Pembrokeshire & West Wales - Nature Reserves
Ynys-hir RSPB Reserve, Machynlleth
Visitors to the Machynlleth area can enjoy the RSPB reserve, Visitor Centre and shop at Ynys-hir which is situated to the west of the road from Machynlleth to Aberystwyth. The reserve is open from dawn to dusk; the visitor centre is open daily 9am to 5pm from April to October and 10am to 4 pm from November to March. Turn off the A487 in the village of Eglwys-fach where signposted and continue for a mile to the car park.
In the spring, look out for breeding waders, including redshanks and lapwings and wildfowl, such as shovelers, teals and mallards. You may see woodland breeding birds including pied flycatchers, redstarts and wood warblers and birds of prey such as peregrines and red kites. Take a walk in the oak woodland to enjoy the carpet of spring flowers. There are two main circular routes of 1.5 miles and 3 miles; one route is without stiles and the longer route is rugged.
Summer brings migrant waders such as green sandpipers and greenshanks, numerous dragonflies and butterflies and birds of prey including peregrines and red kites. See if you can spot an otter on a pond or in the river.
In autumn, large numbers of ducks feed on the saltmarshes, including wigeons, teals, shovelers, white-fronted geese and barnacle geese. This is also a good time of year to see wading birds, such as lapwings, golden plovers and curlews, and birds of prey.
Ducks and geese continue to feed in large numbers on the estuary saltmarshes in winter. Lapwings, golden plovers and curlews and birds of prey are also present at this time of year.
Dyfi National Nature Reserve, Borth
Dyfi is an extensive reserve located midway between Aberystwyth and Machynlleth on the seaward side of the A487. It includes part of the Dyfi Estuary, Ynyslas dunes and Cors Fochno (Borth bog), one of the largest and finest examples of a raised peat bog in Britain. The most westerly part of the bog is now eroded away by the rising sea but, at low tide, the stumps of long dead trees can still be seen on the beach near Borth.
The dunes and beach at Ynyslas to the north of Borth are open access and a visitor centre is open daily 09.30 to 17.00 from Easter until the end of September; parking is available on the beach. Paths on this part of the reserve include a 500yd long boardwalk crossing the dunes to give access to the beach and a 1000yd shell path.
A circular route of approximately a mile provides public access to Cors Fochno; it runs south along a track from the B4353 to the west of Llancynfelyn. A public footpath from the road to the north of Borth village leads across the golf course and out to the river Leri. This is a good route for birdwatchers, and provides views over the bog on both sides of the river.
The Dyfi Estuary includes a range of habitats, with river channels and creeks, large areas of mudflats and sandbanks and by far the largest area of saltmarsh in Ceredigion. In the winter large numbers of waders and wildfowl use the estuary to overwinter, including important numbers of wigeon. The estuary also supports the only regular wintering population of Greenland white-fronted geese in Wales and England. You can see these from the adjacent RSPB reserve at Ynys-hir along with other wildfowl and wintering waders such as lapwing and golden plover.
Coed Rheidol National Nature Reserve, Aberystwyth
To the east of Aberystwyth, The Rheidol valley is altogether one of the most spectacular landscapes in Wales. The Coed Rheidol Reserve is an excellent example of the sessile oak woodland that is typically found in Wales, although the woodland also contains other trees such as birch, rowan and hazel.
There are a number of public footpaths through the reserve that allow visitors to appreciate the plants and animals of the woodland and the exciting landscape in which they are set. At Devil’s Bridge you can get great views of the gorge and woodland by visiting the Waterfalls Walk. The walk is privately run and there’s an admission charge.
North of Devil’s Bridge the valley is a steep sided gorge through which the river Rheidol rushes. Follow the river’s path and you’ll see it turns to the west at Devil’s Bridge before entering a ‘U’ shaped valley formed by glacial action during the last Ice Age, 12,000 years ago. At this point, the river takes on a more leisurely pace as it meanders on down to the sea at Aberystwyth.
Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forestry Visitor Centre, near Aberystwyth
Bwlch Nant yr Arian Forest Centre is set in the Cambrian Mountains just off the A44 road to Aberystwyth, near to the village of Ponterwyd. It offers scenic walks, adventure play areas, an animal puzzle trail, orienteering routes and world class mountain biking. Red Kites are fed daily at 15.00 (14.00 in the winter) and can be viewed from the cafe with a breathtaking lakeside view.
The walking routes include the short and gentle Barcud Trail which will takes you around the edge of the Lake where daily kite feeding takes place and a 1.5 mile Miners Trail which winds along the head of the valley, following a leat which once carried water to power the old lead mines.
The splendid Ridge Top trail provides stunning views throughout its length of 5.5 miles starting out along the high ridge which looks down upon Nant yr Arian, the path rises to a viewpoint from which the panoramic scene takes in the Rheidol and Melindwr valleys, Cardigan Bay beyond Aberystwyth, and Pumlimon, the highest mountain in Mid Wales.
There are two play areas at Bwlch Nant yr Arian, a toddler’s play area and the Dizzy Heights play area, an area for older children.
Bwlch Nant yr Arian has four orienteering routes and these include an easier course designed for beginner orienteerers and is often used by families as well as courses aimed at the more experienced orienteer, with more challenging routes.
Mountain biking routes include the Pendam Trail, a 6 mile ‘taster’, the 10 mile long Summit Trail with superb views and some awesome riding and the Syfydrin Trail - a 22 mile ‘epic ride in epic countryside’.
The visitor centre and cafe are open seven days a week (closing only on Christmas and Boxing Day) from 10.00 to 17.00 and at least one Forestry Ranger will be available on site daily.
Cors Caron National Nature Reserve, Tregaron
At just over two thousand acres, Cors Caron fills the valley of the upper Teifi River between Tregaron and Pontrhydfendigaid. The reserve boasts three raised bogs (areas of deep peat that have built up over the last 12,000 years) and these in turn are surrounded by a complex and unique mix of habitats. These include reedbeds, wet grassland, woodland, rivers, streams and ponds which all make the reserve a fantastic place for wildlife.
A fully accessible boardwalk route runs for nearly a mile over the south-east bog and there is an accessible bird hide next to this route. A fully surfaced path runs for about 4 miles from north to south, along the edge of the reserve; once a railway route, the path is now part of the Ystwyth Trail which goes all the way to Aberystwyth. Seats are provided along this path and cyclists and horse riders are welcome.
Through spring migratory birds can be seen returning such as willow warbler, chiffchaff, sedge warbler and cuckoo; about 70 bird species breed on or near the site throughout the season. In summer lookout for redshank, curlew, flowering cottongrass, bog asphodel, heath spotted orchids and sundews.
Autumn sees passage migrants such as green sandpiper dot the skies, while the bog and the adjoining river provide valuable cover for many species of wildfowl through the winter, including mallard, wigeon and teal.
The main access to the reserve is from a car park on the B4343 north-east of Tregaron on the road to Pontrhydfendigaid. There is also access from the former station yard at Ystrad Meurig on the B4340 Pontrhydfendigaid to Aberystwyth road.
Pengelli Forest National Nature Reserve, Cardigan
Pengelli Forest is part of the largest block of ancient oak woodland in west Wales and was owned and described in detail in Elizabethan times by the noted Pembrokeshire historian George Owen. The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales owns and manages the Reserve which is located south of Cardigan near to the village of Eglwyswrw, about 1.75 miles from Felindre Farchog via road and lane; limited roadside parking is available at the entrance.
The woodland comprises a mixture of birch, ash and alder with a wide range of hybrid oaks; over much of the site there is a dense understorey of bramble, hazel, honeysuckle, hawthorn and holly.
Ty Canol National Nature Reserve, Cardigan
South-west of Eglwyswrw is Pentre Ifan Cromlech, a Neolithic site of a chambered cairn thought to date from 3500 BC. The ancient woodland nearby which is Ty Canol National Nature Reserve represents the type of forest that surrounded Pentre Ifan when that tomb was built. It includes both woodland and boulder-strewn heathland with rock outcrops.
