South Wales - Nature Reserves

Carmel National Nature Reserve near Llandeilo

The fantastic Camel reserve is located to the south-west of Llandeilo near to the villages of Pentre-Gwenlais and Carmel and brings together a range of unique habitats including woodland, grassland, heath land and bog. A central feature is the unique seasonal lake, known as a turlough, which has no inlet or outflow streams and is fed solely by groundwater.

The lake fills with water in the autumn and winter, before drying out in summer as the water table drops. It is home to many specialist aquatic plants and animals, including large numbers of frogs, toads and newts. The rest of the reserve brings together a complex mosaic of habitats including broad-leaved woodland which has been in existence since at least the Middle Ages.

The turning for the Reserve is off the A476, close to the village of Carmel, south-west of Llandeilo. Look for a small car park next to the T-junction around 0.25 mile north-west of Pentre-Gwenlais. From here, follow the waymarked footpath into the disused Glangwenlais Quarry and then follow the path through the tranquil woodland and past Pant y Llyn Turlough.

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu National Nature Reserve, near Ystradgynlais

Ogof Ffynnon Ddu is an upland reserve with one of the largest cave systems in Britain, discovered by the South Wales Caving Club in 1946. Since then more than 28 miles of natural passages have been explored but possibly others are yet to be discovered. The difference in level between the uppermost and lowest points of the known cave system is over 1000 feet, a record in Britain.

The reserve is located north-west of Ystradgynlais east of the A4067 to Brecon and there is a large car park at Penwyllt reached by a turning between Pen-y-cae and Craig-y-Nos. The reserve is open to access and footpaths run through it from the car park; there is an easier, level path along a disused railway line. Access to the caves themselves is for properly equipped cavers only.

Cwm Clydach RSPB Reserve near Swansea

The RSPB Reserve Cwm Clydach is north of the A4067 Pontardawe to Swansea road; the car park is situated in the village of Craig Cefn Parc, close to the New Inn public house on the B4291.

Two nature trails, one short, the other of medium length, link onto a network of public footpaths. The shortest route is suitable for pushchairs whist the longer trail has some steep and rocky sections.

A re-birth after winter - at Cwm Clydach, wood sorrel carpets the ground and woodland bird activity is at its peak. Early migrants like chiffchaffs arrive to set up territory and are followed later in April by willow warblers, pied flycatchers and redstarts. Resident species too are nest-building and a visit in early morning produces a superb dawn chorus of song.

Enjoy a stroll through a peaceful woodland setting on a lovely summer day. Dippers and grey wagtails feed along the river and smaller streams and all the summer migrants have arrived and are busy rearing young. Redstarts and wood warblers can be seen in more open woodland, with bullfinches and marsh tits present in scrubbier areas. Butterflies like silver-washed fritillaries and speckled woods bask in sunny clearings.

The myriad of autumn leaf colours makes this a magical season at Cwm Clydach; shades of green turn brown, bronze and red. Siskins and lesser redpolls feed on the seeds of riverside alders and colourful fungi like fly agarics and chantarelles dot the ground.

Look out in the winter for soaring buzzards, red kites and ravens over the valley, more easily visible now the leaves have fallen. Redwings and fieldfares feed on hawthorn berries and mixed flocks of tits, treecreepers and nuthatches move through in search of food.

Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre near Port Talbot

Afan Forest Park Visitor Centre is set within 11,000 hectares of forest to the north-east of Port Talbot; it offers walking trails, family cycling, exhilarating mountain bike trails, picnic areas and the South Wales Miners Museum. The Centre has a range of facilities including a cafe, gift shop, bike wash, cycle hire, an information service, a first aid station and a base for the Forest Park Rangers.

The Afan Valley is one of the narrowest, shortest, and most beautiful valleys in Wales, being about 15 miles long from its head at Bwlch yr Afan, to the sea at Aberavon Beach, Port Talbot.

Visitors can explore the Forest Park by following forest tracks on foot or by bike, or choose the waymarked walking or cycling trails that will enable them to reach the best view points and most interesting features. The Park is situated on the A4107 Cymer road; follow this road north from the M4 (Junction 40) for about 6 miles.

