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Snowdonia & the Lleyn Peninsula - Nature Reserves

Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island) National Nature Reserve

Lying off the coast of the Lleyn peninsula, Bardsey Island is soaked in history and is home to a huge variety and diversity of wildlife and is recognised nationally and internationally as such. Here you’ll find birds, rare flowering plants, lichens, liverworts and mosses, coastal grassland and heathland, sea cliff ledges and marine wildlife.

The birds are the most visible outward sign of the diversity on Bardsey. Long before landing on the island, you’ll notice that the air around the cliffs is full of gulls, cormorants and shags. Throughout spring more birds arrive from their wintering grounds out at sea. They include kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars and Manx shearwaters which breed on the sea cliffs and in burrows safe from predatory land mammals.

There are marked paths around the island. Visitors are asked to keep to these paths to avoid damage or disturbance to the sensitive wildlife. There are toilets and a visitor centre and the island is home to the Bardsey Island Bird and Field Observatory; Bardsey Island Trust manages the reserve. Access is by boat only and day trips usually start from Porth Meudwy, but sometimes from Pwllheli.

Glaslyn Osprey Viewing Centre near Porthmadog

In 2012, the RSPB decided to offer the management of the Glaslyn Osprey Project to the local community. Bywyd Gwyllt Glaslyn Wildlife is a Community Interest Company formed to continue the protection of a pair of breeding ospreys in the Glaslyn Valley; they expect the viewing centre at Pont Croesor to be fully operational for the 2015 season.

2014 saw the Glaslyn ospreys raised three fledglings; by the end of August, all of them had left the nest for their journey to Senegal or The Gambia in West Africa. The parents departed in early September and hopefully they will return towards the end of March.

To get to the centre, take the A487 north from Porthmadog, turn right onto the A498 at Tremadog and turn right again after about 2.5 miles onto the B4410. The entrance is on the right at a bend in the road. Turn into the site and continue over the railway to the car park - follow the arrows.

Or you can take a train on the Welsh Highland Railway; it is a 20 minute ride from Porthmadog to Pont Croesor, the station for the centre.

There are four picnic tables at the site, a nature trail for children, regular family events and a mini shop with tea, coffee and ice cream.

Coedydd Aber National Nature Reserve near Llanfairfechan

The main attraction for visitors to Coedydd Aber has long been the reserve’s spectacular waterfall, but the valley is home to a diverse range of habitats, from mixed woodland to grassland. There are also many features of historic and archaeological interest, including an Iron Age hill fort and the remains of several round houses.

The reserve is located on the northern side of the Carneddau Mountains just off the A55, south-west of Llanfairfechan. The entrance to the reserve is at Bont Newydd (about a half-mile from the village of Abergwyngregyn) and the main path spans the distance from the entrance to the base of the waterfall.

Conwy RSPB Reserve

The RSPB Visitor Centre at Conwy is open all year round except for Christmas Day. Situated on the banks of the Conwy estuary, with magnificent views of Snowdonia and Conwy Castle, this reserve is delightful at any time of year. Visitors are welcome to join one of the RSPB’s guided walks along pushchair-friendly paths and they have events to suit everyone from keen birdwatchers to beginners or young families.

The reserve has the Waterside Coffee Shop, overlooking a lagoon, and a well-stocked gift shop; the local Farmers Market is held at the reserve on the last Wednesday of every month. From the A55, take junction 18 (signposted Conwy and Deganwy) and follow the brown RSPB signs; the reserve is on the south side of the roundabout.

Birds can always be seen from the visitor centre, and the RSPB’s friendly experts can help you spot godwits and shelducks, or any of the more than 200 different species that have been seen at this reserve.

Spring at the Reserve will have lapwings performing their tumbling display flights and grey herons building their nests. Birdsong increases from April as migrants arrive from Africa and cowslips burst into flower around the coffee shop; orange-tip and peacock butterflies take nectar from early flowers.

In the summer, warblers sing from the reedbeds, young ducks and waders hatch and little egret numbers build up following the breeding season. There will be a profusion of wild flowers, including delicate bee orchids and scrub and common blue butterflies and six-spotted burnet moths feed on the bright yellow bird's foot trefoil. Look out for stoats hunting on the estuary track.

