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Friends of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley - 
VIEWS from Friends No.17 July 2020
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Dear Friends

Welcome to the latest edition of Views which we hope will refresh your enthusiasm for our wonderful landscape at a time when we may be able to anticipate improved access to the countryside. In the meantime, the AONB staff have remained hard at work, with the Ranger team continuing to carry out important work in the field. Others remain busy from a home base, assisted by the growing ability to communicate through on-line services like Zoom and Webex.

A small number have been temporarily redeployed to assist with relevant council activities like business and voluntary sector support and, of course, track and trace.

An important ongoing activity has been the need to engage with social media, which has become an invaluable tool with which to communicate with the public at large and particularly the younger generations. Friends members will recently have received a copy of the on-line video featuring the team and representatives of local community businesses and activities. This is a friendly but effective way of getting the message across about responsible access to the AONB at this challenging time.

We think we’ve got some really interesting reading in Views this time, including from debutant contributors Andrew Cutts, Denbighshire’s Tree Officer and Dark Sky specialist Dani Robertson. There are also two articles from regular contributor Dave Smith, one of which features Halkyn Mountain, not in the AONB but readily accessible to many of our members in these restricted days and with such great views of the Clwydian Range. Grateful thanks to all of them. We also have an update on the Management Plan, the OPL Project and, as usual, Meet the Team where we feature Partnership Chair, Andy Worthington. 

Missing this time is a contribution from our Friends’ founder and roving correspondent Mike Skuse whose wife of over sixty years, Mary, sadly passed away recently. We send Mike our very deepest sympathy at this difficult time. We know he will continue to support the AONB to the full.

Finally, let’s hope we can look forward to returning to full access to the AONB in the very near future. Clearly this will bring its own challenges to the AONB team, particularly at honeypot sites, but the chance to enjoy our wonderful landscape again is certainly something to relish. As ever, if you have a contribution, comment or constructive criticism, please get in touch with either John john@johnandviv.plus.com or Helen  talwrnglas1@gmail.com

john@johnandviv.plus.com

An introduction to ‘Living Assets’

I see the AONB as a special place. Geological layers are blanketed by soils of varying thickness and richness, upon which grows a variety of plants providing life support to a multitude of associated species. I liken the landscape to an oil painting. The geology base being the canvas and added in a range of paint layers are the soils, wildlife, and sitting proud are the ancient monuments.

There are an impressive 95 scheduled ancient monuments within the AONB. All have a history, a cultural importance, and provide detail within the wider landscape. They draw your eye as in a good painting. Ancient monuments and hillforts are synonymous with the AONB adding character and a sense of place.

For me, the supporting cast is just as important in making the landscape special. Within this cast I would place trees at the top of the list. Saplings become apparent when passing by on a walk over the hills and along the river corridor, whilst the veteran and ancient trees seemingly punch the air and strike the retina from a great distance.

Although appearing fixed to the eye of some, the AONB landscape is permanently changing and evolving. Perhaps the components reflecting continuous change more than others are the trees. Conifers (other than the deciduous larch) change little in appearance but the broadleaves (other than holly, there’s always an exception!) have an alternating look through the seasons. From seedling through to ancient age they change constantly change in size, height, colour, and form.

The location, condition, and quantity of monuments are well documented. Such information is important in terms of understanding and managing these built assets. However, the recording of the mature trees, which play such an important role in the AONB and across Denbighshire, is not quite so well documented.

‘Living Assets’ is a new project being introduced across the Denbighshire County Council landholding in order to deliver the following objectives:

  • To promote the benefits of trees to residents and use the tree stock to improve general wellbeing.
  • To help improve the general health of the Council tree asset to realise benefits of cleaner air and reduced risk of flooding.
  • To manage the Council tree asset more efficiently and in a coordinated manner to standardise management and improve understanding.
  • To manage the Council tree asset sustainably to achieve better value for money and develop a diverse tree stock for future generations.
  • To develop a more consistent and robust process for inspecting, recording, and monitoring the Council tree asset to better understand the tree stock and reduce risk.
  • To improve greenspace infrastructure and community attractiveness by planting more trees of diverse species, fit for their location.

The inclusion of local people and communities will be central to the success of delivering ‘Living Assets’. I hope you’ll be able to take part and in time I will be providing further information on how you can get involved.

