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A Cardiff in South Wales walk on the wild side
Another David Attenborough
As a boy I used to spend a lot of time exploring the local countryside and getting wet and muddy investigating ponds and ditches. I suppose you could say I started walking on the wild side early on in life. I was forever in my "wellies" (Wellington boots) and my idea of heaven was a pool with plenty of newts and water-beetles or seeing what small fish I could catch in a river or stream.
We used to live in Cardiff but my parents used to take me out in the car to mountains, woodlands, marshes, moors and also to all the beaches in South Wales and West Wales too. I wanted to be another David Attenborough when I grew up.
Bug-man Steve Andrews
One place we often visited was Marshfield and the surrounding wetlands of the Wentloog Levels. In the weed-clogged drainage dykes I used to catch ten-spined sticklebacks and dragonfly larvae and discover unusual water-plants like the frog-bit with round leaves like miniature water-lilies.
I had a lot of books on insects, wild animals, marine life, trees and flowers and a good book on this sort of subject matter was my idea of a most welcome gift for birthdays or Christmas. I took a lot of pleasure in finding different species, identifying them and keeping note-book records of where I found them.
Many years had gone by but my interest in the nature had not been diminished by the passage of time. I’m still fascinated by “creepy-crawlies” and wild-life in general and, in fact, the South Wales Echo published a feature with a photograph of me with a giant cockroach on my forehead calling me “Bug-man Steve Andrews.”
I was now a full-time media student at Coleg Glan Hafren, and on the day I am recalling I had a few hours to spare after the end of the afternoon session. I had to attend an evening class but in the meantime I had nothing special to do so I decided to go for a ramble over the fields and into the wild places I knew I’d find behind the housing estate with its red-brick walls.
Orange Tip butterfly
It was a summer’s day, and a nice hot and sunny one at that, and as I strolled along the hedgerow at the bottom of the playing fields I saw many butterflies and delicate damsel-flies too. Green-veined Whites had probably reared their caterpillars on the Lady’s Smock or Cuckoo-flower that grows in the damper parts. This is a favourite food-plant of the brightly-coloured Orange Tip, which can be seen flying in similar haunts a bit earlier on in the year.
Over the hedge I could see pasture that had been left to grow and drainage reens that divide up the fields. It was here that I was going to investigate further and I found a gap and crawled through.
In the first dyke there were vast masses of Water-cress, growing in its natural habitat. In fact, most of the reens were clogged in parts by this tasty health-giving salad plant. Food for free, I thought.
I had an exercise book and jotted down the names of wild-flowers I found in the fields, in the dykes and along the hedges. There were clumps of the rather unusual Celery-leaved Buttercup growing in marshy places and the fragile looking pink-flowered Ragged Robin hiding in the long grasses and rushes.
Back at the waterside I discovered Peppermint growing at the edges and in the actual water. It is easy to recognise with its purplish-bronze leaves and distinctive aroma when handled or lightly crushed. It makes a very popular herbal tea, which is good for colds and flu and indigestion too. You can buy it in sachets at all health stores but here it was flourishing as a wild flower in a drainage dyke
Also in the stagnant water I saw masses of black half-grown common toad tadpoles. They can be distinguished from those of the frog by their much darker colour and they tend to be a bit smaller too. Toad tadpoles are often seen in vast numbers where they occur, but from the countless thousands laid in strings of spawn only a small percentage reach adulthood.
These days the adult toads often risk their lives crossing our busy roads on the way to their spawning grounds. They must return at all costs to the place they were born in and with the dangers our traffic poses to them it is a common practice for conservationists and animal-lovers to mount "toad patrols" to rescue the amphibians from being splattered all over some highway. At least the toads that come here don’t have to run that risk I thought.
The Cuckoo is a sign of spring
But it’s not just a wide range of wild flowers, insects and amphibians that can be found in this wonderful wetland habitat for there are many species of birds too that can be seen and heard. On a previous occasion, just down the road from the college, I was delighted to hear the un-mistakable call of the Cuckoo.
The Cuckoo is a bird that everyone knows about and its song was once a countryside sound that you could expect to hear around the same time every year. Sadly this is no longer the case. It is also a bird that, even though it is quite big, it is very seldom seen, but then it needs to be secretive to lay its eggs in the nests of other birds without them knowing.
I have actually seen letters in the local press asking where all the Cuckoos have gone. Obviously the wetlands of the Wentloog Levels and the fields around Coleg Glan Hafren are places they still frequent.
The hours passed swiftly and it was nearly time for my appointment but I had had a very pleasant ramble taking in some of the wildlife to be found in the area. The Wentloog Levels are currently under threat from road schemes, industrialisation and housing developments and many people in groups like are very concerned about their future. It would be very sad, indeed, if we ever lose such a splendid natural environment so close to our college and city. Friends of the Earth
Footnote: Written in 1997 whilst a student at Coleg Glan Hafren.
© 2012 Steve Andrews