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The Wonders of Nature along the Taff Trail in Wales
Flora and Fauna found in the Cardiff area
Nature is returning to the rivers and waterways around Cardiff, and Kingfishers (Alcedo atthi) can be sometimes be spotted on the River Ely and River Taff and also at Forest Farm canal, where there is a nature reserve, on the banks of the Taff, and which can be accessed from the Whitchurch suburb of the city.
With their bright iridescent blue-green plumage and chestnut underparts, these birds are unmistakeable as they dive for tiddlers and aquatic life or perch on a branch overhanging the water.
The Cormorant is a distinctive water bird
Another bird of interest is the Cormorant (Phalocracorax carbo), which can also often be seen diving for fish along the Taff.
The Cormorant is a large bird and has a long neck and hooked beak, which it uses to seek out and catch its prey. Although somewhat ungainly on land, its skills underwater are a different matter entirely. Sometimes when it is perching it will hold its large wings outstretched to dry off or to catch the sun.
Speaking of fish, Salmon (Salmo salar) have returned, aided and abetted by the efforts of those managing the rivers. Special fish passes have been made at Cardiff Bay and at the weirs.
If you are lucky you may catch a glimpse of a salmon leaping not far from the heart of the city! Blackweir is one such place and the fish can be seen in the autumn as they make their way upstream to spawn in the shallows of the river at source.
Another fish that ascends the rivers in great shoals in summer is the Grey Mullet (Chelon labrosus). These fish swim up as far as Blackweir on the Taff and they can often be seen by looking over the bridges and from the pathways along the riverbanks.
A flat-fish, perhaps, is something you wouldn’t expect to find in fresh water but, like the Mullet, the Flounder (Platicthys flesus) ascends the river as far as the weir already named. Small specimens of this fish, merely an inch or less can be found on the river bottom, often in the shallow water.
Otters (Lutra lutra) have made a welcome return to the rivers as well, now there are more fish for them to eat.
The Taf Trail is an excellent system of paths all along the Taff making it possible for a walk along the banks from down by Channel View all the way up through Bute Park to Llandaff and then beyond via Radyr and Taff's Well to Pontypridd, and into the Valleys right as far as its source in the mountains.
Herbs of the Druids
Many interesting plants and herbs can be found along the riverbank and in surrounding grassy areas. Vervain (Verbena officinalis), sacred to the Druids, the ancient priests of Wales, can be found by the Channel View centre and elsewhere.
Also Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) grows in the area of Cardiff Bay and is unmistakeable with its feathery foliage and aniseed aroma.
Further up the river Wormwood (Artemesia absinthium) the herb used in the making of absinthe, grows on the stony sections of the bank by Blackweir.
St John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), which is becoming increasingly popular as an antidepressant also grows in this area in an area of rough grass in the park bordering the river.
Alien invaders in the plant and animal kingdoms can also be spotted: American Mink, an escape from fur farms and an unwanted pest are often sighted.
The pink Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) grows in large numbers all along the riverbanks and in late summer and early autumn produces its seed-pods which shoot their contents all over the place when lightly touched.
The attractive Monkey Flower or Mimulus (Mimulus luteus) can sometimes be spotted in the stones at the river's edges. With its colourful orange and yellow flowers it is popular in gardens but can be seen in all its glory growing wild.
The Japanese Knotweed(Fallopia japonica), a major pest which is so tough it breaks through concrete and tarmac has also colonised the banks of the rivers.
By the Cowbridge Road bridge and also further on down by the railway bridge at the station, the massive Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) often grows. This is a plant to stay away from because contact with it can result in a painful rash.
Footnote: This article was written at some point before the end of 2004 when I moved to Tenerife. It was how the River Taff and its banks were then but may well have changed by now.
© 2010 Steve Andrews