Promoting observation, free range exploration, sense of place and citizen science, through the field notes of a naturalist.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Cefn Ila - birthplace of a modern day naturalist

It seemed fitting that shortly after marking another annual milestone I should choose to visit the site at which I was forceply encouraged to join the world. For a person wedded to the South Wales valleys and my socialist background to realise I was born in true blue rural Monmouthshire rather than on a rug in front of a coal fire is pause for thought indeed. Nonetheless I take comfort in the fact my birthplace is within one kilometre of that of Alfred Russel Wallace.

Cefn Ila was a former maternity hospital on the outskirts of Usk. Burnt down in 1973 the remnant buildings and manicured grounds gradually, over time, reverted back to a jumble of wildlife friendly habitat. Now under the ownership of the Woodland Trust the site and its surrounding grassland has been reborn. Extensive native woodland planting can be appreciated via a circular footpath that takes you to within touching distance of adjacent arable fields and the boundary fence of BAE Systems complete with keep off or you could have your legs blown off warning signage.

Much of the site with its oak and hazel planting is still young enough to qualify as scrub with long grass, thistle stands and bramble thickets all well represented. I had been tipped off by friend and voluntary warden Mike Kilner that a number of interesting invertebrates could be found on site. So the main purpose of my visit was to track down the attractively marked wasp spider.  

From the car park onwards the walk was dominated by the sound of summer orthoptera. Roesel's bush cricket was in fine voice. From the grassland thatch to arable field margins this in my experience is now the best place to see this recent county coloniser.  A hobby passed through at speed and a party of 22 mistle thrush passed over, otherwise it was only goldfinch, bullfinch and blackcap that dared to utter a note. Butterflies were dominated by meadow brown and gatekeepers with small and Essex skipper thrown in for good measure. But the jewel in the crown was a single wasp spider found adjacent to a footpath which obliged nicely for a number of photographs unperturbed by a middle aged naturalist rolling about in the roughage in an effort to get in position.


  1. Great post as ever Steve. All I need now is 14 days in my week to continue work and visit all the site you mention.

  2. I just found your blog and it's so beautiful! I am so happy I am here!


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