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Environment

Welsh industrial wasteland is reborn as a popular park

The demise of industry came as a blow to many in the United Kingdom. In South Wales, an industrial graveyard has been turned into a park to serve humans and nature. A decade on, it's both popular and a money-spinner.

Bikers cycle through Millennium Park

The former industrial site has been transformed into a recreational spot

Decades ago, the Carmarthenshire coastline around the industrial town of Llanelli was blighted by the pollution generated by copper-, steel- and tin-works which made the region the industrial powerhouse of Wales.

At one time, the local landscape was dominated by 120 smokestacks which spewed filth into blackened skies and contaminated the surrounding land and sea.

It was a smog-filled eye-sore on the Welsh landscape and also the source of a great deal of employment and civic pride.

When the industrial era came to an end in South Wales during the 1950s and 1960s, the region's factories fell into disuse and a derelict wasteland emerged.

The region faced an uncertain future, with possibilities ranging from a military testing ground to a new steelworks.

However, over time local governments acquired the land from the industrial landowners.

Carmarthenshire County Council, which now owns the land, created a 22 kilometer-wide (14 miles) greenspace between Pembrey Park and the town of Bynea.

With funding from Britain's Millennium Commission, the National Lottery, the Welsh Assembly as well as the European Union, the land was reborn in 2000 as the Millennium Coastal Park.

A man and a duck at a lake

The park is important for wildlife, says Carmichael

Attractive to wildlife

Dominic Carmichael is the Learning Manager of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Centre in Llanelli overlooking the mudflats of the Loughor Estuary in the distance. The Trust site is one of nine specialist wetland centers in the United Kingdom - and is part of the Millennium Coastal Park

"We planted lots of reed beds," he enthused, explaining why the area is more appealing to a range of visitors, like the little egret from southern Europe.

"Reed beds are quite a rare habitat now - if you're a reed-bed-loving animal, like a reed warbler or a sedge-warbler or a bittern, that's the place you are going to head!"

Rory Dickinson is the manager of the park.

He oversees operations from his office at the Discovery Centre, a bright white, glass and steel structure which overlooks Llanelli Beach and the Estuary. The Centre is the midway point in the park and acts as a hub for visiting tourists.

Dickinson says that the Millennium Coastal Park aims to promote green tourism and protect wildlife at the same time.

"Where we had…brown fields, we now have wild flower meadows which include a lot of rare orchids," he said describing the transformation of the South Wales coast from a wasteland to an area teeming with life.

"We have done a lot of planting of trees - thousands of acres! It's ongoing. We have got three nature reserves within the park."

A man and his wife in front of a caravan

Jean and Terry Johnson rent out Caravans to bikers

Protecting rare species

He is also proud of the role the park has played in protecting rare species.

"Water voles are important. They are endangered throughout the country. We have a very healthy population within the Millennium Coastal Park," he said.

The park's managers are overseeing the creation of a water vole "superhighway," which will use the park's wide canal and waterway network to enable these semi-aquatic, sociable chinchilla-like creatures to keep in touch with each other throughout the park.

For human commuters, it's a different story.

The park provides a 22 kilometer, car-free stretch of bike tracks - part of Britain's national cycling network.

The track draws in an estimated one million cyclists as well as joggers, pedestrians and wheelchair-users - a welcome boost for local businesses like the local Caravan Club site, run by Terry and Jean Johnson.

"We just opened and the weekend was full," said Terry, while scanning his reservations.

"On most occasions, we could probably sell the whole site three times over."

Long biking paths

The cycling is a particularly popular attraction among Caravan site visitors with many inquiring at the club office for a Millennium Coastal Path bike map.

"We had a group of Dutch people who were literally cycling the whole of the route - bless them," Terry recalled. "They came via the Millennium trail and carried on through!"

Hugh Davies, the landlord of the Cornish Arms Pub in Burry Port - a Millennium Coastal park town - is busy keeping up with renewed demand from the park's new eco-tourists.

"Our business benefits off people like our Llanelli Ramblers who come here once a month in parties of 20," he said taking time out from pulling pints behind the bar.

"They walk from Llanelli to Burry Port on the Millennium Park," he said.

Dissenting voice

A beach

It's hard to imagine that this used to be an industrial heartland

But one pub regular was not so enthusiastic about the park. He's a descendant of the one of the owners of the copper-works.

"I think it's a bit of a waste of time, quite honestly," he said skeptically.

"Without industry, the population do not have any income to enjoy the niceness of the Coastal Park," he said, lamenting the loss of the area's industrial base.

But Rory Dickinson thinks its time to move on.

"I think this (the park) is the way forward and most people don't remember the industry," he said.

"They love the Millennium Coastal Park," he beamed.

At whose expense?

Industry may have vanished from South Wales - but it didn't disappear off the face of the earth.

Much coal fire-generating industry has relocated to China - where many of our modern comforts, like flat-screen televisions, are now made.

Local residents there have to endure the poorer air quality that comes with living near or working in these industries. So are the eco-tourists who frequent the park enjoying their green day out - at the expense of others?

Rory Dickinson pondered the dilemma.

"At least we get them away from their flat screens for a few hours a day", he said.

Dominic Carmichael admitted to feeling guilty, but said that he hoped a trip to the Wetlands and Wildfowl Trust would open minds.

"We realize that you can't close your eyes to the effects of things that we buy and sell."

Author: Sian Griffiths
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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