Top and middle The pipe trench cuts a swathe across the landscape and exposes thousands of years of Welsh prehistory. Bottom One of the most spectacular discoveries was a Class II Neolithic henge of massive dimensions. Below Within the spread of cleared ground, machines dig out the central trench, which must be wide enough to take the 1.2m wide pipe sections, and deep enough to ensure that the pipeline will be 1.2m down once the land is restored to its natural condition.
Brecon Beacons National Park, a further 196km to Tirley in Gloucestershire, where it again links into the national gas network.
Archaeologists are working around a construction project that is in every sense monumental. Once the top- and sub-soils are removed from the pipeline working width (or ‘spread’), the line is ‘strung’ with pipe-sections, each one 1.2m in diameter and 12m or 18m in length. These sections are welded together into convenient lengths, a deep trench is cut in the base of the main spread, and into this the welded pipelengths are carefully lowered by machine.
This great cutting-through of the landscape, and the intrusion into it of the pipeline, is controversial – even though nothing will show on the surface when work is finished. Sheets painted ‘No pipeline’ flap in the wind on the edge of nearby woods in advance of the line the machines will follow. Local concerns about ecology and archaeology have surfaced in the South Wales press. Some of the diggers on the archaeological sites have expressed sympathy with the protestors. Rescue archaeology in the context of 21st century industrial development can be politically charged.
Neil Fairburn stresses the importance of accommodating different needs: ‘Archaeologists and ecologists have been working closely together on the project, but energy for a modern economy is also vital, so construction, environment, and heritage interests have to be meshed together.’