The main access point is via the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park car park at the beginning of the track to Pentre Ifan farm. Travelling from Newport on the A487, turn right at the Nevern crossroads, taking the minor road to Sychpant Cross. Turn left here and after 0.75 mile, turn right into the small car park.
The Welsh Widlife Centre, Cilgerran, Cardigan
The Welsh Wildlife Centre is at Cilgerran to the south-east of Cardigan and stands within the Teifi Marshes Nature Reserve on the banks of the River Teifi. The stunning building is constructed largely of wood and glass and has panoramic views over the Teifi, Cardigan and woodland. The Centre contains an informative interactive indoor display of local natural and social history about the River Teifi and Cilgerran and interactive screens with live camera feed from off the Teifi Marshes Nature Reserve.
The car park, bird hides and reserve are open all the time. The Centre has a Cafe with hot food from an excellent menu plus a gift shop which are open seven days a week from 10.00 until 17.00 (16.00 in February and March) until 22 December and then again from 22 February onwards.
There is always a chance to something of interest at the Teifi Marshes and the Welsh Wildlife Centre, no matter what the season. Winter sees over-wintering birds such as teal, wigeon and mallard in their thousands whilst in spring there is a chance to see bluebells in flower and the first of the dragonflies emerging. In the summer, watch butterflies from the Tree Tops hide, dragonflies and breeding birds such as reed warblers, sedge warblers, Cetti’s warblers and whitethroats; salmon will be heading up stream in the autumn, sounds of red and sika deer rutting and autumnal migrating birds such as redwings, fieldfares and Siberian blackbirds.
From Fishguard and Newport, follow the A487 up towards Cardigan. At the roundabout on the outskirts of Cardigan, take the 3rd exit on to the A478 and after 1.5 miles in Pen-y-bryn, turn left towards Cilgerran Castle and Cilgerran village. Half a mile later, turn left onto Church Street and bear left onto an un-named road with the Welsh Wildlife Centre sign ahead. From New Quay and Aberystwyth, follow the A487 down towards Cardigan. At the 1st roundabout, on the outskirts of Cardigan, take the 2nd exit over the river, still on the A487. At the next roundabout, take the first exit onto the A478. After 1.5 miles in Pen-y-bryn, turn left towards Cilgerran Castle and Cilgerran village. Half a mile later, turn left onto Church Street and bear left onto an un-named road with the Welsh Wildlife Centre sign ahead.
Stackpole National Nature Reserve, South Pembrokeshire
Stackpole National Nature Reserve, situated on the Castlemartin peninsula in south Pembrokeshire, is an exceptionally biologically rich site. It supports a wealth of important habitats and species – from the shallow freshwater Bosherston lakes, flanked by woodland and dunes, to magnificent limestone cliffs and headlands.
Two of Pembrokeshire’s finest beaches (Broad Haven and Barafundle Bay) also lie within the reserve. Few places around the UK contain such a variety of habitats and wildlife in such a relatively small area. The National Trust owns and manages the reserve in partnership with the Countryside Council for Wales.
The main public access to the reserve is via the B4319 Pembroke to Castlemartin road. From here, minor roads lead to National Trust car parks at Bosherston village, Stackpole Quay and Broad Haven.
Skokholm Island National Nature Reserve, South-West Pembrokeshire
Skokholm Island lies 2.5 miles south-west of the Marloes peninsular in Pembrokeshire and a similar distance south of Skomer Island and is of international importance for its breeding seabirds. Managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, the island is roughly a mile in length and half a mile across at its widest point. It is bounded by cliffs of Old Red Sandstone that rise to 160 feet in the south-west and are frequently battered by storms.
This has given rise to a coastline of deep bays and gullies exposing much of the interesting underlying rock strata in a variety of red and purple hues. The dramatic windswept landscape of the island is dominated by its bird colonies, some of which are of global importance.
