Waterways wildlife

Jamie Hall

One thing Gwent is particularly well-provided with is rivers.

The Wye and Monnow form much of our eastern and northern border, the Severn the south, and the Rhymney the west. In between, the Usk, Afon Lwyd, Ebbw, Sirhowy and more. Add a couple of canals and there are a lot of blue lines on the map.

Each of those supports a great deal of wildlife: plants, insects, animals and birds that depend on water. And our rivers, and the wildlife they support, is remarkably varied. The agricultural surroundings and gravel banks of the Usk are quite different to the Wye woodlands; many of the valleys rivers function – from a wildlife point of view – like mountain streams with industrial stonework taking the place of rocky river banks; the Severn edge offers grazing marshes, saltmarshes, lagoons and miles of mud chock full of snails, worms and other vital food for wintering birds.

All of these are easily accessible. There are long-distance footpaths along several of the rivers and around the coast; the densest population of dippers I’ve ever seen is in Bargoed; and you can look for colour-ringed gulls and contribute to important science from the Newport waterfront.

Prisk Wood

Gemma Bodé

And it’s not just the water that makes a good place to look for wildlife. Rivers and canals are places of transition from land to water, often with woodland or scrub stages in between. That means they are likely to provide a lot of different habitats close together. This makes them ideal for creatures that need more than one kind of habitat: birds can nest in the vegetation along the banks, while feeding either over the water or on the open land; insects such as dragonflies live under the water as nymphs, then crawl up reeds and other vegetation to take to the air as adults.

And the lines that waterways make across the landscape are important too. The Monmouth and Brecon Canal above Pontypool is a particularly obvious line of trees running for miles through an otherwise agricultural landscape. For wildlife that makes a valuable corridor to travel along, or to link up larger patches of habitat. For humans that means waterways are great places to just sit, watch and listen. It’s much easier to find things in a linear habitat than in even a moderate-sized area of woodland. Indeed, very often, you don’t need to search at all: stay still and passing wildlife will come to you.

Kingfisher with fish

Jon Hawkins (Surrey Hills Photography)

A waterways favourite to spot - a Kingfisher enjoying a fish.