With the remnants of its dark satanic mills now swept to the undevelopable valley margins, Ebbw Vale has given way to the fresh clean cut image of ergonomically designed glass fronted business premises, high density 'off the peg' housing and more functional community health care buildings - Nye Bevan would have approved. Brown 'this way to the nature reserve' signage and interpretation boards informing the ill informed that this road verge is being managed for wildflowers, jostle with makeshift handwritten car boot sale today signs and more formal statutory planning application notices tied to lamposts that herald the latest proposal in Ebbw Vale's regeneration masterplan. So, with my wife in new shoes and handbag mode, we had cause to visit that universally acclaimed designer outlet otherwise known as the Ebbw Vale Garden Festival site.
Now its impossible for me to switch off from wildlife recording, I'm always on the look out for a flyover lapwing or mammal roadkill so the journey to this biologically dismissed area of Gwent was no different. In transit a crop of road side fennel just outside Cwm was ticked as probably a refugee from a valley side allotment that's diversified from spuds and beans to a more contemporary herb garden festooned in union flags. For fun I kept a tally of grey squirrel road kill but lost count somewhere in the mid twenties so reverted to counting squirrel near misses instead and a flock of 'its cold so I'm off' house martin was noteworthy.
The Festival Site was bustling with mainly white haired middle aged ladies looking for a new winter cardigan or a multipack of big knickers all to the accompaniment of piped Daniel O'Donnell ballards. Spring visits to this mall often start with efforts to pick out singing redstart or pied flycatcher from the beech scattered upland slopes that characterise the landscape in this area, no such pleasure today. Browsing complete a somewhat past its best yet robust botanical feature caught my beady eye. From kerbside of the overflow car park was growing vipers bugloss (Echium vulgare). Widespread in England its distribution in Wales is mainly lowland/coastal with the Flora of Monmouthshire showing a small but scattered occurrence.