In all corners of Wales there are women working towards a common goal - to safeguard the land and natural environment. From protecting dark skies to maintaining an off-grid island, these women are getting their hands dirty and getting involved in the physical work.
Their aim is to protect and care for Wales' unique and special outdoor spaces - and the sites in their care are worth visiting, whether for learning or leisure.
Dark Skies, Parc Cenedlaethol Eryri (Snowdonia National Park)
There are only 22 Dark Sky Reserves in the world, and one of them lies within Eryri (Snowdonia) National Park, the country’s largest national park, which encompasses most of northwest Wales. Dark Sky Reserves are designated areas where there is little to no light pollution, and the quality of the night air is outstanding.
As a Dark Skies Officer for the national park, one aspect of Danielle Robertson's work is to introduce the night sky to people who may not get to experience it that often.
'A visit to areas such as the Llŷn Peninsula, Anglesey, or the Clwydian Range in the north-east to see the wonders of the night sky, especially during the dark sky season which lasts from September until April, could even benefit your health,' Danielle explains.
'Too much exposure to light pollution can have a really negative impact on your health, so it’s really important that people get to experience the dark so that they can give their mind a break from artificial light.
'It’s really important for our wildlife as well, and I think it really connects us back to nature – being able to look up into the universe and see where we’ve all come from. It’s like looking back into our wider home, which many people don’t get to experience anymore. Many people, because they’ve been born and raised in places without visible stars, don’t know what they’re missing.'
Read more: The Dark Skies Reserves of Wales
On the southern side of the Preseli Mountains in Pembrokeshire in southwest Wales, Llys-y-Frân reservoir is a haven for wildlife and adventure seekers. As well as a 6.5-mile trail through the site that’s suitable for walkers and cyclists, there’s a chance for visitors to take to the lake on canoes, kayaks or paddle boards. A perfect day out for the whole family, the site offers activities that are suitable for all ages and abilities, from a family-friendly bike ride around the forest to physically demanding mountain biking routes. Visitors can also try their hand at a little bit of archery and axe-throwing, as well as wall climbing.
Anglers are welcome too, and the lake itself is stocked regularly with rainbow trout, and native brown trout may also be caught at Llys-y-Frân. The reservoir also provides an important habitat for otters due to the high quality of the water and the abundance and variety of food available. Although otters are quite a secretive species, which swim very low in the lake, you may catch a glimpse of one.
Working to ensure that the site, which is owned by Dŵr Cymru / Welsh Water, is kept in pristine condition for visitors and nature are Llys-y-Frân rangers, Millie Wilson and Katie Sutton. From planting trees to fixing bikes, the two of them work towards ensuring that the site benefits both wildlife and people.
'Our main work is making sure that the site looks really presentable and that it’s a safe environment for everybody, which can mean anything from strimming to chainsawing. It’s quite a varied job,' says Katie.
'It’s quite a special spot, it’s very secluded. It’s a nice place to get away from everything, we do our best to keep it as tranquil as possible, which I think is pretty important.'
A growing number of other Welsh Water Adventures can be found across Wales. Llandegfedd Lake offers one of the best sailing experiences in South Wales, as well as water sports, fishing and walking alongside the Usk Valley. The 2500 acres of forest, moorland and lakes at Llyn Brenig are home to osprey exhibitions, an adventure playground, cycle hire, sailing and world-class fishing.
There are very few places quite as serene as Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) left in the world. The little island lies around two miles away from Pen Llŷn (the Llŷn Peninsula) in northwest Wales. There's just a handful of permanent residents, among them wardens Mari Huws and Emyr Owen. Enlli is open to visitors from April until October for day trips aboard the Mordaith Llŷn.
In 2023 the island became the first site in Europe to be awarded International Dark Sky Sanctuary certification by the International Dark Skies Association (IDA). International Dark Sky Sanctuaries are typically situated in a very remote location with few nearby threats to the quality of its dark night skies. It's a world away from busy, modern-day life.
The island has been noted as a place of pilgrimage since the early years of Christianity, although there are signs of settlement on Enlli that date from earlier periods. The land is home to a couple of hundred sheep, cattle, and a few beehives which produce Enlli honey, and it’s also the perfect place to see puffins, grey seals, and choughs.
Mari and her partner Emyr have been living and working on the island since 2019, and although the work of protecting the island never ends, using her energy to maintain a place as special as Enlli is a privilege for Mari.
'For such a small place, it’s an extraordinary island. It’s a place where people have been escaping from the hustle and bustle of the mainland for centuries. There’s a magic that belongs to Enlli which can’t be explained. It’s also a great place to see wildlife, and the stars and for a digital detox!'
On a clear day, the view from Mynydd Enlli (Enlli Mountain) extends from Pen Llŷn in the north to Pembrokeshire in the south. After a day of exploring the island, no trip is complete without popping into the cafe in Tŷ Pellaf for a cup of tea and a homemade scone.
Back on the mainland, make sure you spend some time wandering around the small fishing village of Aberdaron. Call into the National Trust’s interpretation centre, Porth y Swnt, for an insight into Llŷn’s special landscapes and heritage.
A stop for lunch at Caffi Siop Plas is a must, with its seasons-led local menu. The cafe is part of a community project to restore and revive the village chapel and shop creating a sustainable heritage and cultural hub. Becws Islyn is the place for afternoon coffee and cake, and for dinner, you can't beat the view from Tŷ Newydd's outdoor dining deck.
Read more: The remarkable pull of Enlli
Keeping Wales Tidy
'Love Wales because we love you!' is the message from one of Wales’ environmental charity ambassadors. The reggae artist and radio DJ Aleighcia Scott became Keep Wales Tidy’s first youth ambassador recently, and her work is to encourage young people to have their say on how to care for the country and empower them to make a difference.
Evaluating the effect on the planet is a key consideration behind all the charity’s activities. Formed in the 1970s, Keep Wales Tidy has been working with visitors and local communities to protect the Welsh environment for over 50 years. Knowing that she’s playing a part in helping to make positive changes to the country is of utmost importance to Aleighcia in her role.
'I care about Wales, which is a huge driver for me in my role. But just as important for me is to listen to the young people I work with, so they know that their voices matter, are needed and can also make a difference. Young people are the next generation who need to be able to help to care for Wales - their input is crucial because without it, what would happen?
'It’s about realising that the smallest thing can make a difference. Sometimes it’s easy to think that the issues are beyond our reach and that there’s nothing we can do to help, but my aim is to reassure these young people that by working together, we can make a contribution.'