Sea mammals: Bottlenose dolphins are regularly seen by walkers on the Wales Coast Path

There’s a huge variety of wildlife on the Wales Coast Path

Walkers on the Wales Coast Path are certain to see a wealth of wildlife almost every day. It’s one of the delights of the journey.

That’s because the Welsh coast hosts a huge range of habitats from miles-long beaches, vast dune systems, tidal estuaries, mudflats and saltmarshes to heather and gorse-clad moorland, coastal heath, raised bogs, reedbeds, skerries and offshore islands. And all of them support not just huge numbers of wild plants, animals and insects but also some real rarities that you’re unlikely to see elsewhere. Every day brings something new.

Protected habitats

What’s more, these natural riches are recognised nationally and internationally. In the course of its 870 miles, the Wales Coast Path runs through 1 Marine Nature Reserve, 1 Geopark, 2 National Parks, 3 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 3 World Heritage Sites, 7 nudist beaches, 11 National Nature Reserves, 14 Heritage Coasts, 17 Special Protection Areas, 21 Special Areas of Conservation, 23 Historic Landscapes, 42 Blue Flag beaches, and 111 marine Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Large stretches of coast are also managed and protected by Wildlife Trusts, the RSPB and the National Trust. Wales really is a special place.

What to look out for along each section of the Wales Coast Path

Dee Estuary & North Wales Coast

Starting close to Chester on the North Wales Coast, the broad Dee Estuary is recognised as a nationally and internationally important wetland that supports up to 120,000 waders and wildfowl in winter. Unusual species seen here include pink-footed geese, black-tailed godwits, Bewick and Whooper swans, short-eared owls and water rails.

At Talacre, near the Point of Ayr, natterjack toads have been successfully reintroduced. During the mating season, the calls of the males can be heard a mile and more away.

The nearby Gronant Dunes support lime-loving wildflowers including sea holly, yellow horned poppy and several varieties of orchids. Wales’ only surviving colony of breeding little terns also return to a shingle spit on the shore each summer.

Unexpected winter visitors to the promenade at Rhyl are snow buntings that resemble scraps of paper blown in the wind.

The Great Orme‘s prominent limestone headland supports a host of unusual wildflowers, the rare silver-studded blue butterfly, and a herd of feral long-horned, white Kashmir goats.

Isle of Anglesey

Separating the mainland from Anglesey, the tidal Menai Strait supports everything from waders and otters to grey seals and sponges.

At Penmon, offshore Puffin Island no longer hosts more than a handful of puffins but is home to more than 750 pairs of breeding cormorants.

Red Wharf Bay is a vast tidal inlet that supports large flocks of waders and wildfowl as well as occasional otters.

Red squirrels are often seen in the Dulas Estate‘s broad-leaved woodlands.

Anglesey’s north coast cliffs are home to huge colonies of seabirds, acrobatic choughs and breeding peregrine.

In summer, the lagoon at Cemlyn Bay supports a large and noisy breeding colony of common, Arctic and sandwich terns.

Huge numbers of seabirds – gulls, fulmars, guillemots and razorbills –  nest on cliff ledges at the South Stack RSPB Reserve.

The huge Malltraeth Sands and marshes support huge numbers of waders and wildfowl and were a firm favourite with wildlife artist CF Tunnicliffe.

The adjacent Newborough Forest, Llanddwyn Island and Newborough Warren are home to red squirrels, one of Wales’ largest winter raven roosts, and all sorts of rare and unusual nesting birds and wildflowers.

Llyn Peninsula

On the Llyn peninsula, keep an eye out for wild goats on the scrubby flanks of Yr Eifl.

Grey seals favour the quiet rocky coasts around the Llyn and can be seen ‘hauled out’ on rocks, especially at Porth Gwytheryn and Porth Dinllaen, near Nefyn.

The short, clifftop grass and lowland heath beyond ‘Whistling Sands’ and on Mynydd Mawr are a great place to spot choughs.

Bardsey Island is an internationally-important summer haven for nesting Manx shearwaters, while the Ynysoedd Gwylan (or gull islands), off Aberdaron, support nesting puffins.

Watch for brown hares, common lizards and adders on Mynydd y Craig, above Hell’s Mouth.

Good places to ‘sea-watch’ for dolphins and porpoise include Bardsey Sound, Tywyn yr Wylfa near Porth Ceiriad, and the waters off St Tudwal’s Islands.

Snowdonia & Ceredigion Coast

On the edge of the Snowdonia National Park, rare ospreys have established nesting sites near Porthmadog and Machynlleth in recent years.

The dune systems at Morfa Harlech, Morfa Dyffryn and Ynyslas support a wealth of wildflowers including several unusual orchids.

Cors Fochno is one of the biggest and best examples of a raised peat bog in Britain. It’s brilliant for eels, otters, adders, and cuckoos in the spring.

Aberystwyth pier is home to more than 10,000 roosting starlings in winter; their massed aerial acrobatics are known as a ‘murmuration’.

Cardigan Bay has one of the largest resident bottlenose dolphin populations in the UK. Other regular visitors include common dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, porpoise, and minke whale. Numbers increase during the summer and early autumn, reaching a peak in September and October.

The best places to spot dolphins are probably New Quay, Aberporth and Mwnt.

In the rockier southern half of Cardigan Bay, the cliffs are alive with nesting seabirds in summer. Watch for guillemots, razorbills, fulmars and kittiwakes.

Peregrine falcons nest on the Ceredigion cliffs too.

At low tide, grey seals often haul out on the rocks and beaches in the Cwm Tydu area and around Cardigan Island. From August through to the late autumn, females begin arriving on sheltered beaches and in some of the larger sea caves along the Welsh coast to give birth to their pups.

The valley of the Afon Soden, southwest of New Quay, is particularly well-known for its butterflies and moths. The National Trust carries out work here to ensure the survival of several species, including the pearl-bordered fritillary.


In the seas around the Pembrokeshire Coastal National Park, Ramsey Island is one of the best places in Wales to see choughs.

Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm are famous for their colonies of puffins and Manx shearwaters.

Grassholm hosts around 39,000 pairs of gannets: the third largest colony in Britain, .

Carmarthen Bay & Gower

Semi-wild ponies graze the open dunes and salt marshes at Pembrey, on Gower‘s beautiful AONB.

Carmarthen Bay is the wintering ground for internationally important numbers of common scoter duck.

Gower became Britain’s first area of outstanding natural beauty in 1956.

South Wales Coast

At the heart of the South Wales Coast is the Kenfig National Nature Reserve — once part of a huge dune system that stretched from the Ogmore to the Gower.

The limestone cliffs along the 18-miles of the Glamorgan Heritage Coast are rich in fossils.

The RSPB Newport Wetlands reserve is visited by huge numbers of migrant birds including cuckoos, grasshopper warblers, bitterns and bearded tits in summer.