Merthyr Mawr Warren
This nature reserve contains Europe’s second tallest sand dunes, which are c.61 metres (200ft) in height. They’re a remnant of what was once a dune system stretching from the river Ogmore to the Gower peninsula. Human activity, including creation of towns, docks and hard sea defences, destroyed most of the dunes but they survive here and at Kenfig, on the other side of Porthcawl.
Dune habitats at Merthyr Mawr Warren are themselves under threat from a thorny shrub called sea buckthorn. Originally planted to stabilise the dunes, it has spread vigorously, threatening to crowd out native plants.
The dunes vary in age. The newest are by the beach, the oldest have been colonised by pines, alders and other trees. This provides a variety of habitats, colonised by common dune plants – and some rarer ones such as sea spurge, rock sea lavender and hutchinsia. Insects living in the area include stiletto flies, cuckoo bees, solitary wasps, mining bees and several rare species such as the grizzled skipper butterfly and the large wood wasp – which is harmless to humans! Look out also for great green bush crickets, the largest species of cricket in Britain.
Scenes for the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia, starring Peter O’Toole, were partly filmed at Merthyr Mawr dunes. The film was based on the memoir of TE Lawrence, who grew up at a house called Gorphwysfa in Tremadog, Gwynedd.
Merthyr Mawr Warren is a National Nature Reserve. It covers 3.2 square kilometres (323 hectares) and is managed by the Countryside Council for Wales.