Parc Slip Nature Reserve near Aberkenfig, Bridgend is an area of 300 acres containing a fantastic mix of habitats such as grassland, woodland and wetlands, restored from its previous status as a coal mining area. There are many sculptures and art-works on the site, most of them echoing its past usage. Deep or drift mining took place here from 1864 to 1892 and opencast mining from 1960 to 1980. A disastrous accident here in 1892 was one of the reasons for closure; of the 150 souls who worked here only 39 survived. However, several fatal accidents had occurred at the colliery which was owned by Ogmore Coal and Iron Co. and later by North’s Navigation Company. The nature reserve is now managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, who maintain the diverse habitats which are home to many rare wildlife species.
A glorious day in August; wispy clouds were scudding across the blue sky with the breeze. There were people, old and young, enjoying being out in amongst nature. There were lots of wildlife on offer. One little boy was particularly excited with everything, pointing here and there and asking his mother what things were. I’m sure this was how David Attenborough, Iolo Williams or Chris Packham got started.
Open water ponds, the wader scrape and wetlands provided habitat for many species of water bird, although in August the bird sightings were not that numerous. There were several open access hides and viewing areas throughout the reserve, overlooking the wetland areas. We accessed these as we walked around the well-maintained paths throughout the reserve. There is a Heritage Trail which enables you to explore the mining history and the natural areas. However, we went off piste and explored some of the more out of the way areas.
We left the Visitors’ Centre and proceeded towards the canal. The first thing we were confronted with was a wooden Badger sculpture. It was making its way out of its set in amongst the thistles whose fluffy seed-heads were floating away on the wind.
All around was a riot of colourful flowers buzzing with an attendant insect population. There were Red Clover, Fleabane, Knapweed, Water-mint, Hogweed and Great Willowherb. We stood on a wooden platform and looked back towards the Visitor Centre across a swampy area which was colonised with Bulrushes, Hard Rush, Purple Loosestrife, Meadowsweet, Hogweed, Sneezewort, Tufted Vetch, Watercress and Water-mint. The water below us was teeming with water insects which were darting among the Canadian Pondweed and Water-mint.
We followed the path, through a mixed woodland of Willow, both Weeping and Crack, Alder, Hawthorn, Sycamore, Oak and Holly. Many of the tree trunks were clothed in Ivy, Mosses and Lichen. The path ran alongside a canal whose banks were cloaked in fallen leaves, Ferns, Ivy and Himalayan Balsam. A wholesome earthy aroma was all pervasive. The Tutsan had finished flowering and berries turning from green to yellow to orange to red to black were forming.
We burst into the sunshine to be faced with a meadow of flowers in vibrant colours of yellow, pink, purple and white. These were the Canal and the Met Fields. Many of the flowers we had met before on the walk, but the white was represented by Pignut and Hedge Bindweed. Some of the pink by Hemp Agrimony and Herb Robert. Yet more yellows were epitomised by Cat’s-ear, Common Ragwort, Silverweed and Bird’s-foot Trefoil. Butterflies in all their glory were flitting between the pincushion yellow Fleabane flowers and the dainty upstanding intense pink flowers of Great Willowherb. There was a Speckled Wood, lots of Meadow Browns and Small Whites.
The first hide was reached in the Northern Wetlands; this overlooked a large pond surrounded by swathes of purple and pink flowers. There were small islands in the middle and another hide could be seen across the water. The water was covered with floating mats of yellow Waterlilies. A few Coots and Mallards were swimming between them.
Meadows stretched away on both sides of the path. The path meandered between the Lapwing Field and the Canal Field. Although we would need to come back in Spring to see the Lapwing, there were small birds skimming over the flowers. A similar variety of plants with the addition of Oxeye Daisies, Curled Docks, Wild Carrot, Devil’s-bit Scabious and Creeping Thistle thrive here. The whole area was alive with insects and grasshoppers.
Just before we arrived at the road and cycle track there was a poignant statue of a collier with boy, complete with flat cap and Davey lamp.
