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National Nature Reserves in Wales by Terry Jackson and Carl Atkinson
"Cameos on twenty-one of the finest National Nature Reserves in Britain, which all happen to be in Wales. An opportunity for enjoying reserves, with kind assistance from the Countryside Council for Wales."
The Countryside Council for Wales is committed to creating opportunities for everyone to enjoy the countryside. National Nature Reserves are no exception. On some reserves the Countryside Council for Wales has provided additional paths. On others, access on foot is unrestricted and visitors are welcome to wander freely. Where possible, the Countryside Council also provide facilities to add to visitors' enjoyment of reserves such as bird hides, information points, guided walks and displays, and facilities for the disabled. Signs at entrances welcome visitirs to each reserve and provide basic information.

Safety: The Countryside Council for Wales makes every attempt to ensure that your visit to a reserve is enjoyable and safe. But visitors should also be aware of their own safety. Please watch out for hazards and wear appropriate clothes and footwear for your visit.


  Newborough Warren
  Coedydd Aber
  Cwm Idwal
  Coed Llyn Mair
  Morfa Harlech & Morfa Dyffryn
  Ynys Enlli
  Cader Idris
  Cors Caron
  Skomer Island*
  Gower Coast
  Kenfig Dunes
  Craig-Cerrig-gleisiad a Fan Frynych
  Cwm Clydach
  Newport Wetlands

1. Newborough Warren
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There are large expanses of both active and fixed dunes, although many of the latter have been afforested, along with a freshwater lake, saltmarsh and mudflats and a tidal island. The reserve contains an outstanding flora, interesting lichen and moss communities and a wealth of invertebrates. The intertidal mudflats and saltmarshes are important wintering grounds for waders and wildfowl regularly supporting over one per cent of the British population of Pintail.

Ynys yr Adar, near Ynys Llanddwyn, supports over one per cent of the British breeding population of Cormorant. Website

2. Coedydd Aber
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An area of scenic beauty, this steep sided wooded valley leading to a spectacular waterfall in the foothills of Y Carneddau, has long been a popular beauty spot. The site supports a variety of habitats and a diversity of species of woodland and of open farmland and scrub. There is a range of nesting birds, including raven and peregrine on the cliffs, tree pipit and redstart along the woodland edge, and pied flycatcher and wood warbler in the Oak woods. There are many historic and archaeological monuments, including round and long huts, cairns, a medieval hafod and an iron age hill fort testifying to the long history of human occupation. Website

3. Cwm Idwal
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This reserve is a classic example of a landscape which was sculptured by ice thousands of years ago. Many maintain that it is also a prime example of a nature reserve and it was the very first to be designated in Wales, back in 1954.

Rare arctic-alpine plants grow on the cliffs and the first of these to appear as the winter snows melt is the pretty purple saxifrage. Cwm Idwal is also a place to see upland birds - for example, the ring ouzel, wheatear and peregrine. The whole valley is a playground for climbers and busy mountain routes pass through the reserve. It is also used extensively as an outdoor classroom by pupils and students. Website

4. Snowdon
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This reserve encloses the highest peak in England and Wales as well as high crests and deep valleys, all habitats which are rich in natural features.

Despite thousands of visitors every year, the reserve retains its character. The vegetation is mainly upland grassland but rare arctic-alpine plants grow on inaccessible crags including the Snowdon lily. On the lower slopes there are woods of oak, alder and wych elm. Other specialities are the great variety of upland birds, the Snowdon rainbow beetle and lichens. Website

5. Coed Llyn Mair

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Coed Llyn Mair is part of Coedydd Maentwrog in the Vale of Ffestiniog, whichcontains the densest patchwork of ancient oak woodlands in Britain. This reserve, on the northern slope, is the largest piece.

The trees grow on steep and rocky ground, the roots penetrating deep into cracks in the rocks. A deep gorge runs through the trees where mosses, liverworts and ferns thrive. There are also about 170 species of lichens here. The easiest path to walk is that in Coed Llyn Mair but others penetrate deep into quiet, peaceful areas. Website

6. Morfa Harlech & Morfa Dyffryn

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Morfa Harlech NNR and Morfa Dyffryn National Nature Reserves are parts of an extensive, though fragmented, calcareous sand dune system that sweeps from the Mawddach estuary along the shore of Cardigan Bay north to Morfa Bychan.

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 exhibiting classic seral succession, and extensive dune slacks. There are many nationally scarce plant and invertebrate species. Morfa Harlech
includes a large part of the Glaslyn / Dwyryd estuary, with mud flats and salt marsh areas which are important winter wildfowl feeding grounds. The beach and frontal dunes are popular in the summer, and erosion control measures have been generally successful. Website

7. Ynys Enlli

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Bardsey Island lies just two miles beyond the tip of the Llyn peninsula. It has a long history and is noted for its wildlife. At one time it was a sanctuary of saints and 20,000 are said to be buried here.

