Elwy riverbank, St Asaph

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Elwy riverbank, St Asaph

The river Elwy is a haven and corridor for wildlife where it flows through the city of St Asaph. The Elwy flows swifter than the river Clwyd, on the eastern side of the city. The Elwy carries water from a hilly area covered with boulder clay, which doesn’t allow the ground to absorb much water. The catchment area extends almost as far as Llanrwst, in the Conwy Valley. The fast-flowing waters carry gravel along the riverbed through St Asaph, creating an ideal habitat for certain species of dragonfly and damselfly including beautiful demoiselle and large red damsel.

This difference in character means the Elwy attracts more migratory fish than the Clwyd does. Species found in the Elwy include trout and Atlantic salmon, returning from the sea to spawn in their native river. Also found here is bullhead, or “miller’s thumb”, a mottled fish whose maximum length is c.18cm. It has a wide, flattened head and prominent eyes and fins, and is a threatened species in Britain. Fish and other animals in the river attract otters and birds such as the kingfisher, dipper and grey heron.

An ancient legend connected with the river tells of Queen Nest, wife of King Maelgwn, who lost her ring when bathing here. The ring was special, having been worn by many earlier queens. Nest sought help from Kentigern, founder of the church and monastery in what’s now St Asaph. The ring was later found inside a salmon he had caught, as depicted in a window in St Asaph Cathedral.

The riverbank’s colour changes with the seasons. Snowdrops feature in late winter, followed by white violet, wood anenome, wild garlic, primrose, cowslip and lesser celandine. Other species which flower here in season include speedwell, Greater stichwort, Yellow flag, marsh marigold and figwort, traditionally used to treat skin conditions such as eczema. It was once believed that picking the flowers of Lady’s smock in late spring and summer triggered thunderstorms, or attracted lightning or venomous adders.

Himalayan balsam also grows along the riverbank. Although it produces pretty flowers, efforts are being made to eradicate it because it’s a non-native species and will crowd out other plants if left unchecked.

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