Our Latest Visit to the Gwent Levels at Magor.

Magor on the Gwent Levels is an area we visit from time to time. Specifically, it tends to be the area bounded by Whitewall and Blackwall, i.e. south of the South Wales – Paddington railway line, and which contains the Gwent Wildlife Trust Magor Reserve. It was here in late summer 2013 we rescued the entire family of swans – two adults and four cygnets which had had the misfortune to become covered in a light black and oily substance which some mindless moron had deposited in the top end of the reen which runs south from Barecroft Common about which we have already written at some length.

Over the years, we’ve had the odd instance of a swan being trampled by cattle, as well as a few territorial disputes. However the biggest worry hereabouts is the high voltage power lines – three sets – which cross the area; from time to time we’ve had to deal both with fatalities and some pretty nasty injuries. So it was that a call on Monday (2/2) afternoon set the alarm bells ringing – juvenile reported to have been in the same location for a number of days in a field which also contains a massive pylon (technically, I think the professionals call them towers), supporting a set of these high voltage conductors.

With a variety of other pressing commitments, I’m afraid the best we were able to do was to visit the following afternoon – and what a relief, the weather could hardly have been better!

It has to be said, you really do have to know your way around the levels in some detail to be sure of finding a way to the exact spot where the action is. The problem is the miles and miles of drainage channels, provided with very few crossing places, and not necessarily in locations making it possible to access the right field. Thus, setting out on this expedition had to be seen, possibly, as a mere reconnaissance. In the event, luck, as opposed to fine judgement resulted in a route to the field being found without too much difficulty.

As the terrain is completely flat, and the hedges are a bit ‘sketchy’, especially at this time of year, it is certain the swan spotted our approach very early on, and therefore was on high alert. And he had plenty of time to think about it because the route involved a couple of zigzags in front of him.


The final approach from the field edge took advantage, as far as possible, of tractor wheel marks in order not to damage the emerging crop.. It wasn’t too long before the swan decided ‘enough was enough’, and stood up and walked a little, thus, in a stroke, almost entirely removing the possibility that he might have hit the power lines and be badly hurt.

In order to reduce to a minimum the possibility he might take off and fly into the conductors, it was important to get between him and the danger. Long before this manoeuvre had been completed he decided it was time to go! He took off towards the north, calling the while, and landed some 300 metres away in the field I had crossed earlier.

Inevitably, the return route passed quite a bit closer to the cygnet than we currently were; it was obvious the swan was now extremely wary, but he did manage to stay put, and was still in the same place when we eventually lost sight of him returning to the car.

Two interesting discoveries were made on the return walk:

1. The northern boundary of the field in which our swan was now located comprises  a deep and wide drainage ditch – reen. In the far distance, maybe 400m away were four more juvenile  swans – probably siblings of the one whose peace we had just disturbed!

2. Exactly three weeks earlier, we had been called to Barecroft Common because a pair of swans were sitting in the middle of the track which is Blackwall. We did attend, but before they could be caught, they had moved, albeit a bit reluctantly, it seemed, back into the reen. What appeared to have happened was that a territorial dispute had broken out – a short walk down Blackwall revealed the probable source of the problem – another pair of swans mooching up a short side channel. There was nothing could be done on this occasion, apart from hoping they kept out of each other’s way. The female of the pair on the track was very distinctive with quite a lot of her tail feathers missing. …and there she was, with her mate a little further up, but out of the water, grazing.

IMG_4142 …and, thank goodness, no sign of the other pair, but as we have commented so many times over the years, we really have no idea how many swans there on the levels; the only practical way of finding out would be by aerial survey by helicopter. Any offers?


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