The Welsh coast and offshore islands are famed for their wealth of wildlife. There are internationally important populations of birds and marine mammals, carpets of wild flowers in spring and some hidden secrets waiting to be discovered!
The Wildlife Trust Wales manages and conserves a wide range of reserves along the Wales Coast Path. To find out about these sites and what you might see there, visit the Wildlife Trust Wales page.
An area of contrasts… The Dee Estuary is a Wetland of International Importance, with its 120,000 waterfowl and waders in the winter. Part of Pensarn Beach in Conwy is a Site of Special Scientific Interest - boasting a wealth of rare plants along its shingle bank. Gronant Dunes support Wales' only remaining colony of breeding little terns - the colony is wardened day and night by an army of RSPB staff and volunteers. The wide range of flowers on the Great Orme provides food for the clouds of butterflies that are seen in summer. The spectacular cliffs play host to large breeding colonies of seabirds.
The rich diversity of Anglesey’s wildlife can be seen from the coastal path. Grey seals are common, while dolphins and porpoises are often seen offshore. Seabirds are present in large numbers at South Stack, while waders and wildfowl are common in estuaries, such as Malltraeth. Just off the coast is the uninhabited Puffin Island, a Special Protection Area because of its 750 pairs of cormorants. Choughs are often seen in the west and north of the island. Anglesey is important for its coastal heath, and its vast sand dunes on the west coast which includes Newborough Warren National Nature Reserve. Anglesey is also home to three tern species including the lovely Sandwich Tern (used on the logo for the Isle of Anglesey Coastal Path).
Gwynedd has many outstanding coastal wildlife habitats from the mudflats at Traeth Lafan near Bangor, to Pen Llŷn’s coastal heath and the estuary of Afon Dyfi. The grey seal is a common visitor to the beaches around Llŷn and they can often be seen resting on the rocks, or swimming around in secluded coves. Bottlenose and common dolphins are also seen around the Peninsula. The RSPB's Osprey Project at Glaslyn (near Porthmadog) is well worth a visit.
Cardigan Bay, a Special Area of Conservation, is a fantastic place for dolphin watching, with one of the UK’s largest resident populations of bottlenose dolphin. You may be able to spot the regular visitors too, like Risso’s dolphin, common dolphin, minke whale and sometimes even killer whale, fin whale and humpback whale!
If you spot any of these fantastic creatures, remember to report them on the Sea Watch Foundation website. A national marine environmental research charity, Sea Watch Foundation work to improve the conservation and protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises in British and Irish waters.
The Dyfi estuary, dunes at Ynyslas and Cors Fochno at Borth are part of the international Dyfi Biosphere reserve. Indeed, Cors Fochno is one of the largest and finest examples of a raised peat bog in Britain. The RSPB reserve at Ynys-hir (home of BBC’s Springwatch), Teifi Marshes and Eglwysfach osprey centre are all worth a visit for bird watching.
Pembrokeshire is a wildlife haven both on and offshore. Rare birds such as choughs, skylarks and the stonechat choose the coastal heathland to make their home. Bats and many bird species hunt along lines of twisting hedgerows, rich with wild flowers. In these protected waters you might be fortunate enough to spot basking sharks, orcas, blue whales, blue sharks, sunfish, various jellyfish, turtles and Risso dolphins off Pembrokeshire’s coast. Also keep an eye out for visiting bird life - gannet, puffin, guillemot, razorbill and shearwaters, to name a few.
For a great wildlife experience, without leaving the Coast Path, head to the Deer Park at Marloes. Sit and watch the waters in the Jack Sound race by and look out for gannets and porpoise. In September and October, this is a great place for spotting seal pups on the beaches below (but remember that these are high cliffs so caution is always advised). The island of Skomer sits the other side of the channel - home to thousands of puffin and shearwaters. If you want to see these birds close up, then you can take a boat from here over to the island (in season) and even stay overnight if you want to see the shearwaters (booking advised).
Much of the coastal path provides for sweeping views across the amphitheatre of Camarthen Bay. It is home to two of the most expansive sand dune systems in South Wales - Pembrey and Pendine. The sandflats here, together with the mudflats of the Tywi, Taf and Gwendraeth estuaries, offer rich feeding grounds for wildfowl and waders, including oystercatcher, knot and dunlin. Carmarthen Bay is also the overwintering ground for internationally important numbers of common scoter seaduck, and for this reason was designated as the first marine Special Protection Area in the UK.
The coastal path around the Gower Peninsula straddles a plethora of coastal habitats with their diverse wildlife. Chosen for its classic coastline and outstanding natural environment, Gower became the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1956. Complex geology and the influence of past ice-ages create a wide variety of scenery in a relatively small area. It ranges from the south coast's superb carboniferous limestone scenery at Worms Head and Oxwich Bay, to the saltmarshes and dune systems in the north. In autumn through to spring, the Burry Inlet, protected as a Ramsar site for its international importance, teems with wildfowl and waders, from tiny dunlins to large shelducks.
You can take a trip to Flat Holm Island in the Bristol Channel, where you will be surrounded by seabird colonies, and other wildlife that thrives on the maritime grasslands. Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, Penarth, is a haven for local wildlife, including large flocks of waterfowl and the Welsh Hawking Centre in Barry is also worth a visit. Kenfig National Nature Reserve is home to wild orchids, as well as insects and other wildlife while at Merthyr Mawr Warren you can explore one of the richest invertebrate habitats in Britain.
Up to 90,000 wading birds and wildfowl visit the Severn Estuary because, with one of the highest tidal ranges in the world, it has ideal over-wintering conditions. Combined with the Newport Wetlands Reserve, the area has year-round wildlife interest.