Cemlyn history

Much of Cemlyn’s history as a wildlife site is tied to the story of Captain Vivian Hewitt, who came to the area in the 1930s, settling in Bryn Aber, the large house that dominates the western end of the reserve, and buying up much of the surrounding land.

Wlyfa from Cemlyn 1967 © Jane Rees

A wealthy eccentric, his interest in birds led him to construct the first dam and weir at Cemlyn, replacing tidal saltmarsh (that frequently dried out in summer) with a large and permanent lagoon which he intended as a refuge for wildfowl. It is this legacy that has had most significance for wildlife at the site – the change to a stable body of water encompassing small islands providing terns with nesting sites that are less accessible to ground predators. 

Over the following decades, various changes have occurred to the lagoon – some natural, eg. storms breaking over the ridge and swamping the lagoon – some man-made, eg. the reconstruction of the weir in the 1970s, and the creation or removal of islands. The water level and salinity of the lagoon is now monitored to maintain the ideal habitat for terns and other wildlife.

Captain Hewitt also had a scheme to nurture an area of woodland within the grounds of Bryn Aber, to attract smaller birds. To this end he constructed an imposing double wall, as both as a wind-brake for the trees, and as a means of observing the birds – the gap between the two walls had viewing holes. A further plan to top the walls with polished stone was never completed, and after Captain Hewitt’s death, the house was left to his housekeeper’s family, but the walls themselves remain, lending the site its mysterious atmosphere.

A couple of years after Captain Hewitt died, the Cemlyn estate was bought by the National Trust. Since 1971, they have leased the land around the lagoon to the North Wales Wildlife Trust, who manage it as a nature reserve. The two organisations work in partnership to enhance and maintain the site for wildlife and the public.

The reserve has had a warden every summer since 1981, with two wardens being employed every season since 1997. With the help of numerous volunteers, their work has included the detailed monitoring of the tern’s breeding success, protection of the colonies from a variety of natural predators (and in a couple of cases from the unwanted attentions of egg-collectors), as well as recording other forms of wildlife, and providing information to the public. Their presence on the ridge and around the reserve helps maintain the profile of Cemlyn as an important and nationally valuable site.

Stacking sand bags 1974 © Keith Hiscock

“NWWT would like to thank Colin Harrington and his family for enabling the Trust to employ the Cemlyn wardens. Colin’s donations continue to ensure that this vital colony remains protected and that visitors are able to better understand the terns and their environment.”