Kenfig Special Area of Conservation, National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest
“And then for a month there was play, and sea-air, and rocks to climb over, and sandhills, and rabbits and wild-fowl to watch by the hour…” R D Blackmore, The Maid of Sker, 1872. Blackmore wrote Lorna Doone. His mother was from Nottage, near Kenfig.
Between the sea and the land at Kenfig is a complex landscape of sand dunes and wetlands. This shifting coastal reserve is home to many rare
species of plants, insects, birds and animals. They need the fragile habitats here to survive. Some prefer the young, freely moving sand dunes. Others thrive on stable dunes or the wet, marshy spaces between them. Plant roots here bind the soil together, adding nutrients and gradually changing the habitat. From sand, it becomes grassland, scrub and eventually woodland. This dynamic process needs careful management to maintain a balanced dune system at Kenfig.
Kenfig Pool is the largest natural lake in south Wales and an important home for wildlife. In winter, the reserve attracts large populations of migrating birds. In summer, dozens of different orchids thrive here. Kenfig is a special place. It is protected under UK and European law.
Kenfig has not always looked like this: there was once a thriving village on this site, with a church and a castle. Now only the top of the castle keep is visible. From the fourteenth century, huge amounts of sand were deposited along the south Wales coast in a geological shift that lasted hundreds of years. The area around Kenfig in particular was affected.
“[The sand] came like a cloud over the moon … swarming, driving, darkening the air... it swept up the great Roman road… and swallowed the castle of Kenfig… And so it went on for two hundred years, coming up from the sea…filling all the hollow places, changing all bright mossy pools into hills of yellow drought.” R D Blackmore, The Maid of Sker, 1872.
The land beneath the sand is a mix of limestone and clay soils, giving Kenfig a very distinctive ecosystem. While the sand is free draining, the clay beneath traps moisture, creating marshy areas know as ‘slacks’. Because this is a dynamic landscape, work on the reserve is ongoing to create and maintain ideal conditions for the wildlife found here. To ensure movement and create young sand dunes, we sometimes excavate the dunes or create channels through to the beach. We mow and clear some areas and aim to maintain the balance of habitats here.
There are a number of threats to the important sand dune ecosystem at Kenfig. They all mean that this sensitive site needs careful management:
Visitors play an important role in helping to protect Kenfig. When you visit the reserve, please keep your dog on a lead (to protect fragile species), pick up your dog’s mess (which makes the soil too rich) and your litter (which can harm wildlife). We work with a team of volunteers at Kenfig. To find out how you could get involved in conservation activities go to Kenfig pages of the Countryside Partnership.
Look out for these important species on the site:
This rare liverwort needs young dunes, without competition from other plants. Known as humid dune slacks, this habitat is damp and muddy. We mow, clear scrub and remove invasive plants to allow this species to thrive. This plant is visible all year round. There are very few sites in the UK where this species is known to thrive. All of them are coastal and Kenfig is one of the most significant.
Kenfig is one of the most important places for fen orchids in Europe.
Up to 200 flowers appear each year but it is in decline. These orchids grow in the marshy ‘slacks’ between the dunes. We mow the area where the orchids grow to keep other plants from smothering them. Fen orchids weren’t discovered at Kenfig until 1927.This is now one of only two sites in south Wales where this species is found.
Kenfig was once part of the largest sand dune system in the UK. Creeping willow is an important pioneer species here. It indicates that the dunes are becoming stable and helps to transform young, marshy dunes and dune grassland into low, scrubby areas. This diversity of rare habitats means that wildlife thrives at Kenfig. Many other nationally rare species are also found on the site.
Great crested newt
Great crested newts are our largest native newt and are strongly protected by law. These newts use small, seasonal ponds across the reserve as well as Kenfig Pool. Increasingly rare across Britain and Europe, this species indicates a thriving wetland. These newts have a striking orange and black underbelly. Males develop a jagged crest in the spring.
Bitterns are extremely rare across the British Isles. The reed beds around the edge of Kenfig Pool are perfect for these birds. You may hear the males ‘booming’ or calling in the spring.
Shrill carder bee
There are only seven known populations of the very rare Shrill carder bee in Britain. The grasslands and wildflower meadows at Kenfig provide vital habitat for this bumble bee from May until September. In the UK, these bees are now only found in south Wales and southern England. This species has an unusually high pitched buzz.
This bat is drawn to Kenfig Pool where it skims above the water, feeding on insects. Its main food source is midges and it flies in large circles over the water to find them. It hibernates over the coldest winter months, but otherwise roosts in trees, tunnels and buildings up to four miles away from the lake.
This bright, distinctive bird lives on the reserve. Although it is shy, you may spot it perching on a branch above the clear, shallow waters of Kenfig Pool or small waterways on the reserve. It dives to catch fish and its preferred food is minnows and sticklebacks. Kingfishers are protected in law as they are at risk of extinction and vulnerable to disturbance.
This very rare predator is found on the river Ewenny at Kenfig. It feeds on fish, waterfowl, crabs and other shell fish around the coast, lakes and streams on the reserve and beyond. Spotting an otter takes patience, but you may find evidence that it is around. Its spraint, or droppings, are full of fish bones and scales and have a particular musky smell.
This dragonfly is about 5.5cm long. It is a small hawker and patrols the waters of Kenfig Pool. You may spot it when it emerges in May, earlier than many other dragonflies, through until July. It lays eggs in the vegetation around the lake and feeds on midges and other small insects. At this time of year damselflies are also abundant around the lake and in the grasslands at Kenfig.
These birds aren’t resident in Britain. They are very rare visitors to Kenfig and have been spotted here in May and June. They use the reserve as a feeding ground, eating insects - particularly caterpillars - and berries. Only around 100-600 of these birds are spotted in the whole of the UK each year.
Chara vulgaris var. contraria
Kenfig pool is carpeted with many varieties of stonewort. These small green algae are also found in marshy freshwater areas between the sand dunes across the site. Opposite stonewort is one of the most prolific species here. Kenfig is one of 118 sites in the United Kingdom noted for stoneworts.
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