MEMBERSHIP RENEWAL

 
A small number of members who pay by cheque will have received a reminder about their subs recently. We hope to hear from you soon or if you wish to resign from membership, please let Nick Ward know by email (n.j.ward@btinternet.com) or phone (01824 703796). Many thanks

Land at Dinas Bran – a major coup !!

A massive boost to the AONB, and to Llangollen in particular, has been the acquisition by Denbighshire County Council of thirty six acres of land immediately adjacent to Castell Dinas Bran. The Council is to be congratulated on its vision -  and plaudits too to our very own Howard Sutcliffe who identified the opportunity and played a major part it pulling it off.

Friends will all be familiar with Dinas Bran, the scheduled ancient monument and one of the most important landmarks in the Dee Valley. It attracts over thirty thousand visitors every year. The Castle, in five acres of land, was bought by the former Clwyd County Council in the late 1980’s and Denbighshire has invested over £120,000 in reconsolidation work since then. Earlier this year the owners of the Castle’s western elevation put thirty six acres up for sale. 

The acquisition of land of strategically important landscape value has been a tradition locally, Moel Famau and Loggerheads being prime examples. Huge pressures on local government expenditure have taken their toll and it has been much more difficult to make the case for this kind of investment in more recent times. However, the case for acquiring this parcel of land in Llangollen was really compelling.

The case made to the Council was very strong. It would secure access to this part of the site and the Castle itself, protect an area of special scientific interest and provide an opportunity for environmental improvements. It would send a message to the community that investment in the town and Dee Valley was a top priority. It would enhance the educational contribution the site makes to Llangollen’s schools. 

The great news is that the Council accepted the case in terms of the heath and well being agenda and in its contribution to bio-diversity and carbon security. A victory for both the environment and the community. The purchase went through in May – huge congratulations to all concerned.

A SPECIAL THANKS to NRW and Llangollen Town Council for financially supporting the purchase

REACH FOR THE STARS

Stargazing has become ever popular as our lockdown trundles on. People have had more time to step outside their front doors, look up at the wonders above them and really learn about the stars they can see. Those lucky enough to live in the AONB are benefitting from darker skies than most of the U.K. with 98% of the British population currently not receiving a truly dark sky, but why is that? Light pollution. This widely misunderstood pollutant has been creeping across our skies since the invention of the light bulb, but now we know it not only blocks our views to the stars, it is also terrible for human health, disastrous for our biodiversity and impacting on our heritage. 

Luckily, it’s not all bad news. The CRDV AONB team have been hard at work over the past 18 months raising awareness of light pollution and its harmful effects. There’s been a wealth of informative events and activities including nightjar and owl walks with AONB rangers, stargazing at Jubilee Tower, an Astrophotography workshop and many visits with the fantastic Techniquest Glyndŵr planetarium to locations across the area, meaning we could have dark skies whatever the weather! Over the last 18 months we’ve reached over 7,000 people across the North Wales area through our Prosiect Nos Partnership work with Snowdonia National Park, and the AONB’s of Anglesey and Llŷn Peninsula. We hope to see many more of you as soon as the current restrictions allow our activities to continue.

All these events have been crucial to gaining a successful International Dark Sky Association accreditation for the area, ensuring our dark skies will be protected for future generations. We are now at the later stages of this application process which roughly takes 2-3 years and hope to bring you news of its success in early 2021. We are also developing a set of planning guidance to help developers to think about appropriate lighting at the design stage. 

Current advice for Dark Sky Friendly lighting asks that you;

Use warm, white/amber lights lower than 3000 Kelvin and less than 50W (Kelvin refers to the ‘temperature’ or colour of light)

Only light what you need, when you need it. Use a motion sensor where you can.

Direct outdoor lights downwards and make sure fixtures are fully shielded, so no light escapes upwards.

