Penrhos Nature Reserve Trail

On A5 2 miles east of Holyhead at west end of Stanley Embankment Map reference: SH275

2J-mile trail around coastal headland Nature Reserve – large sea bird population Trail brochures and illustrated sign boards on trail; car park; picnic area; tea cabin; exhibition; bird and animal hospital; good facilities for disabled Anglesey Aluminium Metal Ltd, Penrhos Nature Reserve, Holyhead, Gwynedd

In Welsh, Anglesey is celebrated as the Mam Cymru, Mother of Wales, for its fertility and production of corn for both the native inhabit-ants and the Romans who knew this island as Mona. Separated from the Welsh mainland by, at some points only 200 yards of treacherous water, the Menai Straits, this island has

played a dominant role in the history of Britain. It was from here that Owain Tudor came, the Welsh squire whose grandson defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field to become Henry VII and found the Tudor dynasty. Not only was Mona rich in agriculture but the island had valuable minerals and copper ores. It is an irony that the great Parys Mountain copper mine was closed by its inability to compete with imported copper mined by, among others, Rio Tinto Zinc who, in partnership with Kaiser Aluminium, have built the Penrhos aluminium smelter on Holy Island.

The companies bought the land of the large Penrhos Estate, a holding which included the foreshore of Beddmanarch Bay and some former shooting lands. These are sited each side of the A5 at the point where it crosses Telford’s embankment (actually called Stanley embankment after the one-time owners of Penrhos) to Holy Island. The vision and energy of one man has made this headland and the west shore of the inland sea formed by the embankment into a Nature Reserve which attracts thousands of birds of some 150 species. Once a full-time policeman, Ken Williams, MBE, recently retired to devote all his energy to the administration and upkeep of the Reserve he envisaged in 1971 and saw through to reality with the help of local volunteers. Practically, Mr Williams, now the Reserve director, has separated the functions of the lands into the two natural halves dictated by the route of the A5 and the main railway line.

To the south of the road is about a hundred acres of salt marsh and scrub bordering the inland sea. This is dedicated to the delicate work of fostering colonies of terns and other birds of the fringe between the land and sea. Over 500 pairs of terns nest on the emergent islands of the sheltered sea and one such group is known to contain four species of this bird; the common, roseate, arctic and sandwich terns. A Penrhos arctic tern set a world record for bird migration when it was captured 14000 miles away in New South Wales, Australia. The specialist conservation area is only open to ornithologists with the director’s permission.

It is to the Reserve’s northern half, with road access from the A5, that the public flock. As Williams himself says, ‘This part of the reserve is managed for both people and plants and animals’. Around its perimeter runs a two-and-a-quarter mile nature trail that takes in the seashore and some of the Reserve’s woodlands. The heart of the public Penrhos area can also be explored by the many walks that have been created through the woods of spruce, cypress, oak, sycamore and chestnut.

The Penrhos Nature Reserve Trail starts at the central cluster of buildings in an area entered by an unusual gate. It was found during the massive clean-up campaign which was required to establish the reserve and is thought to be an original Telford Toll gate. The A5 at this point was one of the last trunk roads in Britain to be subject to a private toll. The buildings include a bird and animal hospital where Ken Williams and his assistant wardens take in injured animals from all over north Wales and the north west of England.

Young birds that have not reached maturity before being prematurely ejected from nests by tree-felling or building work are frequent patients but a badger has been nursed back to health here after a hit-and-run car accident. Rarer birds rescued by the hospital include the peregrine falcon, gyr falcon and snowy owl. Some of the recovered patients are kept in enormous aviaries in the woods – you may see snowy owls and eagle owls in them. Birds recuperate in fifteen smaller cages, some of them heated by infra red lamps. Another building in the central area is the nature room, with its exhibits of work on the Reserve and some of the trail’s more interesting features.

Along the trail, large chart noticeboards describe the flora and fauna you are likely to find. An interesting idea is that some of them are changed at intervals, so the information reflects specimens you will see in a particular season. Among the boards are those describing plants and trees – wild cyclamen is a rarity growing here – butterflies and, of course, the Reserve’s forte, birds of the sea and shore.

The Penrhos emblem is that charming oran-gy red-billed wader, the oystercatcher, resident here all year round. Other natives on the rocky shore of Beddmanarch Bay are redshanks, ringed plovers, shelducks and the rarer red-breasted merganser. Colder weather brings with it the huge flocks of migrants which depend on salt marshes for winter feeding on arthropods and other small sea creatures. Among less common visitors have been whim-brel, black-tailed godwit, the Slavonian grebe and greenshank.

Two freshwater ponds, the Lily Pond near the car park and the Scouts Pond deeper in the Reserve, are populated by introduced gaggles of geese, among them the grey lag and barnacle species, and some common and ornamental ducks. You may sec the eider duck in both fresh and saltwater locations. These colonies have attracted both native and migrant species to these restored habitats.

While it is the Anglesey Aluminium Metal Company that owns the land at Penrhos, the work is funded from its own resources. No charge is made for admission but to enjoy the wildlife here, a donation is a small price to pay.

Penrhos is on Holy Island separated from the main island of Anglesey by a narrow marshy channel. Holyhead, at the end of the A5, two miles on from the Reserve is a busy ferry port for Ireland and an industrial centre with a Roman fort, many seaside attractions and a shingle beach. Tankers and bauxite ore-carriers for the aluminium works can be seen mooring and entering port. The furthest west reach of Anglesey and Holy Island is the South Stack lighthouse built in 1808. Reached by a footpath over a narrow bridge, the lighthouse can be visited and enables you to view a considerable population of cliff-nesting birds.

Anglesey’s main island has a curious topog-raphy of shallow valleys in ranks with low hills – undulations that are parallel to the Menai Straits. These are like the fading ripples of the great upthrust of land forming the Snowdon range which can be seen in the distance from many points on the island. Evidence of the island’s history from Roman times is prolific. Most majestic of all is Beaumaris Castle, the last of Edward I’s great fortifications blocking the opposite end of the Menai Straits from Caernarfon. The castle was never completely finished. The town, a small resort and sailing centre, takes its unusual name from the marsh drained to make the castle moat- Plas Newydd, to the south end of the Menai Straits and opposite the wooded grounds of Vaynol Hall on the mainland, is National Trust property which was once the seat the Marquess of Anglesey (the 1st Marquess led the cavalry at Waterloo). The fine 18th-century mansion contains a considerable number of Whistler paintings, period furniture and a military museum.

Campers will find the island has a fairly mild climate and has some meadow sites and one seaside location that are considerably less ex-posed than the mountain sites of Snowdonia, which is still within an hour’s drive. If you would like to combine some angling with your visit to the Penrhos Reserve, Len Williams welcomes shore fishermen who want an exciting day hunting bass, mullet, cod and whiting.