Welsh coast – ten of the best places for nature in early summer
It’s the busiest time of year for nature along our 870-mile coastline. Here are ten of the best places to learn about the birds, bees and butterflies - and a lot more besides.
The swathes of flowers are up and about, which means the butterflies are, too. More than 20 species flourish on Great Orme, but it’s the silver studded blue and the grayling that most excite lepidopterists: they’ve evolved into distinct sub-species on this hulking headland overlooking Llandudno.
Terns are our sleekest seabirds, and this lagoon, separated from Cemlyn Bay by a shingle ridge, is a vital breeding site for these lovely swallow-like birds. The surrounding grassland, scrub, wetland and shore are home to a wealth of other birds, mammals, insects, wildflowers and marine creatures. But it’s the common and Arctic terns, as well as one of the UK’s largest nesting populations of sandwich terns, which are the star, er, turn.
Sandwich tern with a sand eel by Ben Stammers
When the clifftop wildflowers explode into life in spring, so do the seabird cities that cover the cliffs of Ellin’s Tower, as the guillemots, razorbills, puffins, fulmars and gulls gather to raise their young. It’s one of the great wonders of the natural world.
Off the Llŷn Peninsula
There are supposed to be 20,000 saints buried on this little island. Not sure about that, but there are certainly 20,000 pairs of breeding Manx shearwaters. You’ll need to stay overnight to see these nocturnal birds, though – and handily enough, there are nine self-catering houses for rent. April to July is the best time – ideally, when there isn’t a full moon, because Manxies like it nice and dark.
Lapwings were once common on farmland, but their numbers have dropped alarmingly. Ynys-hir is one of their most important strongholds, and they share this fabulous reserve with dozens of other species. There’s all kinds of habitat, from marsh to meadow, but a walk through the ancient oak woodland, when it’s carpeted with spring flowers, is a particular delight.
It’s been a tense start to 2016 for the Cors Dyfi ospreys. They spend their winters in West Africa, but come back home to Cors Dyfi each spring and raise chicks here from April to September. At time of writing, Monty and Glesni are incubating three eggs, Blue 24 had a fling with Dai Dot, but he’s been chased off by another male. It’s like an episode of Pobol y Cwm. Spring and summer are also the best times to see Cors Dyfi’s other plants and animals, which include nightjars, warblers and water buffalo, which graze the marshes and keep the reserve in tip-top shape.
This small wetland, one of the few remaining fragments of the Mawddach Estuary’s raised bog, is a wonderful place to see weird and wonderful plants, flowers, butterflies and birds. With more than 130 species of plants recorded, there are colourful displays of marsh marigold and yellow flag in the spring and hemp agrimony, meadowsweet and ragged robin through the summer.
For eight weeks around May, the Pembrokeshire coast is filled with birdsong, as wild flowers and butterfly clouds burst from the clifftops, and islands transform into a frenetic sea-bird paradise. It’s arguably our greatest natural wonder – which is why we’ve given it a feature all of its very own
If it’s surfing and ice-cream you’re after, then stick to the Mumbles end of Gower. For a walk on a beach that’s been voted one of the world’s best, head out to Rhossili. But for nature, it’s the limestone grassland and cliffs in between that get our vote. It has a species of flower - yellow whitlowgrass – that grows nowhere else, is rich in bird life, and some of the beaches (we’re looking at you, Three Cliffs) are among the most ravishingly beautiful in Britain.
Llangennith Beach, Gower Peninsula
The RSPB chose the avocet as its symbol because this bird shows what conservation can achieve. Extinct in Britain until the 1940s, this beautiful wader has now established a breeding colony at Goldcliff lagoons on the eastern edge of the Newport Wetlands reserve. They arrive in March and stay for the summer.