If you would like to support the application or would like more information please contact the Dark Sky Officer; dani.robertson@eryri.llyw.cymru

You can also join the North Wales Astronomy Group who meet every second Tuesday of the month at Llanelian Community Centre. Llanelian yn Rhos, Colwyn Bay, LL28 8YA. https://www.northwalesastro.co.uk/

OUR PICTURESQUE LANDSCAPE UPDATE

One of the most exciting things happening in the AONB in recent months has been the swift progress made by the OPL team who completed the first year of the five-year programme both on schedule and within budget. Since then, strict adherence to current public heath restrictions has led to the team being confined to home working and virtual meetings. All direct work with voluntary groups has been halted. Notwithstanding this, the Team continues to work hard behind the scenes, ready to swing back into full action as soon as the situation permits. 

We’ve featured a number of stories in previous newsletters about what’s been achieved early on in the Project, including wok at the Horseshoe Falls, the creation of the Clinker Path, the survey of invasive species on the Dee and dry stone walling in the Dell at Plas Newydd. We hope to look in more detail at other exciting things in train in future issues but here is a very brief outline of what’s in the pipeline -

  • Improving the view – Initial work has been concentrated on planning for the improvement of the view of Pontcysyllte Aqueduct from both Bont Bridge and Cefn Mawr .A woodland management plan has been commissioned for the land under the aqueduct and along the Llangollen canal. Full consultation with stakeholders and a community education programme will follow
  • Dinas Bran Gatehouse – This initiative is aimed at providing controlled access to the currently closed gatehouse. Initial work will involve a condition survey and the removal of accumulated debris on site
  • Restoring Industrial Heritage – Site identification is currently being progressed with the AONB’s Heritage, Culture and Amenities Working Group
  • Invasive Species – practical eradication work along the Dee concentrating on Japanese Knotweed and Himalayan Balsam
  • Countryside Grants Scheme – providing match funding for eligible projects such as hedgerow planting and management, tree planting, coppicing and dry-stone walling
  • Connecting Habitats – focussing on Ffridd land in the Dee Valley including the Panorama, Dinas Bran, Velvet Hill and Caer Drewyn
  • Wenffrwd Pocket Park – Grants are being sought to provide an access route from the Park to the canal towpath and necessary planning permissions for car parking, access roads and drainage are being progressed.
  • Bus Service – a bus service connecting key heritage sites had been successfully commissioned but is now on hold in the present emergency
  • Circular Trails – A “Ladies of Llangollen” trail has been created based on Plas Newydd – what a shame a Friends walk to explore this in early April had to be postponed. Something to look forward to in the future – as well as an Artists and Engineers Trail in Llangollen that’s in final preparation

You can see that Project Leader Kate, Sallyanne and Ffion, are a very busy team and this is only a snapshot of the enormous amount of work going on. We look forward to hearing a lot more about the project in due course.

Mustang Crashes in and around Nannerch

No 41 Operational Training Unit (OTU) had been based at RAF Hawarden since November 1942, tasked with training pilots for army co-operation. This required a number of skills, most importantly fighter reconnaissance covering visual tactical reconnaissance of airfields, roads, railways and areas where enemy activity was expected, plus vertical and oblique photography at low level. Much of this involved very low flying at high speed to avoid ground fire, literally 'hedge-hopping' as it was known at the time.

The main equipment was the North American Mustang Mk 1, an excellent fighter, but many of Hawarden's aircraft were hand me downs from operational army co-operation squadrons. Hard use had drastically reduced engine life and they were prone to loss of coolant liquid, causing rapid seizure. This is what appears to have happened to Flight Lieutenant John Trevor Owen's aircraft, serial number AG535, which dived into the ground on the edge of Nannerch village on 29 February, 1944. He was too low to use his parachute and of course there were no ejector seats in those days.

An eyewitness, like most schoolboys in those days an aircraft spotter, told me that he saw the aircraft approaching very low with a misfiring engine. It was trailing white smoke which must have been leaking glycol coolant. The smoke turned black just before the Mustang dived into the ground on the edge of Nannerch in an area now occupied by houses. Its pilot must have been looking desperately for a suitable field for a wheels-up landing, but his aircraft evidently lost speed, stalled and crashed. Flying Officer Owen, aged 25, was from Bangor, North Wales and is buried in Bangor (Llandegai Road) Cemetery.

The other Hawarden Mustang accident in the area involved AG502 on 28 April 1943 which, according to the official records, crashed after engine failure at low altitude near Nannerch. It is probable that the circumstances were similar to Owen's loss. I have yet to discover the exact location and it could be just outside the AONB. The Canadian pilot, Flying Officer Joseph Edward Leo Cantin, was from Ottawa and a graduate of that city's university. He lies in Hawarden Cemetery's war graves plot.

