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Silent Valley Local Nature Reserve SSSI

This beautiful 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 – it is a reserve that merits several visits throughout the year.

Silent Valley comprises mature woodland with dramatic veteran trees, bracken-covered slopes above, and areas of damp grassland. The Nant Merddog stream, a tributary of the River Ebbw, runs through the woodland.The woodland is the highest beech wood in Britain, and virtually at the western extremity of the natural range of the beech tree, which extends just into Glamorgan, near Merthyr Tydfil.

This wonderful nature reserve comprises two main areas, one owned by Gwent Wildlife Trust, and the other by Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, with GWT managing the whole reserve.

History

The Welsh valleys have changed dramatically over the past 300 years. Parts of the reserve were once farmed – as evidenced by the remains of drystone walls and grown-out hedgerows. In Medieval times, it is likely that the woodland was worked for charcoal and iron production. When coal mining began in the valley at turn of the 1900s, the picturesque rural farmland was transformed into a thriving industrial centre. Colliery spoil tips were located along the valley side, and dramlines (the local name for a tramline) were created in the valley to remove the coal.

Industrialisation left a scarred landscape, however wildlife is returning in abundance. Old spoil tips on the slope above the ancient woodland have been colonised by heather, mosses, lichens, grasses, hawthorn and other small trees – transforming them into a surprising patchwork of wildlife-rich colour. This natural regeneration signifies the resilience of nature; this richness in wildlife can also help drive the social and economic future of the South Wales Coalfield.

Species

This reserve contains numerous habitats and plant communities including grasslands, wetlands, heaths and woodlands. In spring, an attractive display of woodland flowers includes species such as bluebells, lesser celandine, wood-sorrel and opposite-leaved golden-saxifrage.

Silent Valley looks spectacular in spring when a wonderful woodland flora contrasts with hawthorn and crab apple blossom, whilst in the late summer, the heather-clad hilltops above provides a stunning purple bloom of colour. 

In late spring and summer, heath spotted-orchids and broad-leaved helleborines occur locally and the yellow flowers of the mouse-ear-hawkweed adorn the pit tips. Bats can be seen hunting in the summer evenings. Common lizards bask on the more open heath-covered spoil tips. Unusual butterflies include the small pearl-bordered fritillary.

The small pearl-bordered fritillary is a charming butterfly found in discrete colonies. White spots, like a string of pearls, run along the outside edge of the underside of the hindwing. Its yellow-spined caterpillars feed on violet leaves; it is thought that this species favours marsh violet in damp sunny spots around Silent Valley.

The wetter areas of the reserve occur along ancient landslides and are colonised by alder trees, marsh thistle and wood horsetail, which are all visible from the path. Also look out for the greater tussock-sedge in the wet areas – the roots of this plant push further above ground each year, forming huge mounds.

In late summer and early autumn the high slopes above the reserve are purple with heather.

There is also a good variety of fungi in the woodland at this time of the year, with damp autumn weather bringing a flush of toadstools and the pungent smell of stinkhorn fungus.

A rare fungus species has been identified on a fallen beech tree at the reserve – the tiered tooth fungus – this appears to be the only record of this species in Wales. 

In winter flocks of tits and finches, including brambling and chaffinch, feed on the large supply of beech nuts in the woods. From January onwards, ravens tumble and display in the hills above the reserve. Breeding birds on the reserve include pied flycatcher, redstart and green woodpecker. Alder cones in the woodland form a valuable food supply for siskins and redpolls. Grey wagtails can be seen feeding along the stream.

The grey wagtail is more colourful than its name suggests, with its lemon yellow under-tail, and a strikingly long tail. It breeds along fast running rivers and streams, where it moves daintily along the water edge. Insects make up the bulk of its diet, along with the occasional minnow.

Access

There are 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.

Directions

From Ebbw Vale take the A4046 south for about 3km towards the village of Cwm. At the start of the Cwm bypass, turn left off this road, following the signpost to Cwm. Continue down the hill (past a church on the left). After approx 800 metres turn left, following the brown nature reserve sign, into Cendl Terrace. Once you are in Cendl Terrace, drive to the top of the street and the nature reserve car park is on the right. Walk northwards along a rough track through a flat grassy area to get to the reserve entrance (grid ref: SO 187 062).

The reserve can also be easily reached from Newport by following the signs for the Festival Park Shopping Centre, until you reach the roundabout at the south end of Cwm. Rather than entering the village from the roundabout, it is easiest to drive past Cwm on the bypass until you see a further signpost to Cwm, and turn right here. The directions to the reserve from this north end of the bypass are given above.

What to see around the reserve

For the adventurous rambler, walk through the reserve, over the ridge and you will be rewarded with breathtaking views to the west. Nearby long distance footpaths include the Ebbw Valley Walk and the Sirhowy Valley Walk. Parc Bryn Bach is situated just off the A465 in the heart of the South Wales Valleys – set in mixed grassland and woodland, a lake forms its focal point. Learn about Wales’ industrial past with a trip to the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape World Heritage Site. This includes the Big Pit museum, a great place to learn more about coal mining in the South Wales Valleys. 

Nearby nature reserves

Branches Fork Meadows
6 miles - Gwent Wildlife Trust
Coed Meyric Moel
9 miles - Gwent Wildlife Trust
Taf Fechan
10 miles - The Wildlife Trust for South and West Wales

Nature reserve map

Reserve information

Location
Cendl Terrace Cwm
Ebbw Vale
Gwent
Map reference
SO 187 062
Get directions
Find out here
Public transport
Plan your journey
Opening Times
Open at all times
Size
50.00 hectares
Living Landscape schemes
Eastern Valleys Living Landscape
Access
No

Walking information
There are 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.
Parking
There is a car park at the reserve entrance.
Dogs
Dogs allowed
Reserve manager
Gwent Wildlife Trust
Tel: 01495 307525
info@gwentwildlife.org