The remains of St Mary's Abbey are still standing. The island was farmed until recently but there are some very natural areas which have never been worked. It is now owned by the Bardsey Island Trust which also manages the reserve. The varied habitats range from the small, gorse covered mountain down to the rocky shores. Some 2,500 Manx shearwaters nest on the island but the place is also an important research site since it is on the migration route of many birds. Large numbers of migrants are ringed here every year. Website

8. Berwyn

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The rolling heather clad hills known as the Berwyn mountains are one of the largest and most attractive areas of moorland remaining in Wales.

Gently contoured ridges are blanketed with deep wet peat dominated by heather and cotton grass. Drier heather and bilbery heath,grassland and bracken clad the steeper slopes.The area contains some of the highest quality sub montane upland in Wales. It has one of the best moorland breeding bird assemblages south of the Scottish highlands with species such as the Red Grouse, black Grouse, Merlin, Hen Harrier and Peregrine falcon. The archaeological interest is also very high.
These hills are a workplace for farmers and others who seek an integrated approach to a balanced land use. Website

9. Cader Idris

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A magnificent mountain towering over the spectacular Mawddach estuary. The area contains some of the most dramatic scenery in Wales.The area is of outstanding geomorphological importance including features such as the extensive Talyllyn fault, several corries and narrow summit ridges. There is a range of plant communities, grasslands prevailing but with much Bilberry heath and areas of montane moss heath.

Well developed acidic soligenous mires, blanket mire and on lower ground remnants of Sessile Oak woodland all occur. Cader Idris is one of the most southern areas of Britain for arctic-alpine plants with species such as Least Willow and Purple Saxifrage. Website

10. Ynyslas

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Ynyslas, is part of the Dyfi National Nature Reserve and is one of Wales' premier reserves. Its vast sand dunes and beach just south of the Dyfi estuary are enjoyed by a quarter of a million people every year.

A 'Sense of Arrival' initiative at the Ynyslas Visitor Centre in Borth near Aberystwyth involves local communities in emphasising the beauty and importance of the environment by interpretation through art.

Poetry written by local school children, a mosaic and sculpted timber on the theme of the legend of the lost land of Cantre'r Gwaelod form part of an exhibition at the centre. Ynyslas can be reached from Aberystwyth by following the A 487 past Bow Street before turning left onto the B 4353 at Tre Taliesyn. Website

11. Cors Caron

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12,000 years ago mid-Wales was in the grip of the last Ice Age. As the climate warmed, the glaciers receded and a large shallow lake occupied this valley.

A huge reed bed and woodland developed, but the climate became cooler and wetter, allowing the sphagnum mosses to invade and begin the process of building three raised bogs.

For centuries, the peat was cut by local people and burnt as fuel. Today, Cors Caron is one of the finest raised bog systems in Britain. A number of plants that are adapted to the acidic conditions of raised bogs can be found, such as sun-dews, bog rosemary and cotton grasses. The red kite is often seen hovering above the reserve. Website

12. Skomer Island*

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Skomer Island, off the Pembrokeshire Coast, is one of the most important seabird breeding sites in southern Britain; especially notable is the Manx Shearwater which nests in burrows. Shearwaters return to the island at night to avoid predators. Skomer probably has the world's largest population.

Other seabirds include the storm petrel, guillemot, puffin, and lesser black-backed gull. Important breeding land birds include chough, short-eared owl, peregrine, curlew and lapwing. Skomer is also
notable for its lichens and the unique Skomer vole. Grey seals are present in the waters around the island, which is a Marine Nature Reserve. In spring the island is covered by a blanket of bluebells and other wildflowers. In summer the seabirds are busy feeding their young, whilst in autumn the seals pup on the beaches and the coastal heath is flowering. Website

13. Stackpole

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Stackpole, in south Pembrokeshire, is exceptionally diverse, being important for coastal and freshwater habitats and species, and archaeological remains. It is managed in partnership with the National Trust, by the Countryside Council for Wales.

Limestone sea-cliffs, with numerous caves and arches, fall 30 metres to the sea. There are two sheltered bays with open and wooded sand dunes, plus an older dune formation, Stackpole Warren, perched on the coastal plateau. The reserve is especially rich in rare soil lichens
and is a stronghold for choughs and greater horseshoe bats. The freshwater Bosherston lakes, created about 200 years ago, occupy three narrow drowned limestone valleys. These shallow water bodies are renowned for stoneworts and associated marl formations. On lakeside paths, you may see water lilies, otters and a wealth of invertebrates. Website

14. Gower Coast

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This reserve, managed by the National Trust, consists of the Worm's Head tidal island and a section of limestone cliffs. The varied plant life is heavily influenced by wind, sea and sun and is at it's most attractive in late spring and early summer. Breeding birds include kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and, occasionally, peregrines and choughs.