The Visitor Centre is the starting point for the 23km ‘Y Wâl’ mountain bike trail (bike hire is available) with some of the best singletrack descents in the UK; the trail essentially traverses the North side of the Afan Valley and varies from fast, open and flowing to tight, technical and rooty.

The Park has 14 way-marked circular walks, “Family Rambler” packs and access to bridle paths; from here you can also gain access to the Coed Morgannwg Walk. Opening hours for the Visitor Centre are 9.30 to 17.00 (to 16.00 October to March); it closes an hour later on weekends and Bank Holidays.

Cwmcarn Forest Drive and Visitor Centre, Caerphilly

Holidaymakers in the Abergavenny area can head south to the Cwmcarn Forest Drive and Visitor Centre near Crosskeys which offers something for all the family. Once a mining area, Cwmcarn is now a beautiful mature forest of larch and pine and the Forest Drive is seven miles long through this woodland with staggering views.

There are seven themed picnic sites (some with play equipment, others with sculptures), walking trails, a fishing lake and an exhilarating single-track mountain bike trail.

Opening times are all year (excluding around Christmas and New Year) from 09.00 to 16.30/18.00.

The visitor centre is situated about half a mile from Cwmcarn and the drive starts a further half mile on the same road; sign posted Forest Drive from the M4, Cwmcarn is off the A467/B4591.

Llandegfedd Reservoir, Pontypool

Situated to the east of Pontypool and west of Usk, Llandegfedd is a large reservoir set in the beautiful rolling landscape of east Gwent and designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest in recognition of its value to over wintering wildfowl and passage migrants.

Llandegfedd has a refreshment kiosk at the eastern car park (near Coed-y-paen, picnic area with toilets, viewpoint and interpretive panels.

Newport Wetlands RSPB Nature Reserve

The RSPB reserve at Newport Wetlands offers a haven for wildlife and has a visitor centre, a cafe, shop and children's play area; open all year round except for Christmas Day.

From Newport, at the A48 roundabout closest to the Newport Stadium, exit onto Nash Road heading south. Travel for approx 1.8 miles and at the junction with a brown duck sign, exit right down West Nash Road. Continue down this road towards the power station till you reach Newport Wetlands; the car park is on the left.

Spring is the start of the breeding season and is an active and exciting time of year at Newport Wetlands, as birds set about finding their mates and building nests. Breeding waders at the reserve include lapwings and oystercatchers. Bearded tits begin to nest in the reedbeds. During late April and early May, swallows and swifts begin arriving from Africa, and can be seen flying overhead. This is a great time of year to listen out for the distinctive call of the cuckoo and many plants, including orchids, will begin to burst into colourful flower.

Grass snakes can sometimes be seen in the summer soaking up the sun or skimming expertly through the water among the reeds. Around sixteen species of dragonflies, twenty-three species of butterfly and two hundred species of moth are found at Newport Wetlands. After dark is the best time for moth spotting, but visitors are likely to see species like cinnabar moths and scarlet tiger moths during the daytime. The reserve is also home to badgers, moles and wood mice. Otters live here too, but are notoriously shy of humans and can be difficult to spot.

Autumn and winter is the best time of year for birdwatching at Newport Wetlands when migratory wildfowl and wading birds begin to arrive ready for their winter stay. Curlews, redshanks, dunlins and oystercatchers feed on the estuary at low tide using their long, pointy beaks to sift through the nutritious mud for worms and grubs. Groups of goldfinches can be seen flitting around the reserve and are particularly visible along Perry Lane, using their long beaks to extract seeds from the teasels; look out for returning winter migrants and passage migrants like the impressive hobby.

The starling roost at the Reserve in winter is a not-to-be-missed wildlife experience; large groups of starlings gather at dusk in great black clouds. At its peak, around 50,000 birds swoop and soar overhead, chattering noisily. After a breathtaking display, the birds drop dramatically into the reedbeds where they settle for the night.

Another winter treat at Newport Wetlands is a single bittern, which has been seen here most winters since 2001. Bitterns are rare and extremely secretive, moving silently through the reeds looking for fish. Parts of the reserve provide a winter home for nationally important numbers of black-tailed godwits, shovelers and dunlins.