Waders pass through in the autumn on migration, ducks arrive for the winter and buzzards soar over the nearby woods.

In winter, huge flocks of starlings settle down to roost at dusk. Water rails may be seen from the Coffee Shop and close-up views of buntings and finches at the feeding station. Gorse bursts into flower from January; look for tracks of birds and mammals in the snow.

Coed Dolgarrog National Nature Reserve, Conwy Valley

Coed Dolgarrog consists of woodland on the steep western side of the Conwy Valley, 6.5 miles south of Conwy and 4 miles north of Llanrwst. Two distinct woodland types exist within the reserve, including wet alder woodland, a rare habitat in this part of the country. Beech trees are also an important part of the woodland canopy at Coed Dolgarrog, and although these were almost certainly planted, they are nevertheless unusual in this part of Wales.

Unofficial parking is available for approximately 15 - 20 vehicles in an untreated car park at Pont Dolgarrog, south of the village near the Lord Newborough pub. You can also park on the roadside in the village itself.

Cwm Idwal National Nature Reserve, near Bethesda

Cwm Idwal was Wales’ first National Nature Reserve in 1954 and is one of the finest places to see how glaciation and post-glacial processes shaped our dramatic landscape; the cwm forms a magnificent amphitheatre behind the glacial lake of Llyn Idwal.

There is open access on the reserve with several walking and rock scrambling routes leading up to higher ridges. The A5 passes Llyn Ogwen, within 500 yards of Cwm Idwal, some 4 to 5 miles south of the village of Bethesda; a car park is available.

Cwm Glas Crafnant National Nature Reserve, near Betws-y-Coed

This Reserve lies at the head of the narrow Afon Crafnant valley, beneath the rocky masses of Crimpiau and Craig Wen. There are no formal public footpaths and the nearest public right of way is around 400 yards from the Reserve boundary; this route links Llyn Crafnant with Capel Curig, and provides a good view of the Reserve from the south.

The Forestry site at the northern end of the lake has car parking, way marked trails and toilets. One of the forestry trails goes around the lake on a fairly level forest track, returning via a tarmac road; this route passes within 500 yards of the Reserve. Follow the minor road west and uphill from the village of Trefriw for about 3.5 miles (Llyn Crafnant is signposted as a fishing area); there is a seasonal cafe and fishing at Cynllwyd, half way along the lake.

Snowdonia National Park Visitor Centre

Snowdonia (Eryri) was designated a National Park in 1951 and has an area of 838 square miles. The Park attracts over 6 million visitors annually, making it the third most visited National Park in England and Wales.

Hafod Eryri is the Visitor Centre on the summit of Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa), the highest mountain in Wales at 3,560 ft. It opened in 2009 and is a unique designed structure built of granite with large views from the "window on the world" wall of glass which makes up the front of the centre. It acts as a terminus for the Snowdon Mountain Railway providing refreshment facilities, toilets and interpretation of the mountain, its history and ways to enjoy it; much of the interpretation is built into the structure.

Lines of poetry from the former National Poet of Wales, Gwyn Thomas, are also built into the building which now provides a suitable structure as the highest building in Wales and England.

Hafod Eryri has to be able to withstand extreme weather conditions on the summit with winds over 150mph (twice hurricane force, over 5 metres of rain and temperatures of -20 degrees centigrade (excluding wind chill).

The Visitor Centre opens as soon as access by train is possible in the spring (the date is dependent on winter weather on the mountain) and it usually closes at the end of October.

The granite walls, roof and floors were built with stone from Blaenau Ffestiniog and Portugal and the internal walls are lined with Welsh Oak; all materials were carried to the summit by train.

Yr Wyddfa National Nature Reserve, Snowdon

Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) lies at the heart of Snowdonia and is the highest of the mountains in this range. The reserve is located approximately 10 miles south-east of Caernarfon and the same distance north of Porthmadog, and includes the valleys of Glaslyn and Afon Cwm y Llan to the east and south of the mountain – between the A4086 and A498.