MEET THE TEAM - ANDY WORTHINGTON, Chair of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB Partnership

Someone a little different for this edition – Chair of the AONB Partnership Andy Worthington. The Partnership plays a crucial role in the management of the AONB, overseeing the detailed implementation of the policies agreed by the three constituent local authorities. Andy has the background, experience and interests which make him ideal for this vital role, co-ordinating the interface between the AONB’s full time team and the expert volunteers who serve on the Partnership.

Born in the industrial east of Manchester, Andy’s early life took place in an environment very different to the tranquillity of the AONB. A keen sportsman and Manchester City fan, his outstanding football ability gained him a place as a schoolboy on the books of rivals Manchester United where he honed his skills with the likes of Brian Kidd and John Aston. An early interest in the countryside was fostered by trips to Mottram Hall near Macclesfield which had links to the factory his father worked for. Academic work was not neglected and after leaving school it was off the Loughborough University to study sports science – as well as continuing football success as captain of the formidable university side and a place in the English Universities representative team.

It was a natural progression into teaching physical education after graduation but the temptation to widen his horizons was difficult to resist and he was soon off to Edinburgh to work for the Scottish Sports Council as his next challenge. His developing experience and reputation led in due course to his appointment as Head of Recreation and Leisure at Harrogate Council before taking up the role of Director of Leisure and Tourism for the Wirral – a post he held for sixteen years.

Andy’s list of achievements is impressive He has played an important role on a number of national bodies concerned with the development of sport and leisure and was awarded the MBE for his services in this field. Moving into consultancy on retirement, he chaired the North West of England body charged with supporting the 2012 Olympics and received the OBE for his direction and leadership, particularly in relation to the acclaimed Manchester based football competition. Not content with this, he now chairs a community interest company which manages sports and leisure facilities in Trafford, a well-known part of his home city – phew !!

I caught up with Andy on the now familiar medium of Zoom and, after a minor hiccup with the technology, here’s how he answered my questions.

How did you come to be involved with the AONB? 

I suppose it all started when I was working in Wirral and living in West Kirby. My wife Pam and I always loved coming over to the Clwydian Range with our three daughters to walk, run and cycle and we eventually moved to Pantymwyn to take full advantage. One day we were at a community function in the village hall and I got talking to Howard Sutcliffe. He thought my working experience would be a useful asset to the Partnership and I was only too happy to help. I’d had responsibility for all the parks and country parks on the Wirral and know how important these facilities are to physical and mental well-being. I had no idea then that my colleagues on the Partnership would ask me to be its chair after the first two years but I had no hesitation in accepting and relishing the confidence they had placed in me.

Given your broad experience of organisations, what view have you reached about the AONB?

I’ve been really impressed with the professionalism and dedication of the staff at all levels. There certainly aren’t enough of them to cope with the full range of activities they are called on to undertake but what they collectively achieve is outstanding. The support of volunteers, who bring a wide range of expertise to bear, is also really heartening and of considerable benefit.

What about the immediate future?

I think the current public health emergency helps us to focus on the ever-growing importance of outdoors activity and enabling all sectors of society to get the best out of it, whilst protecting and conserving its special features. Getting the balance right is a huge challenge and the need to ensure the next version of the management plan is fit for purpose, and then implementing it successfully, is vital. 

Do we have the tools to do the job?

Certainly, in terms of the quality of the team. I have to say though that the disparity between the funding of AONBs compared to national parks needs to be urgently addressed and I’m encouraged that things might be heading in the right direction. The numbers visiting our honeypot sites compares with any and we are so much more accessible to major conurbations. Managing and fulfilling sometimes conflicting objectives needs proper investment, and competition for funding will now be fiercer than ever, but we can make an even stronger case for investment given what we have to offer.

And longer term?

I agree with those who think a better name for AONBs would resonate more effectively – maybe national landscapes would fit the bill. I also think there’s scope for extending our area again to encompass adjacent land of equally precious importance.

You’re a very busy man – what about spare time?

