecosystem services for the Denbigh area of North Wales. It is based on the management plan for the Clwydian Range Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The plan is operated by a Joint Advisory Committee (JAC). This represents the three local authorities of Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham together with landowners, farmers, and conservation and recreation interests.
Denbighshire County Council takes the lead in delivering the objectives of the AONB supported by the other two Local Authorities. It provides ecosystem services for communities in all three local authorities.
The Berwyns and the Denbigh moors are made up of the same Ordovician and Silurian shales and mudstones as the Cambrian mountains, with similar altitude and rainfall, the remainder of the county consists of rocks associated with the coal measures which attracted heavy industry to the area between Prestatyn, Wrexham and Oswestry in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The basic sequence tilts from west to east, consisting of limestones overlying the shales, with millstone grits and coal measures in turn above them, and Triassic New Red Sandstone at the top. Erosion over millions of years, including grinding down by ice during the Ice Ages, now means that the respective layers come to the surface roughly in order from west to east, each running north-south, although faulting to the east of the Vale of Clwyd, where the modern towns of Rhuddlan, St Asaph, Denbigh and Ruthin lie, breaks this sequence into two. The bottom of the Vale preserves the more fertile upper layers of New Red Sandstone, which otherwise only come to prominence on the east of the county where it adjoins the Cheshire plain, while on its upthrust eastern side, the underlying shales are once again visible forming the ridge of the Clwydian Hills, the western edge of the main sequence. (Fig 1)
Fig 1 Geology of North Wales
The geology provides a number of different building stones. While the Ordovician and Silurian shales and mudstones flake if exposed to frost, surviving well only if rendered, the limestones and the millstone grit of Clwyd is also used. Many eastern areas had a tradition of timber building; bricks, for which Wrexham became a notable manufacturing centre, gradually replaced wattled panels between the main timbers, and ultimately took over as the chief building material in these areas, particularly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Halkyn Mountain near Flint has been an important source of metal ores, chiefly lead, but also copper. While most workings date from the 17th to the early 20th century, Roman lead production in Flintshire is well-attested, and mining in both areas probably originated as early as the Bronze Age.
Farming throughout Clwyd is predominantly pastoral, concentrating on sheep in the uplands, with only very limited pockets of arable. Wherever the climate allows (and local climatic conditions can vary from valley to valley in mid-Wales), cattle are also bred, for both milk and meat, and are still taken into England to fatten, although nowadays they go by lorry rather than on foot with the drovers, as in the medieval and early modern period. Many of the drovers' roads, away from the main routes, still survive to provide good hill walking.
While this book looks at individual sites, it is important to remember that these sites formed part of past landscapes. Landscapes of the recent past can often be reconstructed, using evidence from field boundaries and old maps; further back, environmental evidence can at least give us an idea of what sort of plants and animals were in an area. Some parts of the uplands preserve patterns of prehistoric or medieval ritual monuments or settlement which are probably virtually undisturbed, apart from the passage of time, while in the lowlands, and particularly in the industrial belt of north-eastern Clwyd, even relatively recent features have lost their contemporary landscape context.
The Llandudno and Colwyn Bay district
The Carboniferous Limestone of the coastal area of north-east Wales is most conspicuous in the neighbourhood of Llandudno and Colwyn Bay and particularly in those remarkable promontories, the Little Ormes Head and the Great Ormes Head. The geological composition and structure is not only directly responsible for the interesting physical features of the land and coastline, but it is also responsible for the other features of the scenery and the plant and animal life as is summarised by William Condry's graphic descriptions, from his book Exploring Wales.
"We begin in a splendour of white cliffs, sea birds and wildflowers on that fine headland, the Great Orme at Llandudno. To see the wildflowers of the Orme at their best go in spring when vernal squill, hoary rockrose, spring cinquefoil and Nottingham catchfly are all flowering together. Note also the wild cabbage on those calcareous cliffs and you will understand why your garden brassicas do best in limy ground. Among sea birds the fulmar is a Great Orme speciality. Over the years Llandudno has done its best to tame the wildness of this 679ft Orme, a name that is a reminder of the Viking settlements of the ninth and tenth centuries. Yet the six miles of road cleverly engineered all round and the cable railway straight to the top, have not deprived the Orme of being a place belonging to the sea and the wind rather than to a town. The Orme enjoys superb views west along the coast to Anglesey. To the east the coast stretches far away into Lancashire. Inland you look at the massive shoulders of the Carneddau. Three miles east a twin limestone promontory stands into the sea-the Little Orme, a wilder headland with no marine drive. It is another good place for sea birds, plants and breezy walks along the edges of high white cliffs, and above deep, abandoned quarries".
The Denbighshire Moors
Most of the north-western part of Denbighshire is composed of Silurian rocks of Wenlock and Ludlow age, collectively known as the Denbighshire Grits and Flags. The distinctive relief and general scenery of this district, the Denbighshire Moors, results from the character and arrangement of the rocks.The Wenlock strata can be distinguished from the Ludlow strata by means of the particular graptolites they contain, but these two stratigraphical series together here form one thick and extensive unit, deformed as a whole by folding and faulting. 'Grits' predominate in the lower part, chiefly of Wenlock age, while 'flags' predominate in the upper part, chiefly of Ludlow age.