The reserve is open access land, where paths to the reserve vary from wide, level tracks to steep mountain paths which are rocky with steps, stiles and gates. Apart from the Miners Track to Llyn Llydaw from Pen y Pass car park, all routes are mountain paths – unsurfaced and uneven, with scree and sheer cliffs nearby.

There are several ways of reaching the reserve:-

Pen y Pass car park is on the A4068, 6 miles south-east of Llanberis; the Miners Track and the Pyg Track start from here.

Pont Bethania car park, Nantgwynant is on the A498, about 4 miles north-east of Beddgelert; the Watkin Path starts opposite.

The car park by the Snowdon Ranger Youth Hostel on the northern shore of Llyn Cwellyn is on the A4085 about 7 miles north of Beddgelert. The Snowdon Ranger Path starts here and leads to the summit of Yr Wyddfa.

Rhyd Ddu car park is on the A4085 about 4 miles north-west of Beddgelert.

Coedydd Maentwrog National Nature Reserve, Vale of Ffestiniog

Coedydd Maentwrog is one of several woodland reserves in the Vale of Ffestiniog which runs from the coast at Porthmadog inland to Blaenau Ffestiniog; an attractive expansive woodland on the north side of the Vale, the reserve comprises two separate woodland sections - Coed Llyn Mair and a large block of three adjacent woods.

A nature trail runs for some 400 yards through Coed Llyn Mair, ascending quite steeply over a series of steps to Tan y Bwlch station on the Ffestiniog Railway. In the larger southern section of the reserve there is a good public footpath network, including a route which runs parallel to the Railway going as far as Dduallt.

The wood lies close to Maentwrog on the A487; dedicated car parking is provided at Coed Llyn Mair, alongside the B4410 north of the A487, while there is also some space at Tan y Bwlch station.

Ceunant Cynfal National Nature Reserve, Vale of Ffestiniog

Ceunant Cynfal is another woodland Reserve in the Vale of Ffestiniog which is actually a steep narrow gorge carrying the Afon Cynfal down a series of spectacular waterfalls as it descends to the Afon Dwyryd in the Vale below. This type of Atlantic woodland is often described as “temperate rain forest” due to the prevailing damp humid climate and associated abundance of ferns, lichens and rich growth of mosses and liverworts.

By following signs ‘To the Falls’ from Llan Ffestiniog (on the A470) you come to the waterfall after about 800 yards. From the bridge immediately upstream of the falls, you can walk up or downstream on public footpaths above the gorge.

Hafod Garregog National Nature Reserve near Porthmadog

Owned by the National Trust, Hafod Garregog is a quiet, isolated reserve. It includes a large area of woodland established on rocky crags and areas of wetland on low-lying land between the crags. There is a wide range of habitats here within a relatively small area, supporting a wide variety of plants and animals.

You can walk in some of the woods or wander down to the river and the views from here back to the mountains are particularly fine. The track leading to the river is level, and runs alongside the Welsh Highland Railway line. The Reserve is located 3 miles north of Porthmadog on the A4085 midway between Penrhyndeudraeth and Beddgelert.

There is informal car parking at the end of the tarmac road which leaves the A4085 at Pont Talyrni, about 3.5 miles south of Beddgelert.

Rhinog National Nature Reserve near Harlech

The Rhinogydd are steep rocky mountains located to the east of Harlech; the reserve lies at the centre of this mountain range. There are various paths across the reserve, including two public rights of way and a network of unofficial routes leading to the summits and along skylines.

The mountain slopes are a jumble of large angular rocks, enormous boulders and steep routes including steep sections and this is regarded as some of the most difficult terrain in Wales. The traditional footpaths, such as the Roman Steps, were probably originally medieval drovers’ routes.

The most popular access is from Llanbedr (south of Harlech on the A496); take the narrow road inland for about 5 miles to the Cwm Bychan car park and from here walk along the Roman Steps; it is about 2.5 miles to the reserve boundary.

There is parking on the east side of the Reserve at the Cwrt Forestry plantation. Follow the minor road that leaves the A470 half-way between Bronaber and the edge of Coed y Brenin forest, over Pont y Grible and across 2 miles of Crawcwellt moor.

