TODAY marks the official start of spring, and as Cardiff shakes off its winter chill the city’s birdlife will gradually begin to return north from warmer climes.
The Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve was created in 2002 after the completion of the Bay Barrage allowed the area’s mudflats to be transformed into an expanse of freshwater marshland.
As the biggest wetlands site in Cardiff, the reserve is now an important area for the city’s birdlife and offers migrating birds a crucial safe haven in which to settle down and nest.
Sam Eaves is an environment officer with the city Harbour Authority, the section of Cardiff Council that owns the Wetlands Reserve. For her, it’s the sheer variety of birdlife on display that makes the area special.
“There’s quite a lot of open water so we get a lot of water-based wildfowl, swans and moorhens, great crested grebes, little grebes, quite a wide range really.
“In the reed areas and the more scrubby areas you get a lot of warblers. They’re mostly here in the summer, because obviously they migrate,” she said.
But the reserve also provides a temporary home for less common birds. As far as Sam remembers, the most exotic sighting on the reserve was an African Spoonbill in 2004.
“I think it sort of drifted off course, and that attracted a lot of attention. There were a lot of people down here watching that,” she added.
According to Dana Thomas of RSPB Cymru, there are 200 nature reserves covering almost 130,000 hectares in the UK. In Wales, there are 17 reserves spread across an area of more than 17,000 hectares.
Seen in this context, the eight hectares covered by Cardiff Bay Wetlands doesn’t seem like much, but Dana insists sites like these have a part to play, too.
“Sites like these are an important aspect of any area, and they do add value for visitors as well,” she said.
Estimating the number of birds using the site is difficult, but Sam Eaves says the Harbour Authority is more interested in attracting a wider range of species to the area.
“If we have a range, then obviously we know the habitat here is quite varied and is attracting different species, and then that benefits biodiversity overall.”
The park might look like a piece of wilderness inexplicably slotted against the built-up Bay area, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. In fact, the wetlands require careful management, especially over the cold winter months.
Trees are kept at different heights to ensure variety, and must be trimmed short to prevent them falling over in the shifting soils. And, of course, keeping the local residents happy is important, too: residents complain if trees grow above a certain height and obstruct their stunning views over the Bay.
As Sam said: “It does look quite wild, but it is a managed wild.”
The Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve is located on the northern edge of Cardiff Bay, between the St David’s Hotel and the mouth of the River Taff.