The Wenlock rocks outcrop over a curved band along the western and southern part of this area, forming a rim of what is, in a general way, a basin structure; but this structure is interfered with on its north-east side by the folds, and faults of the Vale of Clwyd. Within the basin there are innumerable folds, which run on the whole east and west.
In the northern part of Denbighshire few roads penetrate the Silurian districts of the country; the hills,which are rarely bold, but high and steep. are yet of incessant recurrence; and thus it is that to strangers it forms the least known district of North Wales. The ground is hilly in this sense only, that on a high table-land with an undulating surface, the rivers with all their numerous tributary rivulets have scooped out a great number of steep-sided valleys, which run hither and thither to every point of the compass.
Fig 2 Denbigh Moors, Vale of Clwyd and Clwydian Range
West Denbighshire consists of a table-land which rises to a height of 1.750ft O.D. The plateau is perhaps best seen from viewpoints on the south of it, e.g. Garn Prys, near Pentre Voelas. The area is trenched by so many streams that in many districts it is dissected into isolated hills and ridges. The common Welsh place-names, such as moel (rounded hill), mynydd (mountain), cefn (ridge), ffridd (mountain pasture) and craig (rocky eminence), bear witness to the repeated occurrence of characteristic topographic features.
In many places the succession is chiefly mudstone with highly contorted bedding. These contorted beds may range in thickness from a foot or so up to about 100ft. A curious hummocky surface of the ground is produced by the weathering and erosion of a thick contorted bed having a considerable width of outcrop. These greatly disturbed beds are the result of the sliding and slumping of mud under water as a part of the process of deposition on the sea floor during the Ludlow period, and they now occur as contorted mudstones at various horizons in the general stratigraphical sequence of the Ludlow strata. This is proved chiefly by the character of the upper surfaces of these beds, between them and the overlying undisturbed beds.
The Vale of Clwyd and Clwydian Range
Of all the hill ranges of North Wales the Clwydian Range, though of no great height, may be said to be the most distinct. Geologically it is connected with the region of the Denbighshire Moors to the west, and much the same kind of relief and scenery results from erosion of the same kind of rocks. But here the Lower Palaeozoic (Ludlow) outcrop is relatively narrow and separated from the West Denbighshire outcrop by the Carboniferous and Triassic rocks, which (themselves largely overlain by alluvium) form the beautiful and fertile Vale of Clwyd. On the east the Lower Palaeozoic rocks pass beneath the unconformably-overlying easterly-dipping Carboniferous rocks, of which the Millstone Grit formation forms an escarpment southwest of Mold.
Fig 3 Vale of Clwyd and Glwydian Range
The Clwydian Range is upstanding because the rocks composing it are hard and compacted by folding, and are thus more resistant to erosion than the rocks on each side of it. In saying that, it is a particularly distinct range one is recalling the attractive skyline as seen from the east, from the Wirral and the Cheshire Plain. From the west side of the Vale of Clwyd the range forms an imposing background to the view.
The section (Fig 3) shows one 'realisation' of the structure. On the west side of the valley the Carboniferous and older rocks, and possibly the Triassic rocks as well, are traversed by faults oblique to the general trend of the Carboniferous outcrop and the direction of the valley. They may be considered as steps in the production of the western limb of the syncline of the Vale of Clwyd.
The Clwydian Range is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It forms a 35km north – south chain of undulating hills extending to 160 sq.km and rising to 554 metres at the summit of Moel Famau in the centre of the area. The hills stretch from the Vale of Clwyd in the west to the foothills of the Dee Estuary to the east; from Prestatyn Hillside in the north to the Nant y Garth pass, north east of Llangollen in the South.
Fig 4 Clwyd
c=colwyn; r=rhyl; p=prestatyn;f=flint;m=mold;w=wrexham;l=llangollen;co=corwen;r=ruthin;d=denbigh.
CR= Clwydian Range; CF= Clocaenog Forest; B= Berwin Mountain
From the Vale of Clwyd the Range appears as a stretch of open heather moorland of the high ridge which dominates the small hedged fields and coppice woodland of the lower slopes.
In places, limestone rock outcrops are exposed in attractive wooded escarpments, and on the fringes of the area, highly fertile farmland gives a soft pastoral foreground to the hills.
The AONB receives large numbers of visitors, particularly at its two Country Parks of Loggerheads and Moel Famau. The Offa’s Dyke National Trail follows almost the entire length of the ridge crest.
The timeline provides a snapshot of the history of the area. Further information is available from the Countryside Centre at Loggerheads Country Park. Some publications are available by mail order – click here for order form.
Our County Archaeologist works with the Countryside Service team to ensure awareness, conservation and care of our Countryside Archaeological sites.
The Vale of Clwyd divides the two counties of Denbighshire and Flintshire.