Morfa Harlech National Nature Reserve

Managed by the Snowdonia National Park Authority, Morfa Harlech is one of two extensive sand dune systems which make up much of the soft Meirionnydd coastline, extending from the Mawddach estuary in the south to Black Rock Sands in the north-west. For many, the view across Morfa Harlech from the main road, south of the reserve, is one of the finest in Wales.

In fairly recent times the sea lapped at the base of the cliff on which Harlech Castle stands, but the accumulation of sand and the development of the dunes gradually pushed the shoreline westward. Morfa Harlech is one of Britain's few accreting sand dune systems, due to the long-shore drift which is currently eroding the dunes at Morfa Dyffryn.

There is a range of sand dune communities, and extensive dune slacks which support many nationally scarce/rare plant and invertebrate species. Spring and summer are the best times to see many of the flowering plants that make the dune grasslands and slacks their home.

The reserve lies south of Harlech off the A496; a minor road leads to a car park with a short footpath to the beach.

Coed Garth Gell RSPB Reserve near Dolgellau

Coed Garth Gell nestles in the spectacular Mawddach Valley and is a woodland and heathland nature reserve. The visitor trails weave through beautiful oak woodland with a fast-flowing river in the valley bottom. Come for a walk in winter and you could see siskins, lesser redpolls and, occasionally, hawfinches and lesser spotted woodpeckers.

Part of the reserve's nature trail follows the route of an old gold mining track, and the remains of buildings and other structures associated with the abandoned gold mines can still be seen around the reserve. The oak woods are internationally important for their rare mosses, liverworts and lichens as the wet conditions in the wood are ideal for them. Tiny, tissue-like filmy ferns that are a speciality of the area can be found growing from clumps of moss on wet rocks beside the path. The woods are also home to a population of lesser horseshoe bats.

Coed Garth Gell is open all year round; to get there, take the A496 from Llanelltyd (near Dolgellau) to Barmouth and between the villages of Taicynhaeaf and Bontddu there are several lay-bys and parking places where the reserve can be accessed via public footpaths.

Early spring is the best time of year to see the secretive lesser-spotted woodpecker and hawfinches. Looking up at the tree-tops offers the best chance of seeing these elusive species. For classic oak woodland summer migrants like tree pipit, redstart, wood warbler, pied flycatcher and spotted flycatcher, late April and May are the most rewarding times when they are all in full song. Many woodland plants are flowering in the spring and this is the best time to see bluebells, wood anemones and primroses; on the river, dippers and grey wagtails breed.

The heathland at the top of the reserve has breeding nightjars, which can be heard 'churring' on a summer evening. Open glades are very good for butterflies and golden-ringed dragonflies are common and give spectacular views as they hunt for small insects along the reserves paths - and look out for lizards.

October brings redwings and fieldfares onto the reserve as they travel westward to winter from their Scandinavian breeding grounds. Large flocks can be seen eating rowan berries at the top of the reserve. Woodcocks are also regularly seen in the wood and you may be lucky enough to see one as it flies fast through the trees. Flocks of siskins and lesser redpolls are regular on alders and birches - listen for their chirping calls. In the evenings, tawny owls are regularly heard as they mark out their territories.

On clear sunny days in winter, look out for ravens; this is an excellent time to see their dramatic tumbling aerial displays. Woodland birds form small flocks and groups of tits, finches, nuthatches and treecreepers move noisily through the wood. Great spotted woodpeckers are often heard but not seen, their sharp 'pic, pic' calls are the loudest calls in the wood.

Arthog Bog RSPB Reserve near Fairbourne

Arthog Bog is a small wetland and a wonderful place to see weird and wonderful plants, flowers, butterflies and birds. It's one of the remaining fragments of raised bog which once would have covered much of the adjacent Mawddach Estuary. With more than 130 species of plants recorded, there are colourful displays through the year such as marsh marigold and yellow flag in the spring and hemp agrimony, meadowsweet and ragged robin through the summer.

