This week ‘Around Every Corner’ is published. It’s very much a visual book and looks at the landscape and wildlife of the County Borough of Caerphilly in a slightly different way than most of traditional landscape books might do. It’s a publication that very much celebrates the landscape and wildlife of an area that is often overlooked in favour of its near neighbour, the Brecon Beacons. It also shows what the Landscape Services within Caerphilly County Council are protecting and promoting, often via the grant system available through the European Community.
I have worked on various commissions with Caerphilly Landscape Services, documenting the work carried out by the service; producing images for promotional material and photographing the wildlife of the area. They are a very progressive organisation and their interpretation of the landscape, for the general public, is second to none. When the proposal was put to them about the possibility of producing a high quality publication and exhibition to showcase both the countryside and wildlife of Caerphilly, they jumped at it. The book will be launched on Friday 28th November 2008 along with an exhibition at the brand new Visitor Centre at Cwmcarn, Risca.
This will also be the second book I have collaborated on with the designer Andy Dark. We pitched the proposal to Caerphilly back in July, so the turn around has been quick and positive at all stages. It’s a really good experience to work with someone you trust wholly with your work and who shares a similar aesthetic. We work well together, initially bouncing ideas of each other before Andy settles down to the final design and layout.
We wanted this publication to be a little different than the typical ‘coffee table’ book that is produced year in year out on predictable areas of the Welsh countryside. By looking at details within the landscape, often in an abstract way, the essence of a place can be stated. This was the aim of the book. We would not look at the landscape with location in mind, the classic ‘view’ would be used sparingly and only to establish the area. The images would invite people at look at their surroundings in a fresh way.
The former Secretary of State for Wales, Ron Davies, who now represents Caerphilly Council as an Independent and is a resident of the area, clearly states in the forward, the rational behind the book.
The valleys of South Wales have seen tremendous changes over the past two hundred years. Travellers’ tales of the eighteenth century speak of spectacular rushing torrents, lush wooded valleys, isolated farms and small settlements. Much of this was swept away when Wales became the world’s first industrial nation, exploiting the underlying mineral wealth of iron and coal. The landscape and wildlife of the valleys of Monmouthshire and Glamorgan paid a heavy price for the resources that were extracted to fuel the industrial revolution.
But all was not lost. In small pockets of woodland, on our ancient hilltop commons and in the upper reaches of our rivers, many remnants of our historic rich habitats, and the animals and plants that lived in them, clung on…
Today, if you look at aerial photographs of our valleys you will see a land that is predominantly green. The process of reclaiming the scarred landscapes of South Wales has resulted in a spectacular transformation – new woodlands and wetlands have been created, rivers are running bright and clear and it is sometimes difficult to find the evidence that the landscape of the county borough of Caerphilly was once dominated by the proud industries of iron and coal.
And, as new landscapes have been created, the animals and plants that had remained hidden in the lost corners of the hills and valleys are spreading out and colonising new homes. In our rural areas, new industries, some building on centuries old traditions, are being created to take advantage of a new, greener, landscape.
In 2001, we were given a boost to this work by the announcement of the EU Objective 1 Funding Programme. For the first time, organisations in the South Wales Valleys were able to access grants from the rural priority of the scheme. Numerous wards within the council area were designated ‘rural’ by WEFO to take advantage of the funding, and we set up a Rural Assets Steering Group, with partners from the voluntary and statutory sectors, to implement programme of work to take advantage of these new grants.
The programme drew to a close in June 2008. During that time, the council and its partners had completed projects worth a total of £8.5m, underpinned by grants from Objective 1
The variety and scale of the projects involved were impressive. Grants were organised for small rural businesses and voluntary organisations, farmers were helped with landscape improvements, community woodlands and fisheries were established and important wildlife areas protected. New footpaths, bridleways and programmes of guided walks encouraged access for local people and visitors.
The images in this book are presented to you as a celebration of these achievements, and a joyful reminder that nature can be found around every corner in the county borough of Caerphilly. Don’t take my word for it – all the photographs were taken on your doorstep. Why not take a walk and see for yourself?