Landing is not permitted on the island apart from day trips organised by the Wildlife Trust. The best way to see Skokholm is on a wildlife safari from Dale or an evening boat cruise from Martin's Haven; these are especially good for viewing rafts of birds heading back to their chicks.
The island is famed for its Manx shearwaters and storm petrels and also supports strong colonies of puffin, as well as razorbills and guillemots. The shearwater colony is probably the third largest in the world, while the breeding storm petrels could account for up to 20% of the EU population. These two birds spend most of their lives at sea, only coming ashore to breed, and then only at night. They create a spectacular nocturnal experience for island visitors.
There is also a large colony of lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls and great black-backed gulls are also present. The island is a breeding site for oystercatchers and chough as well as skylark and wheatear, and is well known for its migrant birds including chiffchaff, willow warblers, whitethroat, spotted and pied flycatchers and redstart.
Grey Seals are present in the waters around the island throughout the year, and can be seen basking on rocks at low water daily. Cetaceans are seen close inshore, with daily sightings of Harbour Porpoise, and infrequent sightings of Common, Bottlenose and Risso’s Dolphins.
Skomer Island National Nature Reserve, South-West Pembrokeshire
Skomer Island is probably the most important seabird site in southern Britain and includes maritime grassland, lush inland vegetation, streams and ponds.
Access is via a scheduled boat service from Martin’s Haven (west of Marloes) which runs from Good Friday until 31 October Tuesdays to Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays and leaves from Martin's Haven at 10am, 11am and 12 noon with return sailings from 3pm onwards.
The majority of the island is 200 ft above sea level, with most of the coast made up of steep sea cliffs; at one point the island is nearly bisected except for a narrow isthmus. It is also rich in historical remains; early field systems, huts and enclosures provide considerable evidence of human occupation here in prehistoric times.
The seabirds are the island’s biggest attraction. The colony of Manx shearwater is possibly the largest in the world, and the puffin, storm petrel, guillemot and razorbill colonies present a significant proportion of the total population of these species in Britain as a whole.
On the cliffs there are thousands of kittiwakes and hundreds of fulmar, augmented by herring, lesser and great black-backed gulls. Apart from the seabirds, breeding species include short-eared owl, curlew, chough and peregrine. During May and June the island is carpeted with bluebells and red campion, with thrift and sea campion along the cliff edges later in the year.
Grassholm Island RSPB Reserve, Pembrokeshire
Grassholm Island is a small uninhabited island situated 8 miles off the Pembrokeshire coast to the west of Skomer. It supports 39,000 pairs of breeding gannets, the third largest Atlantic gannet colony in the world and in the region of 10% of the entire world population.
Boat tours are run to the island in the summer from St Justinians - there are no landings on Grassholm itself. The gannets are the main attraction but you may also be able to see puffins, shearwaters and other seabirds as well as marine mammals including grey seal, porpoise and, possibly, minke whale.
Ramsey Island RSPB Reserve, Pembrokeshire
The island, with cliffs up to 400 ft high, is the perfect place for breeding seabirds in spring and early summer; visitors can walk along the coastal heathland and enjoy the spectacular views.
The Reserve is open every day from 1 April to 31 October, between 10 am and 4 pm. Boats cross (weather permitting) from the Lifeboat Station at St Justinians (west of St David’s) at 10 am and 12 pm, returning at 4 pm. There is a small shop on the island and refreshments are available.
In spring peregrines, choughs, ravens and seabirds are nesting on the cliffs and the island has breeding wheatears, stonechats, meadow pipits and skylarks. Cliff flowers carpet the sheltered slopes in pink, blue and yellow. From the summit of Carn Llundain, look for displaying lapwings below; look out too for unusual spring migrants passing through.
The island is awash with colour from May to September, with bluebells, then pink thrift and purple heather. You might see choughs and peregrines nesting on the cliffs. Seabird colonies are in full swing in the summer with guillemots and razorbills on the ledges until mid-July; kittiwakes and fulmars stay into August. Look for fledging birds, including peregrines, buzzards, choughs and wheatears. The heathland blooms in August, a carpet of pink, purple and yellow.