Well, with six grandchildren family activities are top of the list and I always find time to run, walk and cycle. Living as we do at the gateway to the AONB, I have all this on my doorstep. One thing the AONB doesn’t provide is skiing facilities and I’m fortunately able to do this in Canada each winter. I’ve also been a pretty serious amateur musician most of my life.

I always ask about a favourite place in the AONB – what’s yours?

There are so many that I love but one is particularly special. It’s near home, the cwm under Moel Famau near the stream with a view up to the tower and across to Brithdir Mawr – heaven!

We left it there. I won’t have captured all of Andy’s many and varied accomplishments in this short piece, but I think you will have gathered that the Partnership is in very safe hands.

# PHOTOS PLEASE Have you got any striking images of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley that you are happy for the friends to use in future editions of the Newsletter, please send them to Helen at talwrnglas1@gmail.com

AONB Management Plan - an update

The purposes, duties and management requirements for AONBs are set out in the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000. The Act establishes the primary purpose of AONB designation as the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty. It’s a requirement of the local authorities in the AONB area to prepare and publish a management plan to guide both policy development and management actions. The current Plan for the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley was published in 2014. It identified the special qualities and features of the landscape, issues and opportunities presented and included a five-year action plan to meet them.

It’s now time for the Plan to undergo its statutory five yearly review – and it’s fair to say that this could not have come at a more challenging time. The increasing pressures on the special landscape are well documented and the AONB team is tasked with preserving all that we hold most dear with the need to ensure that the area remains a vibrant and sustainable area to live and work. Already faced with strong competition for scarce resources to properly sustain its work, and at a time when concerns about the implications of climate change and Brexit dominate, the added and mostly unknown long term effects of Covid-19 on the political and social environment are now added to the mix.

It’s in this sobering context that the review gets underway. Fortunately, with financial support from Welsh Government, the AONB has been able to engage the specialist firm JBA consultants to help take the work forward, but a considerable burden will still fall on the AONB’s senior staff. The first stage in the process is to get down to basics and carefully define the scope of the review – which aspects of the current plan are important and work well and where there might need to be changes in emphasis.

Much has changed since 2014 and this may well have a significant impact on the way in which the new plan shapes up. It seems likely that the new political landscape will bring changes to the agricultural and rural support landscape – to give just one example. Certainly, increasing awareness of the ecological and climate emergencies and the impact of the pandemic will be major influences. The greater recognition of the value of landscape in maintaining and enhancing the well-being of communities will also be a key consideration.

The AONB team, together with JBA, is now actively engaged in the scoping phase. Hampered by the inability to hold face to face meetings, this is being conducted with members of the AONB Partnership and other stakeholders through an online questionnaire. It’s the first step in a long and complex process and one of the utmost importance in ensuring, not only the preservation of the precious landscape of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley but that it plays an increasingly important part in the well-being of future generations. 

Early on in the process there will be wider consultation with communities and other interest groups and we will certainly be keeping Friends members in close touch with progress as things develop.

BEYOND THE RANGE - HALKYN MOUNTAIN WANDERINGS 

My partner, Paula and I are fortunate in living just under ten minutes' drive from this area of common land which stretches from Rhosesmor to Brynford. In need of exercise and Interpreting the rather vague Welsh travel rules, we decided that it was certainly local, with only sporadic houses and a maze of wide paths which make social distancing very easy. In fact we rarely encountered other people, mainly dog walkers. Some years ago, a newspaper - the Sunday Times, I think it was -  listed the mountain as one of Britain's top locations for canine walkies! 

The land here rises to 290 metres, the highest point being marked by a white-painted trig point at SJ196707. Granted it is not quite in the AONB but perhaps it should be. The mountain has great views of almost the entire length of the Clwydian Range. If, on a clear day, you line up the pass next to Moel Arthur as you walk along the ridge near the trig point, the distinctive shape of Tryfan in Snowdonia will appear.. The Cheshire Plain stretches to the south, with Beeston Castle and the Peckforton Hills as prominent landmarks. 

To the east, Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral shows up well, as does Winter Hill. Views to the north are not so open, although in theory, from above Brynford it might be possible to see Blackpool Tower and across Morecambe Bay to Black Combe in the southern Lake District. Conditions have never been clear enough when we've been there, but I've certainly seen that far from the hill above nearby Whitford and have a photo to prove it.

