The best of British wildlife is closer than you think
You don’t need to head overseas to spot birds of prey, deer and other wild animals; the British Isles are home to all of these and more. Pay a visit to one of these top UK wildlife hotspots to see the best of British wildlife up-close and personal.
1. Bridlington, East Yorkshire
Best UK wildlife spot for: Sea birds
Located on the spectacular Yorkshire coast, the Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve is transformed every year between March and October as half a million seabirds gather to raise their chicks – an event which has lead to its informal title of ‘Seabird City’. From courting puffins to swooping gannets, these chalk cliffs offer stunning wildlife encounters.
Visitors can also get a glimpse of the action up close from special cliff-edge viewing platforms that offer the perfect vantage point. Some of the many species you can hope to observe and photograph include gannets, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars, while the much-loved puffin makes its home at the reserve between mid-April and mid-July.
Where to stay: Sewerby Hall and Gardens, a nearby Grade I listed Georgian country house.
2. Eilean Shona, Inner Hebrides, Scotland
Top UK wildlife spot for: Golden eagles
If you’re looking for a truly unique wildlife experience look no further than Scottish island Eilean Shona, whose tidal habitat provides the perfect conditions for the striking golden eagle.
The magnificent golden eagleWith only around 400 pairs left in existence and exclusively in Scotland, the golden eagle is a spectacular top predator, swooping down on rabbits, mountain hares and even foxes.
They nest in trees and rocky cliff faces and Scotland is also home to the even more rare white-tailed eagle, once persecuted to extinction in the UK. Today, around 40 pairs now nest around Scotland’s west coast, so the region is definitely a stand-out choice.
Where to stay: The island has a range of accommodation options, from a remote two-person shepherd’s cottage to the main house, which sleeps 20.
3. Amberley, West Sussex
This little corner of the South Downs is positively brimming with wildlife, with dozens of species of rare birds and wildfowl supported by its varied habitats, from Amberley Wildbrooks – a wetland Site of Special Scientific Interest – to the Arundel Wetland Centre.
Wildbrooks is one of the few places you can still see Bewick’s swan as the colder months set in. As the smallest species to visit the UK from the Arctic and subarctic tundra this is quite a sight and, if you’re quiet, you might also spot wigeon, teal, and even a hobby (a kind of falcon). All you need is a pair of good binoculars.
Where to stay: Amberley Castle, a 900-year-old historic site with stunning gardens and an 18-hole putting lake.
4. Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Best UK wildlife spot for: Puffins
Did you know that Pembrokeshire is home to the largest colony of puffins in southern Britain? Around 31,000 of these colourful birds make their home on Skomer Island, clustering around North Haven, West of Garland Stone, the Wick, and also between High Cliff and South Stream.
Adults arrive in late March, ready to for the April egg-laying season and though visits to the island are carefully managed to minimise human impact, you can take a day trip, or even stay overnight.
As well as its magnificent birdlife, with puffins, guillemots, razorbills and short-eared owls in the early summer months, the surrounding sea is the perfect place to spot dolphins, Atlantic grey seals and harbour porpoises, so well worth a trip at any time of year!
Where to stay: Crug Glas in nearby St. Davids is a five-star country house that promises breathtaking views and a locally-sourced restaurant menu
5. New Forest, Hampshire
Best UK wildlife spot for: Otters
It may be synonymous with wild small ponies, but there are plenty more animals just as cute just waiting for you to take a stunning photo of them in the New Forest.
Visitors to the New Forest Wildlife Park should prepare to be otter-ly delighted as here you’ll spot many species of these adorable mammals. Once endangered, now they are flourishing in our waterways and the New Forest’s varieties include the Asian short-clawed otter, giant otter and the Eurasian otter.
Other indigenous animals you might spot throughout the park’s 25 acres of idyllic woodland include badgers, red foxes and red and fallow deer.
Where to stay: The grand Burley Manor, situated just 25 minutes’ drive from the wildlife park
6. Norfolk Broads, Norfolk
Best UK wildlife spot for: Bird watching
Renowned for its biodiversity, the beautiful Norfolk Broads is home to more than a quarter of the UK’s most illusive and rare wildlife.
Birds are everywhere – the two stand-out rarities are marsh harriers and bitterns, but there’s also a host of teal and wigeon, reed and sedge warblers, making these protected areas a true birdwatcher’s paradise.
The Broads has a number of wonderful nature reserves, such as the ‘floating’ Broads Wildlife Centre on Ranworth Broad and boat trails are open to navigate the waterways with ease from April to October.
Where to stay: Staying on the water lets you get even closer to the wildlife – Waterways Holidays offers Norfolk Broads boat rental. The company also has a host of holiday cottages to rent too.
7. Cairngorms, Scottish Highlands
Best UK wildlife hotspot for: Deer
Only a handful of wild white stags have ever been seen in Britain this century and the Cairngorms National Park is proud to have boasted one of the most recent sightings in 2018.
If you’re really lucky and keep quiet, you might just catch glimpse of one in this glorious scenery too, though even if they remain illusive, you’re sure to be entertained by the hundreds of elegant red deer that roam around this picture-postcard landscape.
The Park is also home to a herd of reindeer, shaggy-haired Highland cows and even wolves. Blow off the cobwebs with a hike along the magnificent Great Glen Way or the South Loch Ness Trail for the best chance of seeing the best the highlands have to offer.
Where to stay: Located in the south of the Cairngorms, The Blair Manse is a boutique hotel with an on-site restaurant: expect roaring fires and stunning views.
8. Louth, Lincolnshire
Best UK wildlife spot for: Grey seals
From late October until around mid-December, the Donna Nook National Nature Reserve is one of the most accessible places in the UK to witness one of nature’s greatest spectacles: the birthing season of grey seals.
More than 1,300 pups are born annually and the viewing area at the foot of the sand dunes reduces disturbance to the seals, as well as ensuring visitor safety.
Afterwards, head south to the area’s new North Sea Observatory – the first and only purpose-built marine observatory in the UK – where you can spot wildlife from above the sand dunes overlooking the chilly North Sea.
Where to stay: Thorganby Hall’s Beach Cottage, a dog-friendly self-catering option, offers direct beach access9. Lympne, Kent
Best UK wildlife spot for: Exotic animals
Any visitors who are looking for guaranteed sightings of some of the world’s most rare and endangered species need look no further than the Port Lympne conservation reserve in Kent.
The reserve is home to a range of animals, who stay there with a view to being eventually returned to the wild in the spirit of conservation. You’ll see zebras, tigers, gorillas and Kent’s only giraffe, all meticulously looked after by The Aspinall Foundation.
Where to stay: On-site options at Port Lympne include a four-star boutique hotel and bubble pods offering 180-degree panoramic views.
10. Slievenacloy, Ulster, Northern Ireland
Best UK wildlife spot for: Irish hares
Situated in the Belfast Hills, between Stoneyford and Divis Mountain, Slievenacloy is an untouched wilderness of meadows, purple moor grass and rush pasture. It’s one of Northern Ireland’s largest nature reserves and a hotspot for birds, fungi and orchids in the warmer months.
This unique habitat is kept in check by being grazed by Irish moiled cattle from early summer right through to mid-winter when adorable snow-buntings are also frequent visitors, and Irish hares are common in the valley of the Stoneyford river.
Where to stay: Combine your trip with a city stay at Ten Square, a luxury four-star hotel in the heart of Belfast