Autumn is the breeding season for grey seals. Look and listen for the females and their white fur-clad pups on the beaches, and spot the large dark-skinned males patrolling just off shore. Look out for choughs, ravens and peregrines and for unusual migrants passing through.
Llys-y-Fran Reservoir, Clarbeston Road
Llys-y-Fran reservoir is set in a peaceful country park of grass and mature woodland with picturesque views of the nearby Preseli Hills; it is located north-west of Narberth and north-east of Clarbeston Road and is open 8.00 to dusk (09.00 to 17.00 in winter). The circular footpath is about 6.5 miles around the reservoir and includes a self-guided nature trail; a disabled accessible trail is now open within the wooded area south of the Stilling Basin.
A restaurant/cafeteria and a craft and gift shop are open daily from March to October and there are two adventure playgrounds adjacent to the visitor centre. The cycling season is also from March to October - small charge made if using your own bike or mountain bikes can be hired.
Waun Las National Nature Reserve near Carmarthen
Many of the fields and woods surrounding the National Botanic Garden of Wales have come together to form the Waun Las National Nature Reserve. Visitors can currently enjoy a wide round walk across the reserves beautiful meadow, which takes about an hour to complete.
From Carmarthen, take the A48 to the B4310 for Nantgaredig and follow the signs for the National Botanic Garden of Wales. The Reserve entrance is a five minute walk from the Gatehouse by the National Botanic Garden visitor's car park.
Cors Goch Llanllwch National Nature Reserve near Carmarthen
Situated to the west of Carmarthen, Cors Goch is part of a lowland raised mire and is one of the last six large raised bogs in Wales. The peat itself can get as deep as 15ft, and this charts evidence of an uninterrupted environmental record spanning 8,000 years. The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales owns and manages the site. Access to the Reserve is by a track south of the A40 Carmarthen to St Clear’s road, some 4 miles west of Carmarthen.
The National Wetland Centre, Llanelli
The National Wetland Centre lies just to the east of Llanelli off the A484 and B4304 to Swansea on the northern shore of the Burry Inlet facing the Gower peninsula; follow the duck signs off the M4 from junction 48. It is managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, a nature conservation charity.
The Centre is open daily (except Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) from 09.30 to 17.00; the grounds are open until 18.00 in the summer.
Covering 450 acres, the reserve encompasses saltmarsh, freshwater lagoons and the millennium wetlands, a complex of pools, grassy banks and reedbeds. The range of habitats makes the site a refuge for many different plants and animals – from year-round members of the centre’s world wildfowl collection to seasonal flocks of wild birds numbering up to 50,000 strong.
Surfaced paths wind through the reedbeds and visitors can explore the site by bicycle (the centre has a fleet of 25 bikes) or, in the school summer holidays, take a jungle explorer-style tour by canoe. A Visitor Centre houses the interactive Millennium Discovery Centre, a gift shop and a cafe with panoramic views; the Centre also has several children’s play areas.
The lagoons nearest to the estuary are where birds gather in the greatest abundance, including black-tailed and bar-tailed godwits, curlew, pintail, shelduck, shoveler, snipe and teal. Little egrets – rarely seen in Wales before the centre opened - are often present too in ever-rising numbers.
In winter the estuary fills with up to 50,000 wintering waterbirds, with rarities like the bittern sometimes among them; up above, birds of prey are hunting and, as dusk falls, may include representatives from all five native species of owl.
Lapwing and shelduck begin their noisy courtships in the spring; wild orchids are among the many wildflowers coming into bloom and the first of the new season’s ducklings hatch.
Warblers are in full song in the summer; a carpet of wildflowers attracts many rare and special species of butterfly, dragonfly and moth and water voles swim and scamper by their waterside burrows. In the autumn, little egrets create a comical sight as several attempt to roost in the same tree; high tides push migrating waders closer to the shore and the hides.