The whole mountain must have been an impressive centre of industry a century or so ago, with its numerous lead mine shafts, quarries and lime kilns. Certainly a blot on the landscape, but it provided arduous employment for many, with too often an early death for the lead miners. With a mining tradition beginning in Roman times, Halkyn became one of the largest and most important lead producers in Britain, turning out over 21,000 tonnes of ore at the peak of production in 1934. Beneath the mountain lies a vast network of shafts and over 62 miles of tunnels.

The contrast today is extreme but the evidence is still there in the shape of many capped shafts dotted amongst the gorse and sheep-cropped grass. 

The  Waen Brodlas limekilns at SJ184731 are an impressive survivor, having been superbly restored by Grosvenor Construction Ltd in 2013. An information board explains and illustrates the process. Hydraulic lime from here was used to build docks at Liverpool, Birkenhead and Belfast between 1860 and 1890. Lime burning ended on Halkyn around 1914.

Of the quarries in the area, four are still working, the biggest being safely viewable from the path which runs along its south-western edge at SJ188715. The abandoned Pen yr Henblas Quarry is a very interesting and scenic spot, best approached from a small parking area at SJ193726. There is pedestrian access to the left of the locked gate. It was a source of chert, evidently a very useful material for the production of earthenware, and was transported to the Staffordshire Potteries. 

Fragments of chert with amazing patterns can be found in the scree slopes. They are known as banded iron formations and formed on a sea bed many millions of years ago. Geological explanations can be found on the web, much of it well above my pay grade! There is a large pond in a section of this vast quarry which supports a colony of  great crested newts.

Baby ones abounded in May but we have yet to spot a fully grown one. Nearby was a vociferous jackdaw colony in a tree growing against a rock face. Goldfinches were also much in evidence.

Our first and longest Halkyn Mt expedition involved a walk to the hillfort at Rhosesmor, a round trip of about four miles. On the second occasion, we walked to the small hill, another scenic viewpoint, which rises above Rhes-y-Cae. All of the walks described are readily accessible from SJ194723 where there is off road parking for two cars. If already occupied, there is more space a little further along that road heading towards Rhes-y-Cae.

Unfortunately, the OS 1:50,000 map divides the mountain between Sheets 115 and 116, but the 1:25,000 Explorer map Sheet 265 Clwydian Range covers the whole area in great detail. There are a number of online resources relating to the mountain, notably a short video on YouTube entitled 'Restoration of Waen y Brodlas Limekilns'. Finding that will bring up two other videos including, a CGI sequence showing how the kilns worked. Website www.halkynmountain.co.uk contains a huge amount of information about local industrial history and topography. A mine of information, in fact!

NATIONAL FOREST FOR WALES

Welsh Government are developing an ambitious programme to take forward the First Minister’s vision for a National Forest for Wales. The National Forest will accelerate afforestation and unlock major environmental and economic benefits for the people of Wales. It will be a long-term project as there is still a lot more to do to work towards safe-guarding Wales’ woodlands and natural heritage for future generations. On 12 March the First Minister formally marked the start of the National Forest programme. 
 
Welsh Government have begun investing to establish a National Forest and are working to identify preferred sites for planting and potential demonstrator projects in 2020/21. Funding is being given to Natural Resources Wales to undertake a targeted programme of enhancing and restoring a number of existing woodland sites to improve ecological connectivity and public access. Welsh Government have also committed £1.5million to launch a community woodland creation scheme, to provide a valuable opportunity for local communities and local authorities to create and restore their own part of the National Forest near them.  The National Forest programme will help meet the challenges of the climate change emergency announced in 2019 and support a reversal in the decline of biodiversity in Wales. It will also support Welsh Government’s ambition in the Woodlands for Wales Strategy to create 2,000 hectares of woodland per annum.  
 
A National Forest will provide many other opportunities to Wales. It will encourage local communities to engage with the natural environment, in terms of planting and managing woodlands and using them, supporting their health and well-being. It can increase tourism into Wales, provide new job opportunities and support the wider economy.  Welsh Government want to work with farmers, foresters, voluntary organisations, councils, environmental experts and local communities to help deliver a National Forest which benefits the whole of Wales.

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