National Nature Reserves in Wales

Gnarled oaks in the National Nature Reserve at Dinefwr © National Trust

Gnarled oaks in the National Nature Reserve at Dinefwr

There are National Nature Reserves (NNRs) throughout the UK, including the one at Dinefwr Park, but what sets Wales apart is the sheer variety of these sites within a relatively small area.

Wales has 72 national reserves with incredibly diverse landscapes and habitats, such as:

  • High mountain summits of Snowdon – home to some of the UK’s most ancient species of plants
  • Sweeping sand dunes of Morfa Harlech & Morfa Dyffryn. Morfa Harlech includes mud flats and salt marshes which are important winter wildfowl feeding grounds
  • Ancient oak woodlands of Coedydd Maentwrog in the Vale of Ffestiniog – home to some 170 species of lichens
  • Peat bogs of Cors Caron in Ceredigion, with plants that are adapted to the acidic conditions such as sun-dews, bog rosemary and cotton grasses
  • Remote islands such as Skomer, off Pembrokeshire – one of the most important seabird breeding sites in southern Britain

Why are NNRs so important?

Because they're part of our natural heritage – these are some of the most important places for wildlife in Britain. NNRs were set up to conserve – and to allow people to study - their fauna, flora, or geological features of special interest.

NNRs are designated by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, or under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.

All of Wales's NNRs are also Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

How do we manage them?

CCW (Countryside Council for Wales) owns some NNRs and leases others. Some are set up in partnership with landowners who agree to manage them to protect their wildlife and habitats.

Some are managed entirely by other bodies, such as Wildlife Trusts, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds or a local authority.

CCW spends around £1.5 million a year managing its National Nature Reserves. Each CCW reserve has a senior reserve manager whose job is to conserve the site, resolve access issues and deal with landowners and visitors.

The reserves also rely on a small force of dedicated volunteers. These are often experts in their field, or people with specialist skills such as scuba divers or cavers.

Are visitors welcome?

Yes. NNRs were once regarded as the preserve of scientists, but attitudes have changed. Today we recognise that these sites and their natural assets should be open to everyone – public understanding is the key to maintaining them for future generations.

At the same time their wildlife and habitats are often very fragile, so managing them is a delicate balance between encouraging visitors and protecting the reserve. Access can also be restricted in some reserves because of hazards such as old mine workings, bogs or marshes.