Kenfig IPA

Location: Near Porthcawl in south west Wales. The dunes can be reached from Junction 37 of the M4 and the NNR is signposted from North Cornelly, Pyle and Porthcawl.

Grid Reference: SS 795 819


Kenfig IPA has been recognised as one of 165 Important Plant Areas in the UK.

The key features of this IPA are:

  • One of the UK’s most important populations of fen orchid.
  • One of the best UK examples of threatened habitats of:
    Dunes with creeping willow;
    Fixed dunes;
    Nutrient-poor waters with Stonewort algae;
    Humid dune slacks
  • Kenfig is one of the last remnants of huge dune systems that once stretched along the coast of southern Wales from the River Ogmore to the Gower peninsula.

    It is one of Wales' top sand-dune sites and situated on its edge is Kenfig Pool, Glamorgan's largest lake. There was once a thriving town and castle here, but, from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, the dunes at Kenfig extended and finally engulfed the town and nearby farmland during a series of violent storms. The only surviving evidence of the ancient borough is the castle keep, which rises out of the dunes at the north east corner of the site.

    Without practical management, the dunes would eventually be overcome by dense grassland and scrub woodland. The large expanse of sand dunes leads to the coast and Sker Point, with lovely views across Swansea Bay to the Gower. It is of special interest for its extensive sand dune habitats and standing waters, together with a mixture of associated coastal habitats including saltmarsh, intertidal areas, swamp, woodland and scrub. These support a variety of plants and fungi associated with such habitats, most notably about 50% of the fen orchid population of the UK.

    Kenfig really is a treasure trove of rare and beautiful plants. Any time from April onwards there are always plenty to be seen Among the many beautiful wildflowers to be found there, Kenfig is home to several wild orchid species, notably the pyramidal orchid, fragrant orchid, bee orchid, early purple orchid, common spotted-orchid, early marsh orchid (including the rare white form), broad-leaved helleborine and large colonies of marsh helleborine.

    The orchid jewel in Kenfig's crown though is the fen orchid. Of the total number of plants of this species to be found in the UK about 50% are found at Kenfig. The peak time for seeing them is early-to-mid June, depending on spring weather. Another rare orchid to be found at Kenfig is the helleborine epipactis neerlandica, and special walks are organised in late summer to see this and also autumn lady's tresses which flower on the short grassland of Sker Point.

    Other wildflowers found at Kenfig include stinking iris, autumn gentian, vetches, eyebrights, centaury, the increasingly scarce sea holly and many others. The sand dunes support some rare fungi including the false morel, which despite its name is now known to be poisonous, nail fungus, winter stalkball, a salt-tolerant inkcap species, Coprinopsis ammophilae, which grows among the roots of marram grass, and a white milkcap.

    Image: Kenfig IPA © Natasha Edwards/Plantlife