You wouldn’t think of wildlife whenever the topic of steel plants turned up. And you would be right – mostly anyway. Even when there’s been some effort to embellish certain parts with greenery, many steel plants are a collection of concrete, roads and dusty bits in between.
Still, being near the sea, both Port Talbot and Tremorfa Works had their fair share of seagulls, which, I’ve been told, could be quite a hazard if you had to work on the corrugated roof of some plant buildings, especially during the breeding season – a hard hat is definitely not a luxury under those circumstances. You were not even totally safe when entering Tremorfa Works from the Splot entrance, where the low workshops past the entrance were often occupied by cackling seagulls.
A little less threatening were the foxes in Port Talbot and Llanwern. Still, they paraded like they owned the place, and sometimes they were even seen in the coil yards where the crews fed them on leftovers. I’ve also seen them on a number of occasions near the canteen, presumably looking for something to scavenge near the bins. Maybe that was one of the reasons why Port Talbot’s canteen only managed a 4 out of 5 for hygiene.
Whatever the case, the UK steel plants could not compete with South Africa, where the team doing slab yard inspections once encountered a rinkhals (a type of spitting cobra). Or the time I visited the iron ore mine in Thabazimbi in the northern Transvaal with the engineers in training, where after a downpour enormous snails and millipedes could be seen. Or during the same trip in Grootegeluk when a rather large bat had managed to get its wing stuck under a door, and I had to try and rescue it by placing it on a nearby tree.
Sometimes the crews also fed feral cats, and even though one in the Tremorfa Bar Mill looked well-fed, at one time I saw it eying up a pigeon. On my return on the same route, I noticed a large patch of feathers, so presumably the cat, well-fed though it might have been, was adding to its diet by catching the odd bird as well.
So although it wasn’t common place to see animals around, it added some interest when it happened.