25 March 2021
Snowdonia National Park is one of our major attractions in Wales - full of natural beauty and featuring some of the most spectacular walks in the world. It is Wales's largest National Park and Snowdonia is home to the country's highest mountain and largest natural lake, as well as a wealth of beautiful villages.
Around 600,000 people travel up Snowdon every year, with numbers rising dramatically over the last ten years. However, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK (and world) in 2020, the National Park had to face unprecedented challenges and obstacles. And these challenges remain to this day.
In a new documentary on S4C on Thursday 1 April at 9.00pm we will be shown around the park and get a very different picture of the place through the eyes of some of the people who live and work there at an unprecedented time in the history of Wales' oldest National Park.
In July 2020, as the restrictions on staying local loosen, allowing people to travel again, Helen Pye, Snowdonia National Park's Head of Engagement, is preparing for the re-opening:
"It's a bit like waiting for a storm. You don't know if the storm is going to arrive or not and all you can do is prepare for the worst and hope for the best."
But soon after reopening, the busyness becomes too much. There are endless rows of cars parked illegally and dangerously on Pen-y-Pass with car parks full at 3am. By the time staff arrived at 7, the cars were a hundred yards down the main road, causing serious traffic problems.
One of the Assistant Wardens, who directs the cars to the park and ride system, is Keith Ellis:
"Most people are fine...people have been under great pressure and fear because of the pandemic, everyone wants to come out and get some fresh air. It's nice to see people back. We want to welcome people back - we rely on the money coming to the area - but people also want to be sensible when they turn up.
"There has to be plans A, B and C and if it's too busy, think if its safe to be here."
One village where many problems have emerged is Llanberis, at the foot of Snowdon. While wandering the village, local Councillor Kevin Morris Jones observes that many visitors park in residents-only sites rather than paying at the local car parks.
Tensions between tourists visiting Snowdonia and the area's residents have existed for years, but in 2020, Covid-19 has exposed these social tensions more than ever.
A resident of Llanberis has seen a rise in the busyness since the relaxation of the rules in England and the tension between village residents and visitors is also getting worse, especially as more and more people park on the street in in the early hours of the morning to go up Snowdon making a great deal of noise while the neighbours are trying to sleep.
Beddgelert is another village that attracts a very large number of tourists to North Wales annually. Ffion Davies of the Community Council is concerned about how many more people the village can cope with and is feeling more pressure than ever as they now must protect the health, safety and welfare of the community.
Erynne Watson lives with her two young sons in the village and has seen the impact of overcrowding on her young children:
"They don't want to come out of the house to the village. We tried to come down here and one of my kids almost had a panic attack because no one kept the 2 meters. They don't see that it's fair - they want to come down to swim in the river and they can't."
But as people flock to the village, even though the cafes and pubs are closed, some doubt how much the local community is now benefiting from the tourism trade, as many stay in holiday homes and buy food on their way. And concerns about the long-term impact of these developments are rising.
Erynne added: "I see in 20 years the community will be lost."
And despite the challenges, there's no doubt that the area is also totally dependent on tourism. Looking to the future, this programme will consider the new challenges for rural communities as a result of the pandemic. Questions and topics that became more prominent than ever during the remarkable summer of 2020.
Eryri: Croeso Nol? (Eryri: Welcome Back?)
Thursday, 1 April, 9.00pm
English subtitles available
On demand: S4C Clic, iPlayer and other platforms
A Cwmni Da production for S4C