The twenty-one year lease, whereby Flintshire Countryside Service managed Caergwrle Castle on behalf of the landowners, Hope Community Council, has now come to an end raising questions about the future management of the site.
Over the last two decades the Service is to be credited with a number of achievements which are not generally recognised or appreciated. Throughout that period Flintshire Countryside Service ensured that the site was always well kept, presentable and safe, by carrying out weekly patrols, safety checks and litter picks.
The Service had an excellent working relationship with local schools. Caergwrle Castle played a central role in the History GCSE coursework of several cohorts of local secondary school children for a period of some twenty years, many of whom were deeply impressed by this feature of our heritage.In addition, several hundred primary school children also experienced a series of medieval activities at the site. Flintshire Countryside Service provided invaluable assistance in transporting large items of kit to the site so that these activities could take place. Indeed, the Service assisted with the transportation of disabled children so that the activities could be as inclusive as possible. At least two generations of local people have respect for this aspect of our heritage as a result of these enriching experiences. The Service also worked with education groups such as Forest Schools to give valuable outdoor experiences to children from deprived backgrounds.
The Service involved the community in activities which included bashing the bracken in the moat so that the Castle was well presented and in an appropriate state for guided tours. Initially this involved volunteers centred around the Bridge Inn in Caergwrle and later, students from Castell Alun High School. More recently members of Caergwrle & District Community Action Group have taken on this role, with members of the Samhain Welsh Medieval Society re-creating scenes which resemble those depicted in the Luttrell Psalter.
There was also a significant programme of woodland management on site which was agreed with the Forestry Commission, Flintshire’s Tree Officer and now, Natural Resources Wales. These schemes, which drew in extra income for the site, tried to achieve a balance between biodiversity, recreational access and landscape vistas. There have been times, within the period of the lease, when significant tree felling and woodland management has ensured that there were significant ‘windows’ so that the Castle could be seen. Unfortunately tree growth has become a problem in the last decade, with many local people feeling that there is a need to redress the balance between what is desirable from an ecological point of view with increased visibility of the site.John Purchase, Flintshire Woodland Officer, removing a Turkey Oak from the Castle Hill
It was part of Flintshire Countryside Service’s vision to develop a publicised walk round the Castle Hill as one of the County’s attractions. The original leaflet has now been encompassed into the new ‘Discover Rural Flintshire’ leaflet out this year. Caergwrle Castle also features as one of the top nine ‘Handpicked Heritage’ sites in a new ‘Welcome to Flintshire’ leaflet.
In terms of access to the site the Service also sought funding of £50,000 to upgrade and resurface the path leading to the Castle. This has done much to facilitate access for elderly members of the community. They also used volunteers, such as those from the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), to construct steps, handrails and repair other paths, walls and wall features on the site. One way or another, Flintshire Countryside Service accessed significant grant funding and voluntary labour for the Castle.
The Service has had extensive experience of navigating what would otherwise have been a difficult path with regard to legal constraints imposed by the site as a scheduled monument, where operations close to the Castle require special Scheduled Monument Consent. The whole area is also within a Conservation Area, which requires particular procedures to be followed with regard to woodland management. http://www.flintshire.gov.uk/en/Resident/Planning/Tree-conservation-and-preservation.aspx Where extensive tree-felling is undertaken it is also necessary to secure a licence from the Natural Resources Wales: https://naturalresources.wales/forestry/tree-felling-and-other-regulations/tree-felling-licences/?lang=en The complexity of the process of navigating these legal constraints, especially for a woodland management plan, cannot be overestimated.Now that the lease has ended the responsibility for management of the site, and legal liability, has reverted to Hope Community Council. Hope Community Council has continued to employ Flintshire Countryside Service until the end of the financial year which has given some time to enable the Council to look forward to establish a new era of management.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policy of Flintshire County Council. Readers are welcome to contact the author with any news or views on the local heritage at DHealey204@aol.com or by telephoning 01978 761 523.