The reserve is open all year and is reached off the A493 from Dolgellau to Fairbourne road. Between the villages of Arthog and Friog, take the turn for the Morfa Mawddach train station; parking is available here and the main reserve entrance 100 yards before the car park.

Spring is the best time of year to see summer migrants like willow and sedge warblers, whitethroats and cuckoos. Listen in the early mornings and evenings for the distinctive 'reeling' song of the grasshopper warbler as it gives its distinctive song from dense undergrowth. Early spring flowers like marsh marigolds and yellow iris are common place and early butterflies like red admirals, commas and orange-tips are on the wing. Overhead, ravens, buzzards and peregrines are regularly seen.

The bog flowers are at their height in summer and make a spectacular display; the bird life is also busy with many family parties of warblers, finches and reed buntings. Butterflies are common and dragonflies are regularly seen.

The trees around the edge of the reserve in the autumn have redwings and fieldfares from October onwards. Reed buntings are present in the reed-filled ditches and on the edges of the path, flocks of linnets and goldfinches feed on thistle seeds. Late-flying butterflies like red admirals and peacocks are regularly seen on warm sunny days.

In the winter, the alders and birches around the edge of the bog are home to flocks of siskins and lesser redpolls, their chattering calls draw attention to them as they feed in the tree tops. The bog itself appears quiet but woodcocks shelter in the wooded edges of the bog and water rails can be heard calling from areas of reed. Winter is a good time to see ravens and peregrines as they circle over the reserve - look out for the spectacular tumbling aerial displays and croaking calls of the ravens.

Cadair Idris National Nature Reserve

Cadair Idris is a spectacular mountain reserve with a variety of landscapes and terrain. Rugged summits, glacial lakes and a mossy wooded gorge cover over a thousand acres of breathtaking landscape. Local folklore describes Idris as a giant who lived on this magnificent mountain. The large boulders on the lower slopes are said to be the debris of stone throwing battles between Idris and other giants.

A network of paths lead up and around the reserve, meeting on the mountain summit where there is a shelter with benches which can accommodate up to 30 people. At Ystradlyn, the visitor centre on the Talyllyn side of Cadair, you can learn about the mountain and its legends at a modern exhibition with interactive activities; light refreshments are available in the Cadair Tea Room. The centre and tea room are open seasonally.

On the south side of the reserve, at Dol Idris situated near the junction of the B4405 and the A487 from Machynlleth, there is a car park with a small visitor centre 250 yards away which houses an exhibition about conservation and the history of Cadair Idris.

The Dyfi Osprey Project near Machynlleth

The Dyfi Osprey Project is based at the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Cors Dyfi Nature Reserve, Glandyfi.

Once estuary, reclaimed grazing, then conifer plantation and finally wildlife-rich wetland, the land at Cors Dyfi has seen many changes over the last few hundred years. Today the reserve is a healthy mixture of bog, swamp, wet woodland and scrub supporting a plethora of animals and plants, including the magnificent Osprey, which bred on the reserve for the first time in 2011. If you're lucky, you may also spot an otter or dormouse!

The Ospreys are typically around from April to September. Spring and summer are also the best times to see many of Cors Dyfi’s other plants and animals, such as common lizard, nightjar, grasshopper, reed & sedge warblers, yellow flag and four-spotted chaser. The Trust’s water buffalo graze the reserve during the summer.

The male osprey Monty returned in 2014 for the fourth time and Glesni, his partner from last year also returned and eventually won a battle with her cousin, Blue 24, for the nest; they raised two fledglings, Gwynant and Deri. Glesni was the first to leave for The Gambia or Senegal on 19 August and Gwynant departed at the end of August; Deri left on 5 September and Monty was the last to leave on the 7th. Everyone will be hoping that Monty and Glesni will return next year in early April.

A two-storey wildlife observatory at the Reserve was built with the help of nearly £1.4m of grants. The upper viewing level is 33ft above the ground and provides a full 360 degree panoramic view of the Dyfi Valley with the Plynlimon Mountains and Snowdonia National Park beyond.

Travel south on the A487 from Machynlleth and, after passing through the village of Derwenlas and the Morben Isaf Holiday Home and Touring Park, the Reserve will be on your right.