Britain: Wildlife Destinations
Wildlife Highlights of Britain
1. Fallow, red, roe and sika deer can be seen in the New Forest, plus unusual insects like the stag beetle.
2. The chalk downlands of Kent and Sussex support a wealth of orchids and butterflies.
3. The Pembrokeshire islands of Grassholm, Skokholm, Skomer and Ramsey are important seabird nesting sites.
4. Rare alpine plants survive in the mountains of Snowdonia National Park, along with birds like the chough.
5. A popular haul-out for common and grey seals, the north Norfolk coast also hosts half of the world’s overwintering pink-footed geese, while the reedbeds of East Anglia are an important nesting site for bitterns.
6. Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth has 75,000 pairs of nesting gannets. Other well-known gannetries in Britain are found at Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire, and the remote sea stack of St Kilda, off the west coast of the Outer Hebrides.
7. The ancient Caledonian forest of the Cairngorms is home to wildcat, pine marten, capercaillie and crested tit.
8. One of the wildlife-rich Inner Hebrides, Islay is an overwintering site for thousands of barnacle and white-fronted geese. Otters and grey seals can be found around the coast, while corncrakes nest in undisturbed farmland.
9. The wildflower-rich machair grassland of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides comes into bloom during May.
10. Belfast Lough is a magnet to waders and wildfowl.
Pembrokeshire Seabird Islands
Pembrokeshire's star species: Puffin • Manx shearwater • Gannet • Guillemot • Razorbill
Each year, in early April, around 6,000 pairs of puffins arrive to breed on Skomer Island off the coast of Pembrokeshire. They take up residence in nesting burrows on grassy slopes above sea cliffs thronging with guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars. By May, the whole island is ablaze with red campion, bluebells and thrift. Grey seals loll offshore, while great black-backed gulls prowl the coast, waiting to snatch unwary puffins. With luck, you might also spot one of the island’s short-eared owls. Overnight visitors can witness one of Britain’s greatest wildlife spectacles as 120,000 pairs of Manx shearwaters return to their nesting burrows under cover of darkness – the night suddenly reverberating with their eerie, wailing cries.
Shearwaters, along with puffins and storm petrels, also nest on nearby Skokholm, while further offshore, Grassholm appears dusted with summer snow as 32,000 pairs of gannets settle down to nest. Boat trips to Grassholm often have the added bonus of dolphin, basking shark and minke whale sightings.
On the northern edge of St Brides Bay, boat trips around Ramsey Island often turn up sightings of porpoises and gannets feeding in Ramsey Sound. Kittiwakes, razorbills and guillemots stream from the island’s cliff-face rookeries, while grey seals rest in shingle coves or bob to the surface to watch you pass.
Getting there Skomer is a 15-minute boat trip from Martin’s Haven on the mainland, landings April to October only. Boats to Ramsey Island operate from St Justinians, near St David’s.
Getting around Dale Sailing runs boat trips to Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm. For Ramsey Island, try Thousand Islands Expeditions.
When to go Puffins begin to leave the islands at the end of July.
Things to do Boat trips, walking trails on Skomer.
Places to stay Basic self-catering on Skomer.
Further information rspb.org.uk, welshwildlife.org
Scotland: Top 5 Things To Do
1. Spot an otter
For your best chance of seeing one, join a wildlife safari on Mull. Golden eagles and short-eared owls will also be in your sights. torrbuan.com
2. Hike or bike in Cairngorms National Park
Red squirrel, pine marten, capercaillie and wild cat are just some of the highlights of this upland reserve. cairngorms.co.uk
3. Go whale watching
Sea Life Surveys has been running wildlife cruises around Mull since 1982, notching up 24 species of whale and dolphin. sealifesurveys.com
4. Track red deer
There are around 300,000 red deer in Scotland, but two of the best places to witness the rut are the Isle of Arran and the Knoydart peninsula. visitscotland.com
5. Watch sea eagles
Making a comeback in the Hebrides, sea eagles can be viewed from the hide at Loch Frisa, Mull. For ospreys, visit Loch Garten on the mainland. rspb.org.uk
Read the latest posts on European wildlife travel
wildlife travel essentials: Britain
Overseas travellers can reach Britain through any of its major airports, or by ferry or Channel Tunnel from mainland Europe.
Many of Britain’s national parks and wildlife sites have excellent visitor facilities, making them easy to incorporate in an independent holiday.
WHEN TO GO
Year round, although summer holidays (late July and August) can be busy.