Good footwear is essential. The causeway is dangerous - please read the warning signs. Website

15. Oxwich

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Occupying most of the attractive Oxwich Bay in south Gower, this reserve has one of the richest varieties of coastal habitat in Britain.

The foreshore, dunes, marshes and woodlands hold many species, particularly flowers, birds and insects. Over six hundred kinds of flowering plants alone have been found! A range of interesting management sustains the wildlife, including mowing, cutting, grazing and dredging. The reserve is easy to explore and is particularly suitable for field studies. Website

16. Carmel

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Carmel, near Llndybie in Carmarthenshire, is on a limestone ridge and supports a range of different habitats which include ash and oak woodland, bog, species rich grassland and open water. The local landscape is a historic mix of traditional agriculture and quarrying, where ancient woodlands, field systems, quarries and a network of footpaths are closely integrated.

Within the reserve is an unusual lake - a turlough, with no inflow or
outflow streams - similar to the furloughs of Ireland. When underground water levels are high the lake fills up, usually during the autumn and winter. In summer, water levels do not reach the surface and the lake dries out completely. This is the only lake of its kind known on mainland Britain. Website

17. Kenfig Dunes

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Some of the dunes of Kenfig, near Porthcawl, cover the site of an ancient town and castle. Sand, blown by gales, smothered the town in the 16th century and only the castle tower remains above ground. The site harbours interesting animals and flowers such as the rare fen orchid. There are hides for birdwatching and the county council, whose staff manage the reserve, arranges walks and talks for visitors. Website

18. Craig-Cerrig-gleisiad a Fan Frynych

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High in the Brecon Beacons this reserve was once part of an area known as the Great Forest, although it is not strictly a forested area but an ancient hunting and farming forest. A small reminder of a forest is seen in the scrub woodland and scattered hawthorn on the lower slopes of the reserve.

The steep sided crags of Craig Cerrig Gleisiad and Cwm Du together with the escarpment of Fan Frynych and the lumpy moraines at lower
levels are all evidence of the movement of huge rivers of ice during the last Ice Age.

The artic-alpine plants are some of the most interesting features of this site. The most inaccessible cliffs and crags provide refuge from grazing sheep for this rare vegetation. A variety of upland birds can also be seen here including peregrine and ring ouzel. Website

19. Craig-y-Cilau

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The reserve forms part of an impressive limestone escarpment that outcrops along the north eastern edge of Mynydd Llangatwg. It is one of the largest upland limestone cliffs in South Wales.

The limestone rock rich in nutrients gives rise to soils that support a wide variety of plants, some rare. Of particular note are several species of rare whitebeam growing on the cliffs, one of which is only known from this locality. Some 50 species of bird have been recorded breeding here. The limestone itself is peppered with caves, and one of them Agen Allwedd is an important winter roost for lesser horseshoe bats. Website

20. Cwm Clydach

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The woodland of Cwm Clydach grows on steep slopes alongside a deep river gorge. It is the largest and most representative area of native beechwood in South East Wales.

The river has cut deep into the valley forming steep cliffs, and spectacular waterfalls. The air is humid close to thefast moving river, and many species of moss can be found growing here. Clinging precariously to the cliffs are yew and whitebeam trees. Ground plants are relatively sparse, especially in the shade under the beech trees. A good variety of woodland birds can be seen. Website

21. Newport Wetlands

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This new wildlife reserve has been created on part of the tranquil Levels on the edge of the City of Newport.

The new reedbeds and wet grasslands have already attracted a wealth of wetland birds including over-wintering wigeon, shoveler, teal, shelduck and pintail. Bitterns may be seen at the Uskmouth Reedbeds in winter along with hen harriers and short-eared owls. Lapwing, redshank, oystercatcher, ringed and little ringed plover breed here. Avocet bred here for the first
time in Wales, in 2003, whilst little egrets (see picture) are resident all year round.

The Reserve is also an excellent place to see other wildlife, such as orchids, butterflies, dragonflies and otters. Website

* Skomer Island is managed by the Wildlife Trust West Wales. Access by boat from Martins Haven. Island open Tue-Sat (and Bank Holidays) April-October. Persons from private boats can only land in North Haven 10am-6pm.

Associated Features

A Walk in the Park
National Trails
Countryside Escapades
Welsh Wildlife Reserves; RSPB
The Countryside Code-Yr Cd Wledig

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Newport Wetlands Cwm Clydach Craig-y-Cilau Craig-Cerrig-gleisiad a Fan Frynych Kenfig Dunes Carmel Oxwich Gower Coast Stackpole Skomer Island Cors Caron Ynyslas Cader Idris Berwyn Ynys Enlli Morfa Harlech & Morfa Dyffryn Coed Llyn Mair Snowdon Cwm Idwal Coeddydd Aber NewBorough Warren