World Wetlands Day – 2nd February

Teifi Marsh Nature Reserve by Becca Vincent

Teifi Marsh Nature Reserve by Becca Vincent

Reed bed

Reed bed

Teifi Marshes nature reserve

Explore an intriguing wetland landscape that's home to otters, waders and water buffalo. Teifi Marshes Nature Reserve sits on the banks of the River Teifi, just upstream from the county town of Cardigan and the broad estuary where the river flows serenely out into Cardigan Bay and the Irish Sea. This water world is home to a wide range of wildlife including otters, king fishers, red kite, herons and – perhaps a little unexpectedly – water buffalo, which are doing their bit for conservation by grazing the marshes and wallowing amongst the reeds to create ponds and wet meadows.

The focal point is the Welsh Wildlife Centre with its award-winning architecture and superb panoramic location above the banks of the river. This snazzy glass and timber structure has panoramic views over the Teifi, nearby Cardigan and surrounding woodland. It houses an interpretation centre where you can learn about the natural and social history of the marshes, and how they were created during the Ice Age. There are four way-marked trails from the centre and several bird hides, which allow you to explore this fascinating and tranquil corner of south west Wales and get closer to the reserve's inhabitants.

The river Teifi is one of the last places in Britain where coracle fishing is still practised. Examples of these rudimentary craft can be seen at the nearby National Coracle Centre in Cenarth. Fishing rights are tightly controlled and are traditionally passed down from father to son. The Teifi is also thought to be the site of the last beaver colony south of Scotland, recorded in 1188.

The reserve is home to a small herd of Asian water buffalo, which have proved far better at grazing invasive plants, such as willow scrub and gorse, in the wet marshy areas than cows and horses. Their wallowing habits create ponds in which birds, dragonflies and amphibians thrive, thus feeding the reserve's otters. They also keep levels of grass and scrub down by eating it and breaking it up with their powerful horns.

The marshes are a great habitat for birdlife, especially in winter when you can see large populations of teal, wigeon, mallard, snipe, curlew and lapwing. The water rail, a slighter bird than it's cousin the moorhen, is a common but secretive inhabitant of the wetlands. Their pig-like squealing call is often heard far more than they're seen. In winter, flocks of starling cloud the skies, and with them sparrowhawks, marsh harriers, red kites and peregrine falcon. During summer months, there are sightings of osprey, a bird that is slowly making a comeback to Wales.

The marshes and reedbeds of the reserve are located on the floor of a wide pre-glacial channel originally carved by the River Teifi, but now occupied by the much smaller river Piliau. There are open pools with reedbeds in freshwater marsh as well as tidal mudbanks. In winter flooding is common, making the site attractive to wildfowl, such as bitterns, moorhen, coots and marsh harriers. Areas of open water also provide a fantastic habitat for invertebrates such as dragonflies and damselflies along with amphibians that include newts, frogs and toads.

If you’re lucky you may spot otters along the trail, as the reserve is a popular breeding area. They’re extremely shy – keep downwind so they don't pick up your scent and look out for warning signs from other wildlife that notice them first. You may also see paw prints and spraints (dropping) beside the river. The best time to spot them is early morning or early evening. Other residents include water shrew, badger and red deer.