Uncategorized Wildlife

The wildlife of the Tywi valley

A lot has happened since I wrote this guest blog for Dyffryn Tywi in 2020. I will be creating a blog in response to the proposals for a 60 mile network of electricity pylons through our beautiful valley. The diagram shows just part of the proposed development and I’ve added photos of a few of the actual birds and animals that live along just that tiny stretch. It feels personal – I know these creatures! The Whooper swans overwintering and grazing the fields along with the Canadian and Greylag geese. The Red Kite that nests in sight of the school and directly under the proposed electricity lines. The Great spotted woodpeckers that are predictably hammering away staking their territories now that spring is round the corner…..

The setting sun turning the river pink; three arched windows and a green hill; perhaps a solitary Red Kite or Buzzard soaring overhead, or if it’s late enough a Barn Owl following the river upstream while it hunts. This is how I know I am nearly home.

My love for the Tywi valley and its archaeology, history and wildlife is long standing. The Towy is the longest river entirely in Wales and the floodplain it carves through has been an important transport route since prehistoric times. Of course, it is still an important transport route and the A40 which more or less follows the old Roman road, takes us near the castles in their prominent positions overlooking Llandovery, Llandeilo and Dryslwyn. The A40 departs from the river at the county town of Carmarthen and the Tywi is left to meander down to its broad estuary at Llansteffan, beneath another castle and against the background of sandcastles, ice cream and chips.

The geology of the Towy valley and the fertile alluvial deposits have created wonderfully silty and loamy soils that have fed rich pastures for sheep and dairy cattle to graze upon. The valley is also home a diverse range of wildlife and I enjoy climbing Paxton’s tower to get one of the best views imaginable. After the floods, which are part of the valley’s historic cycle of floods, but are sadly becoming more and more extreme, the acoustics of the whole valley changes and the mass of water softens the noises and creates an eery silence that is quite different to when the waters have drained away leaving just the oxbow lakes, abandoned channels and gravel bars. I have observed and counted wildfowl in the valley for more than 20 years and although I am too recent a visitor to have observed the meadows at Dryslwyn when they were one of the top overwintering sites for White Fronted Geese, I have enjoyed the many Whooper swans, Canada geese, Greylags and a lone Snow goose that occasionally tags along on their migratory journey. I once observed a pair of Bar Headed geese – escapees I am certain!

A recent sighting that has sparked my interest is the Great White Egret – or possibly two Great White Egrets. A solitary member of this species is regularly seen in its favourite spots at Dinefwr, Cilsan, Dryslwyn and Capel Dewi. I have yet to spot a pair but I have certainly observed one whilst I was standing on the bridge at Dryslwyn whilst another member of the Carmarthenshire Birds and Wildlife facebook group spotted one moments later in Capel Dewi. It either flies incredibly fast, or there are indeed a pair of them. I wonder if they will breed? The Little Egrets have been successful in establishing themselves in the valley, and of course heronries have existed in the grounds of old mansions like Newton House and Aberglasney for centuries. Once again, the Towy valley combines archaeology, history and nature; with the largest Heronry in Wales back in the 1970’s existing at the site of the ancient Allt y Gaer hillfort.

I am lucky to live in such a beautiful place and this past year has really brought that home to me. I have been able to walk to the river and see the swallows arrive and nest under the bridge, swooping out to catch insects above the glassy river surface before gathering in September to leave for Africa – and again this year when they arrived back ready to continue this wonderful cycle. In uncertain times like the global pandemic we are experiencing, there is a sense of predictability and safety that comes from watching nature carry on just as it has been. I wonder where the Princes of Dehuebarth thought the swallows went each autumn? Did the Romans marching to Carmarthen look down and see Otters sliding off the riverbank into the safety of the dark waters below? Were Red Kites a scavenging nuisance in the streets of Llandovery back in the days of Llewelyn ap Gruffydd Fychan?

Who knows… and that is the beauty of the Tywi valley and what it means to me. An ancient place, that is still very undisturbed if you pause a moment, look, and listen to what is going on all around you.

P.S. It IS two Great White Egrets – yay!!! They have reliably been spotted together.

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