We are certainly lucky in South Wales when it comes to free family days out. I’ve been trying to get through the Easter holidays without spending a fortune and the last week has seen us visiting St Fagans National History Museum, The Cardiff Story, Central Library, Cwmcarn Forest Drive, and Victoria Park.
Yesterday, we rounded off the week by heading to Newport Wetlands, a beautiful nature reserve on the Severn Estuary. Opened in 2000, the wetlands were created to help protect the wildlife at risk from the building of the Cardiff Bay Barrage. The 437-hectare reserve is owned and managed by Natural Resources Wales, in partnership with Newport City Council and the RSPB, which runs the impressive visitor centre and organises nature-themed events throughout the year.
We arrived yesterday, on a dry but overcast afternoon at around 2pm, and parked no problem in the large, free carpark. We headed straight to the visitor centre where the friendly staff explained the various trails we could explore. My children loved the tick sheets they were given, full of wildlife for them to spot, including birds, ducks, insects and amphibians. There’s a playground and bird feeding area directly behind the visitor centre, but we decided to head straight down the path at the side of the visitor centre. This, we were told, would take us over the low-sling rubber bridges that go directly through the reed-filled lagoons, and on to the East Usk lighthouse and the edge of the estuary.
I was pleased to see the site is really accessible for buggies, with a mixture of gravel paths, boardwalks and the rubber bridges. It was also easy enough for me to navigate my way around with three children and no other adults to assist.
Our first stop along the path was the Minibeast Mansion, where we looked for bugs and found worms and snails, and my children played on the balancing logs. A number of chopped up tree trunks were signposted as Frog On A Log, but we didn’t see any frogs today.
From there, we headed up a small hill and onto the black rubber bridges. My three children, Little Miss E, age 6, Little Man O, 4.5, and Toddler Boy I, 2, thought these were brilliant fun. If other people are also walking on the bridges, it produces a wobbling effect, and they thought this was hilarious.
Various birds chirped away among the reeds, but remained hidden from sight. I was beginning to wonder if we’d spot anything today – and then we came to a beautiful viewing point overlooking one of the lagoons. We saw various ducks swimming gracefully around – and it was then that it hit me just how tranquil the reserve is. The only real sounds are those of nature – such a far cry from living in a busy city such as Cardiff.
At another viewing point further along the bridges, we saw several swans. My children were amazed when one swam right up to them. They’re used to the swans and ducks at Roath Lake chasing us for food, but these swans were so calm and graceful.
Next stop was the lighthouse and the edge of the estuary, with its rugged mud flats. It was difficult to tell what the different birds and ducks we saw here were, as they were quite far away (next time we’ll take our binoculars) but we think we spotted an egret and possibly a heron. We walked a little way around the headland, before turning back on ourselves as I think the full walk would have been too much for my children.
Crossing over the rubber bridge again took us to the back of the visitor centre area and the children’s play area.
Although the playground was rather muddy, it had a great selection of equipment for different ages, including a climbing frame with a replica of the lighthouse, a boat-themed climbing structure and a zip wire swing. We spent around 45 minutes in the park before heading to the adjoining bird spotting area, where we saw what we think were great tits feasting on the bird tables. We also explored the little streams nearby, looking for pond life.
It was then back to the visitor centre where my children told the staff they’d spotted 15 different species on our tick list. Apparently, it’s a quiet time of the year at the moment but they are expecting more migrating birds and ducks to appear as spring progresses into summer.
Our final stop of the day was to put a few coins in the large robin-shaped donation box. Although the centre is free, they rely heavily on donations and money received through RSPB memberships, as well as purchases in the café and gift shop, to support the work they do. They also run paid-for events at weekends and during the holidays, such as pond dipping, bat and moth nights, and family birdsong walks.
You might also like these posts: Exploring Cwmcarn Forest, Exploring Trees and Sculptures at Bute Park Cardiff, A Muddy Morning at Heath Park Cardiff, Fforest Fawr Sculpture Trail, Cosmeston Country Park and Medieval Village, Porthkerry Country Park.