Gwent has plenty of nature reserves on offer allowing visitors to enjoy the local wildlife, the peace and quiet and the ability to explore.

KATH SKELLON finds out more about some of the best sites to visit.

FROM wetlands, to meadows and ancient woodlands, children and adults alike will find Gwent’s public nature reserves both enthralling and inspiring.

Gwent Wildlife Trust manages 25 reserves that are open to the public across the Gwent area and Spring offers a perfect time to visit the diverse landscape and see a wide variety of animals and flowers against the beautiful landscape.

Among the reserves that are worth visiting at this time of year are Strawberry Cottage Wood, near Abergavenny, Magor Marsh, Rogiet Poorland, Silent Valley Nature Reserve, near Ebbw Vale and Branches Fork Meadow near Pontypool.

The organisation, with the support of a stalwart team of volunteers, looks after the reserves to protect nature and inspire people.

Gwent Wildlife Trust was established in 1963, has over 10,000 members and manages more than 30 nature reserves across the country.

It bought Magor Marsh which became its first nature reserve and focused on acquiring sites of high wildlife value, or sites that would be lost through development pressure or neglect.

The trust manages land, influences decision-making and champions the natural environment’s contribution to everyone’s well-being.

The reserves are all open access, although the trust has a number of recommended trails and footpaths across many of them and interpretation panels near the entrances. What visitors will notice is that the nature reserves are actively managed – staff and volunteers are often on site gently nudging the habitats in the right direction to maximise biodiversity.

The trust looks after almost 100 acres and is supported in its charitable activities by seven local groups around the county in Abergavenny, Blaenau Gwent, Chepstow, Monmouth, Torfaen, Usk and the Wildlife in Newport Group.

Each group is run independently and holds walks, talks or work tasks at different times of the year.

There are two education centres, at Magor and Ebbw Vale, which work with more than 4,000 children each year to help them learn about the natural world.

As well as working with schools the Trust runs hundreds of courses, events and activities each year to help children and adults experience the natural world around them.

Ian Rappel, CEO of Gwent Wildlife Trust said: “There are so many good reasons for visiting one of our nature reserves.”

“In our busy lives, they offer tranquillity and a space to contemplate ourselves and our place in nature.”

“In the midst of our accelerating lifestyles and growing economy, they are living havens for wildlife within the landscapes.

“For our kids hemmed in by roads and tablet screens, they are places to explore and get muddy. In short, they are there to help you reconnect with your natural heritage in all its inspiring and fascinating forms.”

Silent Valley Local Nature Reserve at Cwm, near Ebbw Vale, offers 50 hectares of grassland and woodland that is home to a host of species ranging from Pearl-bordered Fritillary to Crab Apple, Mouse-ear Hawkweed, Common Lizard, Green Woodpecker and the Lesser Redpoll.

The site is reached from Cendl Terrace and features footpaths throughout the reserve. The paths are steep and narrow in places and are slippery when wet. There are short sections of boardwalk, and steep flights of steps in places.

This woodland reserve has been designated a local nature reserve in recognition of its importance to the local community as well as its precious wildlife. With far-reaching views across the Ebbw Valley, Silent Valley is constantly changing and is a reserve that merits several visits throughout the year.

In the Monmouth area of Penallt you will find the Prisk Wood. It is one of the best places in the Wye Valley to see bluebells along with the rare Herb-Paris and early purple orchids and carpets of wild garlic with pied flycatchers seen if you are patient or, possibly a great spotted woodpecker.

A striking feature of the six hectare woodland is the mass of mosses, liverworts and ferns which carpet boulders, tree stumps and fallen tree trunks. The medley of small streams running through the woodland is favoured by a variety of unusual damp-loving species.

Pentwyn Farm, also in Penallt, has swathes of cowslips appearing now alongside green-winged orchids. The farm has survived virtually unchanged for centuries and includes one of the largest areas of flower-rich grassland remaining in Gwent. It provides an opportunity to see hay meadows as they would have looked in the past, before intensive farming was introduced.

The farm’s historic barn has also been restored by the Trust using traditional methods.

One of the most popular reserves can be found at Magor Marsh.

The reserve has an educational centre which caters for up to 32 children and for a variety of age ranges. All the activities are designed specifically for schools by qualified teachers.

It is an ideal place for families who can try and spot a variety of wildlife, including water voles which can regularly be seen across the reserves. The marsh is home to the water vole reintroduction program which is working to bring back the UK’s most threatened mammal. Magor Marsh is the last relatively natural area of fenland on the Gwent Levels. From the fleeting glimpse of a kingfisher, to the sight of colourful dragonflies farting over the reens, this is an inspiring place to visit.

The marsh is full of spring at the moment with plenty of butterflies and spring flowers.

Among the wildlife to look out for here are Marsh-marigold, Cuckooflower, Cetti’s Warbler, Otter, Peregrine Falcon, Sand Martin and Mute Swans.

There are a wide variety of events and guided walks as part of the trust’s yearly program around the reserves as well as the chance to run a scenic route in the charity's forthcoming Race for Wildlife which is a 10k and 1k fun run, held on May 17.

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