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A victory for wildlife at this Welsh coastal lagoon | Country diary

Tywyn, Gwynedd: A heroic local effort has put an end to the shooting for sport that was threatening some fragile bird populations

North of Tywyn, a 19th-century land reclamation dyke heads from the Wales coastal path to the Ynysymaengwyn estate. At wintry dawn through a glass, I watched passing squadrons of dark, goose-sized birds, necks outstretched, wings beating powerfully before they glided down into Morlyn – a square kilometre of coastal lagoon formerly known as Broadwater. The birds were cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo). Their rookery – the only inland breeding colony in Wales – is four miles upriver on a former sea cliff, Craig yr Aderyn, where their presence was first recorded in 1695 by the Welsh naturalist Edward Lhuyd. (An early Welsh poem suggests that they were already long established at that date.)

These prehistoric-seeming birds splashed down, sat low in the water with heads upraised, then dived with the serpentine spasm that earns them their Welsh name of Bilidowcar (Billy the ducker) to seek out flatfish and eels. After they’d caught and swallowed their awkward prey, they emerged from a channel through Morlyn to waddle on to sandbanks in the twisting course of the river. There they stood in habitual pose, wings outstretched. (Their wings lack weatherproofing, to decrease buoyancy in diving – a marvellous evolutionary touch – so must be dried before flight.)

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