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Get up-close views of Britain’s wildlife

Friday 14 Apr, 2017


June 5 is World Environment Day, which aims to celebrate and promote the conservation of the environment. This year, the day aims to encourage people to connect with nature, and Britain is a great place to do so.

Britain's countryside is home to a host of wildlife, from species that are here all year round such as deer, eagles, and red squirrels, to special visitors such as minke whales, osprey and puffins. Here are some of the best spots to go wildlife spotting.

Whales, dolphins, and seals
Scotland, and the Isle of Mull, are great places for whale spotting. Minke whales, which can reach 10 metres in length, can be seen off Mull's coast in the summer months when they gather to feed. There are a number of boat-tour operators offering trips from the island. Off the tip of Scotland, the more remote Shetland offers a chance to see orca, also known as killer whales, between May and August - although as with any wildlife spotting, you have to have patience and luck! Mull is a 45 minute ferry ride from Oban, on Scotland's west coast, which is a two hour 30 minute drive from Glasgow. Shetland is an overnight ferry ride away from mainland Scotland, or you can fly from airports including Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The seas off Wales are also a great habitat for marine life. Take a boat trip from St Davids, Britain's smallest city, and you'll see a range of bird life, with the chance to see porpoise and seals. Slightly north of St Davids are the waters of Cardigan Bay, home to Britain's largest pod of bottlenose dolphins - board a boat run by A Bay to Remember and watch them play in the waves. Driving to both St Davids and Cardigan from Cardiff takes around two hours and 30 minutes. 

A great spot for seals is the four-mile long shingle spit of Blakeney Point - a nature reserve off the coast of Norfolk in eastern England, an hour's drive from Norwich. Grey seals have their pups here, easily identifiable by their fuzzy white coats. You can see them by boat.

Britain is home to six species of deer - ranging in size from the imposing red deer to the small muntjac. A great place to see a range of species is the New Forest in southern England, an historic royal forest which is now a national park, where ponies, cattle and donkeys roam freely. Look out for deer peering out between the trees, or visit Bolderwood in the heart of the national park. It has a platform from which deer are fed, with rangers providing food daily between April and September. In the village of Burley, a short drive away, you can go on a deer safari. Board a trailer being towed by a tractor and see the deer, which graze close to the vehicle. Burley is around a two hour drive from Brighton.

Birds of prey
Some of Britain's birds of prey, including buzzards and golden eagles, live here all year round - others are visitors at certain times of year.

A summer visitor to Britain's shores is the osprey, which travels all the way from Africa to nest and raise its young. An established nesting site is in Rutland, home to the imposing Rutland Water - one of the largest reservoirs in Europe. Ospreys eat fish, so a great way to see them is on a boat while they're trying to catch their dinner. Board the Rutland Belle for a dawn or afternoon cruise with local wildlife experts - if you're lucky an osprey may choose to dive for a fish very close-by. Rutland is in central England, less than two hours by car from Birmingham.

A year-round resident is the red kite - saved from extinction, its population is now spreading across Britain. A great place to get up close and personal with the birds is in the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales - it features picturesque villages nestling amid green valleys, rushing waterfalls, and grassy, heather-clad mountains. The Llanddeusant Red Kite Feeding Centre has a special hide where you can sit and watch as food is put out for the birds - with up to 50 kites feeding at any one time, it's a spectacle not to be missed. The feeding centre is a drive of around one hour 30 minutes from Cardiff.

Scotland is the land of the eagles. It has resident golden and white-tailed eagles - the latter is Britain's biggest bird of prey, and you may hear spotters refer to it as a ‘flying barn door' due to its immense size! A great place to see both species is the Isle of Mull off Scotland's west coast. There's a host of wildlife-spotting tour operators on the island - on a trip you may also see otters, and a range of other birds and animals.

Other species
Pine martens
are elusive members of the weasel family, and have a stronghold in Scotland. A great place to spot them and another indigenous British mammal - the distinctive black-and-white badger - is in the Cairngorms National Park, about three hours north of Edinburgh by car. Book a dusk watch with Speyside Wildlife - as night falls you'll be taken to a hide in the heart of a forest, and (fingers crossed) will get some great up-close views of the wildlife.

Another animal native to Britain is the red squirrel, which has been threatened due to the introduction and success of its cousin, the American grey squirrel. Work is underway, however, to protect and expand red squirrel habitats and you might catch a glimpse of them in the Cairngorms, Lake District or Northumberland national parks, among other locations. Another great spot is the Isle of Wight off Britain's south coast, and you don't have to venture too far off the beaten track to find them - settle down for a meal at the island's garlic farm restaurant and you may see one scampering past outside. The Isle of Wight is a 45 minute ferry trip from Portsmouth, which is around one hour 45 minutes on the train from London.

A summer visitor to Britain's shores is the black and white puffin, known for its brightly-coloured bill. Puffins nest together in breeding colonies, and the best time to see them is between April and mid-August. Try the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve at Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire, northern England, which is also home to thousands of other seabirds - expect scores of gannets, kittiwakes and razorbills. The reserve is around an hour's drive from York.

The RSPB has reserves around Britain, offering the chance to see a host of bird species and other wildlife. Portmore Lough in Northern Ireland is open all year round - in the summer you can see scores of butterflies and dragonflies, while in the winter there's the chance to spot thousands of ducks, greylag geese and whooper swans.

For more information contact:

  • VisitBritain Media Team

Related Images
Seals - Seals laying down on the Norfolk beach
Badger - An image of a Badger taken by Speyside Wildlife
Bottlenose dolphin - A child watching a Bottlenose dolphin jumping out of the sea.
Eagle - A close up view of an eagle taken by Paul Tomkins
Pine marten - A close up veiw of a Pine marten
Pine-Martens - A pair of Pine-Martens
A Puffin - A puffin on the Bempton Cliffs
Red deer  - Red deer walking in a field in the afternoon sun.
Red squirrel - Red squirrel in the New Forest