Fly south for winter

You can see wildlife in the unlikeliest places: while Christmas shopping in Cardiff, for instance. The season of good cheer begins early here, as the Wye Valley becomes a blaze of autumn colours. Who needs New England when there’s old Wales? 

  • The rocky coast of Dunraven Bay, Glamorgan Heritage Coast
    Dunraven Bay, Glamorgan Heritage Coast

    There are lots of reasons to visit Dunraven Bay: the beach, the surfing, the multi-layered cliffs, the ruined clifftop castle.  For the naturalist, it’s also a great place to find honeycomb reefs at low tide. They’re made by colonies of honeycombs worms, which use sand to build a series of intricate tubes which form living reefs, which in turn create a habitat anemones, snails, crabs and seaweeds.

  • The Blackweir on the Taff River in Cardiff
    The Blackweir on the Taff River, Cardiff by Owen Mathias

    Just behind Cardiff Castle, right in the middle of our capital city, is Bute Park, a vast 56-hectare park where we go to lose ourselves in tranquillity among parkland, arboretum, nature trails and tucked-away cafes. Follow the Taff Trail along the river to Blackweir, through red-and-gold trees, where you’ll see salmon leaping upstream during late autumn.

  • Large flock of starlings covering sky over Newport Wetlands Centre
    Starlings by Ponty Cyclops

    The RSPB reserve at Newport is its best in autumn and winter, when migratory wildfowl and wading birds arrive 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 mud for worms and grubs. Up to 50,000 starlings form spectacular murmurations at dusk, and you may hear the eerie booming of the resident bittern.

  • A pied wagtail on the outskirts of Cardiff
    A pied wagtail, Cardiff by

    Queen Street is at the pedestrianised heart of Cardiff’s shopping district, attracting flocks of shoppers to its department stores and arcades. It’s also a giant winter roost for pied wagtails: smart, sprightly little birds who gather in their thousands to huddle together in the street’s trees. Which proves that if you know where to look, then a Christmas shopping expedition can be a nature trek, too.

  • A goblet waxcap in Ceredigion
    A goblet waxcap by Peter Greenwood

    Olympic medallist Hannah Mills learnt to sail on Llanishen Reservoir , which was built in the 1880s to supply Cardiff with water. Its owners wanted to build more than 300 houses on the site (they drained it first, obviously…). But their plans were scuppered by a vociferous local campaign and the discovery, on the reservoir’s grassy banks, of more than 25 species of waxcap mushrooms, one of the rarest and most beautiful fungi.

  • A Canadian goose and ducklins
    Canadian geese at Magor Marshes, Vale of Usk by Simon Latham

    Magor Marsh is the last natural area of fenland on the Gwent Levels. It’s managed by the Gwent Wildlife Trust to preserve a precious ecological sanctuary that has hardly changed since the 14th century, with hay meadows and woodlands leading to marsh and open water, all criss-crossed by ancient reens (drainage ditches). Winter is the best time for birdwatchers, with plenty of wintering wildfowl and passing migrants, as well as a noisy chorus of roosting corvids.

  • Autumn colours in the Wye Valley

    Wye Valley in autumn near Builth Wells, close to Wye Valley Walk
    Builth Wells, Mid Wales close to the Wye Valley Walk

    The lower stretch of the River Wye marks the approximate border between England and Wales, and this thickly-wooded valley is one of the loveliest in the world. Its blaze of glorious autumn colours is breath-taking and, as a bonus, the Gwent Wildlife Trust manages several woodlands and nature reserves along the way. 

  • Autumn foliage in Bryngarw Country Park
    Bryngarw Country Park near Bridgend, Glamorgan Heritage Coast

    The mansion and grounds of Bryngarw House told a familiar story of post-War decline until the 1980s, when Bridgend council hatched a plan to rescue the estate. The  grounds are now a Country Park, and the five distinct areas of woodland have been superbly managed to create habitats that are not just great for wildlife, but also – especially in autumn – gorgeous to walk around.

  • Cosmeston Lakes, park of Cosmeston Lakes Country Park
    Cosmeston Lakes, Glamorgan Heritage Coast

    To hear the booming of a bittern is on every naturalist’s tick-list (for what it’s worth, we think it sounds a bit like a cow trying to play the tuba). But you can judge for yourself at Cosmeston near Penarth, where flooded limestone quarries have become a wildlife sanctuary, with a huge variety of species drawn to its lakes, woodland, meadows and – if you’re a bittern – its reedbeds. 

  • Flat Holm island which can be seen from Lavernock Point
    Flat Holm island seen from Lavernock Point, South Wales

    Lavernock Point sits right on the ‘heel’ of Wales, with stupendous clifftop views over the Bristol Channel. Marconi sent the first wireless signals across open sea from here, and it’s variously been used as a gun battery, nuclear bunker and observation point. Today, though, it’s a fine nature reserve and the local birders’ favourite spot for watching migrant birds.

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