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The secrets behind one of the most impressive sand dune systems in the world

February 8, 2019

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Kenfig Nature Reserve

Home to one of the most impressive sand dune systems in Europe, Kenfig Nature Reserve is subject to much love, care and attention. The man behind it all is David Carrington, manager and life-long supporter of the reserve. It seems not even a rainy day can dispell David's love for his work and as we talk on a cold January morning, he has his sights firmly set on sandwiches in the bird hide before otter spotting in Kenfig Pool…

What does a typical day as manager of Kenfig Nature Reserve involve?

No two days are the same! At this time of year it's usually going out with tours or removing the brambles and bush from the dunes. I'll often be out on the chain saw or in the tractor before returning around four o'clock for a cup of tea and a debrief. In summer it could be more ecological - from litter picking to surveying butterflies and identifying moths. We identify hundred of moths here, even micro moths - but don't worry we release them all shortly after!

It must be wonderful being surrounded by nature. What's the best thing about your job?

I've always loved nature and wildlife so I'm at my happiest when out in the countryside. The most special thing about my job is witnessing all the habitats and species here. Today there's a good chance of an otter swimming around in the lake. I really hope I see it at lunch! Kenfig Nature Reserve is one of the best examples of a sand dune system in Europe so it's wonderful to help preserve that.

Why is the sand dune system at Kenfig Nature Reserve considered so special?

What's strange about this sand dune system is how incredibly wet it is. It's a funny combination of things - you've got dry sand dunes alongside wet, flooded areas, meaning you'll find certain wetland plants here which you wouldn't find in other areas. The Fen Orchid is of course my favourite - Kenfig is the last place in the UK which has it. But we've actually got 16 different species of orchid here. The Fen Orchid is really tiny and difficult to find, whereas you can see the others in their thousands!

For you, what makes Bridgend such a great destination?

Having grown up in South East London, I've got a good appreciation for how unspoilt and wonderful the area is. There's a fantastic standard of living here and every day is different. Every time you look across the Bristol Channel the tide is different and the lighting is never the same. That for me is really special. As a keen runner and walker there are also so many lovely runs and walks around.

Are there any walks around the reserve which you'd recommend to visitors?

Start at the car park by the reserve centre building and walk out to the coast via Kenfig Pool. Pass the south pool beach to enjoy the view over the lake then continue towards the sea. At the coast turn left and head along the Wales Coast Path towards Porthcawl. Walk past the rocky Sker Point and Pink Bay and onto the plastic boardwalk past the Royal Porthcawl Golf Club to Rest Bay. From Rest Bay walk past Lock's Common and onto Porthcawl Prom for chips, coffee and ice creams. It's about 4 miles so I'd suggest walkers arrange a lift to get back to the Kenfig car park.

What are some of the best things for visitors to see in the reserve?

I'd recommend catching the early purple orchids in late April, into May or our small blue butterflies in the summer. They're very rare and are the UK's smallest butterfly. South Wales also gets small numbers of Bittern in the winter and the southern hide at Kenfig Pool is a good place to see these secretive and rare herons.  Sea stock flowering along the top of the beach. It has soft velvet leaves and beautiful mauve flowers. You'll also find several orchid of species in wet areas during June.

Lastly, what steps should visitors take to ensure they don't damage the reserve when they visit?

Foot erosion isn't as bad you might think. If anything, walking over the dunes helps, as long as it's done responsibly. Visitors should keep dogs under close control from sheep and cattle. Wildlife doesn't appreciate being chased!

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