David Beeson June 2022
Annette and I embarked on a two-week exploration of the coastline at the start of June. Our first stop was just west of Newport at the Tredegar House caravan site. This allowed easy access to The Newport Wetlands which are partly managed by the RSPB and dominated by present and past electricity generation.
The Newport Wetlands trail guide is available: https://www.rspb.org.uk/globalassets/downloads/documents/reserves/newport-wetlands-trail-guide.pdf
As is often the situation in the UK, the site is reclaimed from industry. Any elevated sites (and there are many) have been built up with coal ash from the adjacent, but defunct, coal-fired power station. Even the wetland ponds were once slurry pits; despite that, they hold some interesting wildlife.
Reedbeds, grassy wetlands and estuarine habitats are here. There are 16 species of dragonfly, rare bees and an abundance of butterfly and day-flying moths, while stoats and weasels are often encountered … but not for us. Water shrews are here, too, but are mostly nocturnal and always challenging to spot.
The RSPB staff mainly deal with school groups, yet are a fund of knowledge and we were pointed to a huge heap of reed-cuttings just 100m from the entrance. Several large grass snakes were basking there despite the cool summer conditions. Most likely, the pile would serve as an incubation pile for their leathery eggs. Yet not all the snakes have it so easy, one went, with considerable difficulty, down the throat of a grey heron!
With only one hide and limited access to the waterways, the animal wildlife has the place to itself. With it being summer, waterfowl were in low numbers, but grebes, moorhens and mute swans were easily seen. A single male marsh harrier quartered the extensive reedbeds, and buntings and warblers played us their songs. Bearded tits are common here.
Even before we passed the entrance there were orchids on display: bee and southern marsh orchids being common. Overall, there are five orchid species here.
Overall, an interesting location but hardly worth a full journey in summer. As a local excursion, it offers plenty.
We headed west.
The Gower Peninsular is spectacular scenery. It is a chunk of limestone dumped onto the bottom of Wales, just west of Swansea. About 70 square miles (180 km2) in area, Gower is known for its coastline, popular with walkers and outdoor enthusiasts, especially surfers. It was the UK’s first AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), which gives it mild planning protection.
The north-coast is estuarine and is dominated by salt marsh and cockle beds, with plant-rich sand dunes in the south-west. The south coast is a delightful combination of rocky bays, sandy beaches and sand dunes. The east is a conurbation and we failed to sample it.
Inland are stone-walled small fields, some dating back to Medieval times, and open common land. Stone-built castles abound here.
Woodland is limited, and those open are infested with dog walkers who seem unable to control their barking and unpleasant hounds. Grab a heavy stick if you wish … we were attacked by three dogs and were shaken by the experience.
The best wildlife locations: Cym Ivy sand dunes near Llanmadoc (Britannia Inn for an evening meal is worth exploring) – look out for marsh helleborines in the wet areas and sea holly near the coast; Worms Head for nesting seabirds, kestrels and coughs. Oxwich National Nature Reserve offers yellow rattle and several orchids, plus a healthy adder population. Oxwich Wood, just south of the village, is a woodland I’d love to own. It is rich in ferns and its slope gives it a challenging format.
For a spectacular hay meadow visit the wonderful Welsh Botanic Gardens. We encountered thousands of greater butterfly, spotted and southern marsh orchids. A stunning site overall as they have incorporated wild planting whenever possible. A real must-visit in June.
However, the Llanelli Wetlands, Wildfowl and Wetlands Organisation, was too much a smelly zoo for us. Perhaps it would offer more in winter when the migration of northern bird species would add some attraction.