March 1 may be the meteorological first day of spring, but it’s also Saint David’s Day – the national day of Wales – which has been celebrated since the 12th century. Festivities include the wearing of leeks and daffodils, singing traditional songs and eating cakes, but top amongst the things to celebrate are the wildlife secrets that make Wales so special.
“Wales is one of Europe’s best wildlife-watching secrets [and] can rival anywhere in the world,” says James Byrne, Living Landscapes manager for the Wildlife Trusts Wales. And these wonders might be anything from rare sightings of amazing ospreys, a feeding frenzy of red kites, the world’s largest Manx shearwater colonies or the best places in Britain to see puffins and porpoises.
For such a small place, Byrne says, Wales has an abundance of wildlife on offer. Here are some of the Wildlife Trusts Wales highlights to whet your appetite.
This majestic bird was pushed to the edge of extinction in the UK leaving only a few pairs in deepest, darkest Wales. But now these magnificent birds patrol the skies throughout Wales and beyond. They can be seen performing amazing aerial acrobatics at dedicated feeding centres such as Gigrin Farmin Powys, where wild kites are now seen every day of the year, or at Gilfach Farm.
There are an estimated 165,000 breeding pairs of Manx shearwaters on Skomer and Skokholmislands, which is the largest known concentration of this species in the world. Their winter quarters are off the coast of southern Brazil and Argentina, but they make a 14,000 mile annual round trip to spend their summer holidays in Wales.
Red squirrels are found in broadleaved woodland on Anglesey and at sites next to the Menai Strait, but spotting them takes patience. Some of the best places to try to see these enchanting little animals are at Pentraeth and Newborough Forests and Plas Newydd country house and gardens.
Known as the pride of Wales, this dainty alpine plant is, as its name suggests, confined to Snowdon and its neighbours. Unlike most alpines it blooms alone, and often out of reach, in rock crevices. Two of Wales’s most iconic National Nature Reserves (NNR) protect the Snowdon lily and other rare alpine plants: Snowdon NNR and Cwm Idwal NNR.