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Wild Monmouthshire

Nestled between the Brecon Beacons National Park and the Wye Valley Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and with more than 50 statutory designated conservation sites (50 SSSIs and 6 SACs), and over 700 local wildlife sites (non-statutory designations), Monmouthshire is the perfect place to get close to nature and to feel the benefits of doing so. The Wye Valley is home to deer, bats, otter, rare orchids, kingfisher, boar and, due to the tidal nature of the river, you might even see the odd porpoise or seal! The Gwent Levels are one of the few remaining strongholds for shrill carder bee and water vole while common crane and bittern have recently returned here after a long absence. The flora and fauna of the Usk river is similarly diverse and includes Atlantic salmon, otter, twait shad, allis shad, river lamprey, European perch, brown trout, chub, common dace and common roach as well as kingfisher, grey heron and other wildfowl and bird life. Look out for dippers and kites upstream of Usk. For more information on the wildlife of Monmouthshire, and its protection click here.

Wildlife Spotting

Otters on the River Usk

The Usk and Wye river catchments kept their otter populations throughout the twentieth century when most of England lost theirs due to persecution and pollution. Both rivers are designated as Special Areas of Conservation for the species, so it’s well worth keeping an eye out if you’re near our rivers or canals, or on the Gwent levels, particularly at dawn or dusk. With a babbling trout stream running alongside the hotel and beer garden, and a live stream otter-cam showing on a TV screen in the bar, the Olway Inn is the perfect place to observe these elusive nocturnal animals in their natural environment. This lovely footage of two otters on the River Usk was filmed by local nature enthusiast Richard Houghton - thank you for sharing Richard!

Kingfisher, dragonfly & water vole on the Levels

The Gwent Levels is home to a rich assemblage of wildlife, due in part to the centuries of stable maintenance of the watercourses, which has resulted in the area having one of the best assemblages of aquatic invertebrates in the UK.  Magor Marsh SSSI 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. Once a common sight on the levels, European water voles have been reintroduced to Magor Marsh where populations are now increasing.

Nightjar Walk at Dusk on the Beacon Hill

Discover the return of an ancient landscape on this gentle 1.5 mile walk through areas of recovering heathland where nightjars have returned as summer visitors. You'll be incredibly lucky to spot a nightjar during the day, their camouflage is superb, but take a walk at dusk in May, June or early July and you are fairly likely to hear them. The males give a most unusual ‘churring’ call, beautifully captured in this short film 'The Nightjars of Beacon Hill', produced by the Wye Valley AONB. 

The Beacon viewpoint is also one of the most magical places to sit and watch as the sun sets behind the distinctive silhouettes of Sugarloaf, Skirrid and The Blorenge, but do remember to bring a torch for the return walk back to the car park.

Dogs can disturb these sensitive ground-nesting birds, so please keep them on a lead or leave them at home for this walk.

Access: From the B4293 in Trellech take the road signed ‘Llandogo, Catbrook, Tintern’ and immediately take the left turn. After ½ mile take the first left turn. Beacon Hill NRW car park is ¼ mile on the right.

Download map here (Walk 9).

Herons on the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal

A popular attraction in the Brecon Beacons National Park, this is a beautiful and peaceful waterway. The navigable section of the canal runs for 35 miles from Brecon to the Pontymoile Basin and it’s a haven for wildlife and a favourite with nature-lovers, walkers and cyclists. Unlike many canals it has trees along much of its length and an array of wild flowers on its banks. Hire a narrowboat or electric day boat to see a wide range of wildlife including heron.

Welsh Dragon