The road was lined with trees and bushes, many of which were adorned with autumnal fruits: Hawthorn, Guelder-rose, Tutsan and Blackberries. Ribbed Melilot, Tufted Vetch, Knapweed, Fleabane and Greater Bird’s-foot Trefoil wove their way through the grasses at the foot of the bushes. The purple Knapweed was awash with wasps or bees and the yellow Fleabane sported a few Ladybirds.
A path led off from the road into the trees towards a hide. The canopy of leaves afforded us a cool shade. This canopy also allowed shade loving plants, of which there were only remnants, to grow in profusion: Bluebells and Primroses. The hide looked out upon a wet meadow of Common Reeds. This area was called the Wader Scrape.
Further along the road another path, to the left, led to another hide in a more open aspect, Scrapes Field. It looked over a scrape, marshy grassland and a network of small ponds. We spent some time here. At first all seemed quiet except for the rustling of the reeds in the wind. But, patience paid off and we were rewarded with a few wildfowl sightings. A Moorhen with chicks came gliding across one of the pools, weaving between the Iris leaves, Bulrushes and Common Reeds. They even waddled out on to a raised piece of close cropped grassland and settled down for an afternoon nap. A little while later a group of Garganey zigzagged their way across the pond, upending themselves and showing us their well turned out rumps.
Time was getting on, so we moved on. Further along the road another path, to the right, led us into a mixed broadleaf and conifer woodland, with sunny rides and open glades. It passed Reeve’s Meadow and eventually led to a hide, on the other side on the Northern Wetlands. It seemed an ideal area for spotting flying insects: Damselflies, Dragonflies and Butterflies. We saw a scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly, a Four-spot Chaser Dragonfly, a red Common Darter Dragonfly and a Golden-ringed Dragonfly. The Butterflies were represented by Small Whites, Meadow Browns, a Red Admiral and a Gatekeeper. There were also a few Blow Flies or Green Bottles feeding on Water-mint and Knapweed. Trees lined the path with a variety of plants in the undergrowth and wet patches of ground. Nettles and Brambles there were a plenty; spindly Clustered Dock wound lazily through them, while leaves of Cranes-bill and Cinquefoil covered the ground in mats; Dandelions with fairy seed-heads were floating on the breeze; Water-mint, Fleabane, Knapweed, Horsetails and Sneezewort punctuated the spaces in between.
The pathway ended at the Lapwing Hide: nowhere else to go except into the hide. The view did not disappoint. Here again were the Waterlilies covering the water in great rafts of yellow and green. Islands in the centre were crowded with Purple Loosestrife, Water Dock, Water-mint, Bulrushes and Irises. Edges of the water echoed the plants in the centre with the addition of large swathes of Common Reeds which swayed rhythmically with the wind. On the water the Coots and Mallards were still just feeding quietly in amongst the Waterlilies.
Since this was a dead end there was nothing for it but to retrace our steps. Back through the woodland and out on to the road. We followed the road towards the Visitor Centre, passed the collier and the boy, passed some striking sculptures and skirted the Canal and Met Fields on the opposite side to our outward journey.
Some Long -horn cattle were resting deep in the grasses and flowers in the fields. The grazed pasture is important in maintaining a suitable habitat for the flora and fauna that thrive in this environment. Also, some areas were cordoned off for research. All along the hedges were soldier straight stems topped by dense fruit clusters, resembling tiny tight birds’ nests and lace-like umbels of the Wild Carrot. Common Ragwort, Wild Parsnip, Hogweed, Knapweed, Teasel and Red Clover were interspersed within the masses of dried grasses and blankets of Butterbur. The Butterbur played host to little green bugs, which hopped about frantically.
To the right was a path that would lead to the 1892 disaster memorial fountain. This is a sculpture of concentric rings situated on the entrance spot to the mine. We didn’t visit the site but continued to the Visitor Centre where we had an enjoyable cup of coffee before leaving for home. In the foyer was a brilliant yellow moth, a Brimstone Moth, clinging to the ceiling. An excellent end to the day!