Updated 28 September 2018 - New blog post - The #PeoplesWalkforWildlife

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Crymlyn Burrows, Swansea Bay - 21st March 2015

Sometimes we don't realise what is right under our noses and Crymlyn Burrows is certainly no exception. I can't tell you how many times I have driven past this nature reserve on Fabian Way, but on Saturday 21st March I decided it was time to pay it a visit.

Situated east of Swansea and opposite the Amazon Distribution Centre, this nature reserve is one of the last remaining areas of the Swansea Bay coastline that has not been touched by industry. Interestingly, Crymlyn Burrows falls in two counties - the land west of Baldwin's Crescent falls within the City and County of Swansea and eastwards falls within Neath Port Talbot.

We parked in a small layby on the A483 opposite Amazon and not far from the Premier 4x4 car dealership. The layby can hold about 8 to 10 cars (as long as everyone parks sensibly) and as easy accessibility into the reserve.

Room for about 8 -10 cars. 
The first thing we saw was a large blue sign explaining that Crymlyn Burrows is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and that any destruction to flowers, animals and landform could result in the guilty party getting a fine up to £20,000 - it also warns that cockle picking, motor vehicles and firearms are not allowed and the South Wales Police regularly patrol the area.

The blue sign warning that Crymlyn Burrows is a Site of Special Scientific Interest
Crymlyn Burrows contains some well-defined footpaths but it also has a variety of terrains including vast sand dunes, salt marshes and a carr woodland. Being a SSSI means there is an abundance of wildlife and rare flowers including the Fen Orchid (which can also be found in Kenfig Nature reserve). Infact, it wasn't long before we were treated to our own wildlife sightings - a pair of reed buntings in nearby nettles and a beautiful buzzard flying up high.

Well laid paths around the reserve 
A male and female reed bunting in some nettles. (pic by @danturner23)
A buzzard flying high in search of prey (pic by @danturner23)

We watched as the buzzard hovered above us searching for his prey, he suddenly swooped down behind the sand dunes in front of us - we followed the path over the dunes in the hope that we could see him. There he was perched on a wooden fence, but before we had time to get a photo he was gone and we were left on top of the sand dunes, with the beautiful river Neath in front of us. In the distance we saw two horse riders enjoying the vast reserve.

Two riders crossing the river Neath

There was a lot of other bird activity around, so quietly we walked along the sandy bank to see what we could observe. We were so excited when we saw a pair of skylarks in some shrubs, whilst a lonesome redshank walked along the river bed.

The sand dunes and the river Neath
Skylark (pic by @danturner23)
Skylark (pic by @danturner23)
Redshank in the muddy banks (pic by @danturner23)
As we walked along the banks we could see Kilvey Hill in the distance and we came across a row of old wheels and tyres that formed stepping stones across the river. Instead of going over we decided to head back to the car to go home for lunch and to watch the Six Nations rugby on TV. We had had such a lovely couple of hours in Crymlyn Burrows that we decided to return in the afternoon.

Kilvey Hill in the distance
The wheel stepping stones
On the way back to the car we came across an interesting specimen of a rabbit skull and a carrion crow greeted us on an old rusty post. We couldn't wait to return in a few hours...

A rabbit skull 
Carrion crow (pic by @danturner23)
Well, Wales won the rugby…in fact they defeated Italy with a score of 61 - 20! Feeling happy, we returned to Crymlyn Burrows. The weather was lovely and sunny and the layby was now almost full with cars, but we managed to get the last space and made our way back into the reserve.

This time we turned right and started walking towards the new Swansea University. We walked along some of the higher banks to see the marsh land and the beautiful view over the reserve. You could see Tata Steel and Baglan Bay Energy Park in the distance, which made you appreciate how big Crymlyn Burrows is.

Tata Steel in the distance
Baglan Bay Energy Park with 
As we carried on along the path we started seeing a number of different birds: blue tits, long tailed tits and meadow pipits were all flying in and out of nearby trees. There was also an abundance of yellow gorse that looked fantastic against the blue sky.

Meadow Pipit
Blue Tit
Yellow gorse
Long Tailed Tit
We made our way past Bay Studios, where the U.S. television show Da Vinci's Demons is filmed and eventually got to the new Swansea University Bay Campus development. There are quite a few buildings already built but it's still pretty much a construction site and they have lots to do before the students start moving in this September. In the early stages of building I had concerns about them chopping down lots of trees along Fabian Way, but it's nice to see that many new trees have been planted.

We made our way past the side of the university and headed to the sand dunes in front of us. In a nearby holly bush was a stonechat with his mate, they were flying on and off some of the uni's wooden fence polls.

Bay Studios
Swansea University construction site
Stonechat (oic by @danturner23)
You could just about see Swansea Bay over the dunes and when we got to the top the view was beautiful with clear views of Mumbles. On the beach we found cockles and from this angle we got a great view of the Great Hall of the new university.

The dunes with Swansea Bay just peeping over
Cockles on the beach
The Great Hall
As we made our way along the bay the sun began to set and as we got closer to Baglan Bay we noticed that there were numerous birds on the coast. Hundreds of dunlins were standing near the sea's edge and a huge number of oystercatcher accumulated a little further down. We walked on the sand dunes so as not to scare them and noticed there were a few turnstones there too.

Not sure what birds these are - but pretty cool V shape
The sunset was putting on a show and we were now the only two people on the beach. The university looked dramatic at the other end of the Burrows silhouetted by the sun and Mumbles looked so beautiful in the distance. Time was getting on so we decided to head back to the car.

Now this was our first visit to Crymlyn Burrows and we had no idea that the salt marsh floods when the tide comes in from the River Neath. Walking back we noticed several more pools of water than previously, some with mist on them, and then we discovered that the stepping stones (or wheels) had completely disappeared and it was all submerged in water! There was no way to cross!

The University silhouetted in the distance
Mumbles in the beautiful sunset
Misty pools of water
Ok, where did all this water come from?
We had only one option and that was to walk all the way back to the University and then back along the path that runs parallel to Fabian Way. This added another 2 miles to our walk on already tired legs!

When we finally got back to the car we took another pic to show the vast amount of water that had come into the reserve. We had no idea that the River Neath came so far in and have certainly learnt our lesson to check tide times next time.

Apart from almost being marooned, the day was awesome and I feel disappointed with myself that I have never been here sooner. Since 21st March I have already revisited twice and it is now one of my favourite local nature spots.

The River Neath floods the reserve when the tide comes in
If you love nature then this place is without doubt an area that you should visit and it is also important that we protect it. There are concerns that the reserve could be affected by the £1b Tidal Lagoon project that is to be be built in Swansea Bay. The Wildlife Trust are concerned that the project could damage habitats and change the way the sand deposits in the bay, which would affect various coastal birds.