If you’re a wildlife lover, you might think the only destinations worth visiting for your animal fix are African National Parks, South American jungles or Asian rainforests. Well, lucky for you, your bank balance AND your carbon footprint, there are some fantastic places to spot wildlife in the UK.
Of course, seeing any animal in the wild demands a certain amount of luck, patience and knowing where to look, so let me tell you where to start…
>> Are you a wildlife lover too? Read my top tips on how to improve your wildlife photography to make every encounter one to remember!
The Best Places to Spot Wildlife in the UK
The Cornish Coastline
Aside from being one of the driest and sunniest areas in the the UK, Cornwall is one of the best places in the world to see dolphins, porpoises and possibly even whales. Much of this is down to the sheer amount of beautiful coastline – the county is surrounded by hundreds of miles of the stuff – so you’re never far from a potential sighting.
It’s difficult to predict the best time of year to see dolphins in the UK. They’re not exactly rooted to the spot for your viewing pleasure! Try your luck on a clear day when visibility out to sea is high. That means that a day between June and September is a good bet. There are some companies that offer dolphin watching cruises out to sea, but I prefer simply sitting on the coast with my eyes peeled. Just make sure you take your binoculars with you!
Just a few miles outside of central London is a surprisingly good place to see wildlife in the UK. Richmond Park is best known for the Red and Fallow deer that have called it home since the 1600s, when they were introduced by King Charles I.
The deer are easy to spot all year round, but if you’re particularly interested in seeing foals, I’d recommend going in the early Autumn so the babies won’t be hidden from view by their protective mothers. Autumn is also breeding season for the deer, so don’t be surprised if you see male stags and bucks competing for the females.
They’re very used to humans walking through the park, but please don’t take advantage of this. They’re still wild animals and should be treated as such! Keep a safe distance, as much for the deer’s safety as yours, and please don’t feed them.
Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire in Wales
Skomer Island in Pembrokeshire is one of the best places in the UK to see seals and sea birds, including my favourite, puffins! There’s nothing better than simply sitting by the cliffs on Skomer Island and watching as the birds fly out to sea in search of food, and return with their beaks filled with goodies.
Boats to Skomer Island run during good weather, so keep an eye on their Twitter feed so you don’t waste a journey. Ferry tickets are sold on a first-come-first-served basis, so make sure you arrive early and bring cash with you (at least £22 per adult). In the peak season between May and July, people will arrive as early as 6am to buy tickets! The facilities on the island are very limited indeed, so it’s a good idea to bring your own snacks and drinks to keep you going for your trip. Just please remember to take it all home with you afterwards 😉
The Norfolk Broads
The Norfolk Broads National Park is a 125 mile network of rivers and lakes, making it a fascinating habitat for birds and aquatic wildlife in the UK as well as a great day out in Norfolk. Lucky visitors could spot osprey, terns, swallowtails and even otters on a walk, cycle or boat trip through the park. Being so big, it’s certainly not a place you could or would even want to visit in a day, so make sure you plan well in advance!
Ranworth Broad (20 minutes north of Norwich) is perhaps your best chance of seeing otters. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust runs guided boat trips across the broad, meaning you could even see otters in the water! The best time to go is either spring or summer. Remember that otters are nocturnal, so I’d recommend visiting as soon as the reserve opens at dawn or just before it closes at dusk.
Farne Islands, Northumberland
There are lots of beautiful places to visit in Northumberland. And as David Attenborough’s favourite place to spot wildlife in the UK, the Farne Islands absolutely deserve to be on my list! The islands off the coast of Northumberland are home to thousands of grey seals, with hundreds more born every year. As well as one of the largest seal colonies in the UK, it’s also where 150,000 birds call home, including puffins, Arctic terns, guillemots and more.
To see the seals in all their glory, a cruise is a must. While some cruises allow visitors to land on the islands, you will still have plenty of opportunity to spot wildlife on the journey if you keep your eyes peeled. The main cruise company for the islands, Billy Shiel’s Boats, recommend taking a trip later in the afternoon to avoid big crowds of tourists, and I wholeheartedly agree!
>> For another place to see seals in the UK, check our Becky the Traveller’s guide to seeing seals in Lincolnshire!
The Scottish Highlands are filled to the brim with wildlife just waiting for you to discover, including the famous Highland Cows! But while you’re there, you might also be lucky enough to see dolphins off the coast, eagles and falcons in the sky, red deer frolicking across the hills, red squirrels up in the trees, otters by the water as well as seals and puffins along the rocky shoreline. Oh, and also a certain monster in Loch Ness if you’re very lucky…
Due to the sheer amount of wildlife living in the Highlands, this is one place you’re almost guaranteed a sighting of something no matter when you go. The Highlands can get very busy during the summer, from June to August, but it might be worth it to experience long, sunny days. Visiting in spring and summer also gives you a good chance of puffins, whales, eagles, red kites and otters.
Of course it’s wonderful to explore everywhere the UK has to offer, but why not start in your very own back garden? There’s plenty to find when you look hard enough – perhaps you’ll spot birds, bees, squirrels, hedgehogs or frogs? We’ve had each of these in our back garden in the last year alone!
If you’d like help identifying the birds you spot, I can personally vouch for the RSPB Pocket Birds of Britain and Europe book to help. Using this book, we were able to identify a fledgling blackbird in our back garden and help save it from predators when it became separated from its parents!
Before you book your next wildlife trip, consider looking a little closer to home first, Though the UK is small, there’s plenty of wildlife to keep locals and visitors satisfied.
What’s your favourite place to spot wildlife in the UK? I’d love to read your recommendations in the comments!
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