An ancient Welsh lake with the right formula for today’s priorities

Land owner Anstie Blackham, from Cathedine, near Brecon, shares how he maintains a careful balancing act between the commercial aspects of owning a scenic lake - and the vital work of sustainability and conservation.
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Llangorse Lake, near Brecon is Wales second largest inland water-body. It's a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) within the Brecon Beacons National Park.

From a purely commercial perspective this could be an entrepreneur’s dream: a beautiful, accessible destination which might ride on a devolved government’s vision to increase public access to the countryside – including inland water. It’s a Special Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI) in a National Park, an easy drive from major population centres. ‘Loads of accommodation choice, plenty for visitors to do, great local pubs.

Llangorse Lake, near Brecon, is Wales’ second largest inland water-body. Some 400 acres in size, it feeds into the Wye system and is surrounded by farmland, Llangorse is an important water and water-margin habitat. The Lake teems with life – a haven for anglers, ornithologists and botanists.

And more – Llangorse has historical appeal. It bears the UK’s only known crannog (an ancient man-made island for habitation) outside Scotland - on which Bronze Age artefacts have been found. It even has a legendary monster, the Afanc.

All that’s wet - and key parts of the surrounding land, is privately owned and part of the Treholford Estate. “What we’ve got serves four priorities very well,” says owner, Anstie Blackham. He means: the local community and businesses, meeting society’s demands for leisure and recreation, bio-conservation and the environment and finally his own conviction about a responsible way forward.

We don't want to change the character of the lake and its surroundings, we want to manage it

It’s part of an estate of over 2,600 acres. “It sounds large,” says Anstie. “But the majority’s upland common land, there’s some forestry and all that’s under-water.” Actually there’s just one farm – and the ruined Twelfth Century Blaenllynfi Castle which he is conserving working with Cadw (Wales’ government agency responsible for heritage).

Arguably this land-holding is richest in opportunity in the delivery of “public goods” heralded in Welsh Government sustainable land management strategy.

“On the lake we have agreements in place for two businesses and a non-profit making sailing club – all draw attention to the area. A children’s outdoor adventure-learning base and a generations-established business associated with the nearby café, camping and holiday park – which manages angling on the lake and hires kayaks and rowing-boats. The “Common” bordering the lake is a popular day-trip destination for families and small groups and a regular meeting place for vintage motor clubs. A recent collaboration brought-about a sustainable public loo facility which is entirely in-keeping with the environmental low-impact/high sympathy culture of the place.

“It has taken time to manage this,” Anstie explains. “Since the ‘70s, the voluntary access agreements – and safety agreements - we’ve made, managing the use of power-boats, setting aside jet-skis, power-boards and drones, for example, have created a popular place – but peaceful and responsible. The community’s concerned about maintaining safety and environmental care as visitor-numbers could increase again. The agreements play a vital job in regulating access.” Anstie regularly attends the Lake Users’ Group, chaired by an environmental consultant which involves not only these businesses, but, critically, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and conservation bodies.

“Yes, I do see the opportunity for multi-use access, a visitor centre and more,” Anstie says. “I’m open-minded about that. But I’m mindful of the capacity the Lake has for activity – and the priority to nurture what we have for future generations.”