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 darting over the reens, this is an inspiring place to visit. In autumn and winter the reserve is particularly attractive to birdwatchers, as the pond provides a sanctuary for wintering wildfowl and passing migrants.
Magor Marsh holds a special place in GWT's history. In 1963, threats to this fragment of wetland were felt so strongly by a small group of naturalists that they banded together to form what is now Gwent Wildlife Trust, securing this as our first nature reserve. The reserve has recently been expanded to provide a larger haven for wetland wildlife.
Wetlands were once commonplace across Britain; however they are now one of our most threatened habitats. Magor Marsh is particularly rich in wildlife because of the range of habitats present. These include damp hay meadows, sedge fen, reedbed, scrub, pollarded willows, wet woodland, a large pond and the numerous reens and drainage ditches.
Look out for a winter spectacle on the reserve, when thousands of crows, jackdaws and rooks gather to roost overnight.
Magor Marsh is of historical importance and there have been several Iron Age, Roman and Medieval discoveries near the reserve. The name Magor is a Welsh word Magwyr meaning ‘wall’ but this is interpreted in different ways. It could signify remains or ruins, but alternatively, a ‘wall’ could be a term for an embankment along a reen, serving a drainage function.
Clues to the past are provided by the vegetation on the reserve. A distinct line of sallow (also called grey willow) is thought to have originated from willow branches laid as a primitive board walk between the church in Magor and the monastic Lower Grange Farm.
Have a look at some historial aerial images taken from 1947 to 2009 to see how things have changed and stayed the same.
The reserve is fed by underground springs which issue from limestone rock. The soil is mostly peat with patches of marine clays. The survival of peat soil (and its associated wildlife) relies on high water levels, which GWT achieves through a system of sluices in the reens and ditches.
In early spring, look out forthe golden flowers of marsh-marigolds along the reens and the mauve blooms of cuckooflower in the meadows, and listen for the song of the Cetti’s warbler. Other warblers and cuckoo appear later on in spring.
By early summer the hay meadows are a mass of wildflowers including ragged-robin, lesser spearwort, meadow thistle and tormentil. The reens are lined with yellow iris, hemlock water-dropwort and purple-loosestrife.
A hide overlooking the pond provides a good vantage point for birdwatching. The reedbed provides nest sites for reed and sedge warblers, with Cetti’s warbler nesting in nearby scrub. In summer, look out for hobby hawking after dragonflies. Other birds of prey recorded here include harriers and peregrine. Coot, moorhen, water rail and little egret occur all year-round. In spring and autumn, the pond occasionally attracts migrants such as garganey. A flock of teal spends the winter on the pool, sometimes joined by a few shoveler or gadwall. A kingfisher and sand martin bank has been built on the reserve to provide nesting sites for these species.
The reserve is one of the most important sites in Wales for aquatic invertebrates. It supports rarities such as the great silver beetle, soldier-flies and the hairy dragonfly. Pollarded willows provide habitat for the musk beetle, which has larvae that burrow through the branches, feeding on the wood.
Otters are playful semi-aquatic mammals, living in holts around the water’s edge. They suffered a severe population decline in the 20th Century due to pollution and habitat loss, but the species is now recovering well. Look out for their tracks and spraints at Magor Marsh, where otters are now common – although very elusive!
The reserve is flat, with a path and boardwalk allowing access as far as the bird hide (400 metres from the car park), this narrow boardwalk is passable with care in a wheelchair. There are steps and boggy, uneven ground in other parts of the reserve, whilst cattle or other livestock regularly graze some areas. Please note that due to sensitive wildlife, dogs are not allowed at Magor Marsh.
Exit the M4 at Junction 23A and follow signs into Magor village on the B4245. On entering Magor continue through the village and then take a turning on the right signposted Redwick. Follow the road round to the right soon afterwards (also signed Redwick), and then follow the road past the ruins of the Priory on your left and over a narrow railway bridge. Turn left immediately after the railway bridge and follow this road for about 400 metres, and the reserve entrance is on the right. Park in the small car park beside the Trust’s Derek Upton Centre (grid ref: ST 428 866). This education centre is used by school groups during term time, but it is not open to the general public except for special events.
From Newport there is a local bus service (Number 61) which stops directly outside the reserve. Other bus services run to Magor village.
Towards Newport, Great Traston Meadows is GWT's other nature reserve on the Gwent Levels. Brockwells Meadows, Lower Minnetts Field and Rogiet Poorland sit on the low limestone ridge just north of Magor.
What to see around the reserve
The village of Magor has good local pubs and an attractive square. Redwick village is also nearby, with refreshments available at The Rose Inn, whilst the height of the water during the Great Flood of 1607 is marked on the wall of Church of St Thomas the Apostle.
Species and habitats
- Kingfisher, Jackdaw, Rook, Grey Willow, Marsh-marigold, Cuckooflower, Cetti's Warbler, Cuckoo, Ragged-Robin, Lesser Spearwort, Meadow Thistle, Tormentil, Yellow Iris, Hemlock, Purple-loosestrife, Otter, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Hobby, Peregrine Falcon, Coot, Moorhen, Water Rail, Little Egret, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Sand Martin, Hairy dragonfly, Musk Beetle, Carrion Crow, Mute Swan