Open Country - 03/04/2010

Logo for Open Country - 03/04/2010

The rivers of the South Wales coalfields were once so black with mining and industrial waste that in places no fish could survive. But miraculously, salmon have now returned to all of these waterways and rivers such as the Ebbw and the Taff now have fish running up from the sea to spawn. 25 years since the end of the Miners Strike signalled the eventual closure of the coalmines, the physical environment of the valleys of South Wales is very different. Gone is the industrial landscape and the air thick with coal dust. Gone too are the pit wheels and steel works, taking with them employment and a way of life. But this has all been replaced by a greener landscape and healthier environment and the challenge facing the people of the Valleys now is to make the best of what they have on their doorstep to restore the social and economic fortunes of the former coalfields and bring a healthier way of life for themselves and those people who visit this part of the world. Helen Mark begins her day by joining keen cyclist, Ralph Jones, on a bike ride through the beautiful Afan Forest following the tracks that run along the now disused railway lines that once served the long-abandoned coal mines. The area has been regenerated and the colliery tips have gone. The landscape is now green and forested and plays host to hundreds of visitors each year who come to walk or cycle in the area. Just a few miles up the road, Helen visits the Glyncorrwg Mountain Bike and Ponds Centre. Following the closure of the local pits in the 1970s, the local community took their future in their own hands and took advantage of the beautiful scenery on their doorsteps and the rain water from the sky and created a series of ponds along the narrow valley. Fishing and canoeing are now the most popular sport, along with miles of old flat railway trackbed lines and steep mountain slopes, providing days of cycling and hillwalking. Helen then leaves the Afan Valley and takes the Heads of the Valleys Road to the River Taff in Merthyr Tydfil where she meets keen fisherman, Tony Rees. Tony has fished the rivers of the valleys for 60 years and remembers a time when it was impossible to fish the River Taff below Merthyr because the waters were so black. Now, thanks to natural cleansing and a concerted clean-up effort along the rivers, salmon travel along Taff from as far away as Cardiff. Finally, Helen heads across to the Ebbw Valley to find out about the Valleys Regional Park and the Ebbw Fach Trail, a coming together of local communities to form a 7-mile long environment and heritage trail which will highlight the transformation of the area from heavy industry to a greener landscape. Later this year, a new memorial will be unveiled along the trail, in memory of the 45 men who lost their lives in an explosion 50 years ago at the nearby Six Bells Colliery. The memorial will name all 45 and also be dedicated to all those affected by the mining industry.