The wildlife of the Newport area is immensely varied, since the habitats available for plants and animals include sections of steep cliffs, quiet estuarine mud flats, sandy beaches and steep coastal slopes, quiet wooded valleys, rough farmland, open moorland and rocky inland crags.
Some of the highest cliffs in Wales are to be found within a few kilometres of the town and there are stretches of man-made cliffs to the west of Newport where the old sea quarries were worked for centuries to provide the building materials for the houses and quays of the coastal communities. During the winter months the prevailing westerly winds drive in the ocean rollers, which throw up great columns of spray as they assault the headland cliffs of Pen Morfa. On the west side of Newport Bay there is more shelter in the lee of Dinas Island. The cliffs assume a special wild beauty in the spring, when they support Maytime cushions of thrift, vernal squill and sea campion; and then again in the late summer with the flowering of heather and gorse.
Many stretches of the coastal cliffs abound with bird life, and attract bird-watchers during the summer months. There are small colonies of guillemots and razorbills at Stack Rock, on the east side of Pen Dinas. Among the most familiar bird sounds to be heard along the coast are the raucous cries of herring gulls as they wheel and soar above the clifftops or gather in noisy, quarrelsome ranks on the rocks below. On the cliff coasts look out for fulmars, shags, feral pigeons and buzzards. With luck you may spot a peregrine falcon, a group of cliff-nesting house martins, or even a family of choughs. These noisy and exuberant birds (recognizable through their red legs and beaks) are increasing in numbers locally, as they are all around the Pembrokeshire coast.
Beneath the cliffs there are a number of inaccessible beaches where grey seals give birth to their pups in the autumn months. You will see seals on almost any walk along the local cliffed sections of the Coastal Footpath, at any time of year. Dolphins and porpoises roll in the bay and in the summer months when the sea is calm sizeable groups or 'pods' can frequently be seen inthe waters close inshore beneath the cliffs.
The sheltered estuary of the Afon Nyfer is particularly rich in bird life during the winter months when many species of ducks, waders and other waterfowl feed on the inter-tidal mud flats. Little egrets are now commonly seen here, and many rare species have been spotted here through many years of careful observation by ornithologists. You can hear curlew calling even on the blackest of nights. Inland in the wooded valleys those who have patience are often rewarded with sightings of badgers, wild mink, grey squirrels, stoats, weasels and foxes. Kingfishers can be seen up-river from the Iron Bridge, and even sometimes on the open coast. On the river banks there are otters, and hares are sometimes seen on the open farmlands.
In the spring and summer one of the glories of the inland area is the kaleidoscope of flowers in bloom. The stone hedge banks along the lanes and pathways are ablaze with flowers from March to May, including snowdrops, daffodils, primroses, celandines, stitchworts, dog violets and early purple orchids. There are abundant 'bluebell woods' in the valleys of the Nyfer and Clydach. Later, foxgloves, red campions, cow parsley and harebells come into their own. Woodland floors are carpeted with wood sorrell, wood anemone, wild garlic, and moschatel. In the early summer high-banked lanes hang with broom, mayflower and honeysuckle. Dippers can be seen on stones in some of the fast-flowing streams, or flying fast, close to the tumbling torrents.
On the slopes of Carningli the lichen-encrusted crags stand proud of great swathes of bright green bilberry bursting into fresh leaf. And in high summer the open moorlands are painted purple and gold with heather and gorse. Sundew and butterwort, bog bean, rushes and cotton grass grow on the moorland bogs. In amongst the bracken fronds you might well see an adder or a fox. If you sit on the summit of the mountain beneath the wide sky you will probably see ravens, wheatears, wagtails, buzzards and kestrels, and in April and May you will hear the cuckoo. If you are very lucky you will see one or more of the soaring and graceful kites which are now moving back into the area after a century or more of absence........
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Dr Brian John for providing both the written material and the photographs for this webpage.