Wildlife Holiday News

Golden Eagle

The Best Wildlife Experiences in the UK 

Dominic CouzensBy Dominic Couzens
10th September 2019

Dominic is a Naturetrek tour leader and one of Britain's
best known and most prolific natural history writers.

When you live in a country it can be easy to overlook what’s on your doorstep. When British people talk about wildlife experiences, they have a habit of referring wistfully to thrilling encounters abroad, perhaps an African safari or kangaroos in Australia. In a global context, however, the UK is far from impoverished. It hosts world-class seabird colonies, enormous flocks of wintering northern birds, superb spring flowers (our Bluebell woods are almost unique,) a rich and varied intertidal wonderland and vast stretches of bogs, to take just a few examples. And despite a certain public inertia, the UK promises adventure, too. If you live in the UK and are reading this, be assured that something incredible is never far away.

Naturetrek covers the UK as well as the rest of the world and aims to take you to incredible wildlife encounters. Here are some of our favourites.

Lyme Bay Pelagic

The seas around the UK are remarkably good for dolphins and other sea mammals and, to the surprise of many people, this also applies to the ‘Deep South’. Departing from Brixham in Devon, this pioneering day-long boat trip into Lyme Bay has produced some remarkable wildlife experiences in recent years, not least a Thresher Shark leaping out of the water, and a series of encounters with the rare White-beaked Dolphin. Offshore ‘pelagic’ trips are entirely predictable in that you never know what you will see. Sometimes it is those seabird miniatures the Storm Petrels, other times it is mighty Gannets or powerful Shearwaters. On a calm day you might sight the small fins of Common Porpoises protruding from the water as these languid mammals lounge unobtrusively near the surface; on another day an excitable school of Common Dolphins might zoom past, leaping and ducking, like boy racers. Who knows what you might see? It won’t be the same as on the last trip.

Time of Year: April to October

Days: 1 

Price: £120

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Image

White-beaked Dolphin (Dave Shute)


Orchids and other Flowers on Upper Teesdale

The hallowed ground of Upper Teesdale is a slice of Arctic-Alpine magic miraculously left behind in the brooding Pennines by retreating ice and preserved by the late springs and snowmelt of the uplands. Owing to a freak juxtaposition of limestone and other rock types, it supports an unprecedented array of rare and wondrous flowers, including the richest hay meadows in Britain, where a single field can nourish 120 species of blooms, and 30 within an arm’s length, including many different orchids. Here the Tees comes with sugar, namely sugar-limestone, a curious form heated into lumps that are blanketed with rarities such as Teesdale Violet, Bird’s-eye Primrose and Spring Gentian, together with Teedsale Sandwort, found nowhere else in Britain. Botany here is like one of those treasure hunts you devise for young children in the garden, the prizes too easy to miss and the exuberance impossible to hide. All this is set against the tumbling river, thrusting through narrows and crashing down waterfalls, a watery golden retriever barely in control.

Time of Year: June to July

Days: 4 

Price: £450

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Image

Bird's-eye Primrose


Starlings on Somerset Levels

Everyone has seen the pictures of swirling flocks of Starlings forming strange and wondrous patterns in the evening sky, but to experience this for yourself is quite a different thing – to feel the elemental chill of a winter afternoon, to hear the fluttering of a million Starlings’ wings, to immerse yourself in the low-lying wildness of the Levels and to witness the quick and brutal drama of a bird of prey attack. It adds up to an unforgettable drama. And there is an intriguing subplot – just why all these birds gather together, let alone roll out their aerial ballet, is not yet fully understood. It’s mystery, majesty and flying mastery, all in a corner of Middle England.

Time of Year: December to February

Days: 3 

Price: £325

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Image

Starling murmuration


St Kilda: Sea Stacks, Dolphins and Whales

There is something thrilling about the largest and most impressive seabird colonies in Britain being hidden away on remote islands, as if they were the family silver secreted out of sight. The four islands making up St Kilda are 64km off North Uist in the Western Isles, far out into the North Atlantic. You can only reach them by a long sea journey, often accompanied by Minke Whales and Risso’s and Common Dolphins. Once there you are in a world of superlatives, with the world’s second largest Gannet colony (60,000 pairs) and a quarter of Britain’s Puffins (150,000 pairs,) as well as thousands of Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars and Kittiwakes. Britain’s tallest sea-cliff, the north face of Conachair on Hirta, the largest island, is a sheer 427m high and covered in seabirds with no fear of heights. Two incredible sea-stacks stand 196m and 172m respectively, also the highest in Britain. The isolation and grandeur are total, making it all the more remarkable that this remote outpost was once inhabited by people, even in prehistoric times.

Time of Year: May to July

Days: 9 

Price: £2,695

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Image

Gannets on St Kilda


Ardnamurchan in Spring

Some wildlife experiences are short-lived episodes; to visit Ardnamurchan in spring is more like bingeing on a mini-series. The production values are top-class, with predictably stunning scenery, clean air and enough weather to shift the backdrop. The characters are riveting, from close-up Pine Martens to soaring Golden Eagles, from hulking deer to waif-like Goldcrests. The plot involves a boat trip to the Treshnish Islands and the comic turn of Puffins, it involves looking out from the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, westernmost British mainland, to spy dolphins or porpoises, and wandering the beaches in search of Otters. There’s even a trip inland to look for Chequered Skipper butterflies. And, as in all series, there lurks the cliffhanger – will there really be a Wildcat round the next corner?

Time of Year: May to June

Days: 8 

Price: £1,295

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Image

Chequered Skipper (David Morris)


Pembrokeshire (Skomer Puffins)

Some wildlife experiences are short-lived episodes; to visit Ardnamurchan in spring is more like bingeing on a mini-series. The production values are top-class, with predictably stunning scenery, clean air and enough weather to shift the backdrop. The characters are riveting, from close-up Pine Martens to soaring Golden Eagles, from hulking deer to waif-like Goldcrests. The plot involves a boat trip to the Treshnish Islands and the comic turn of Puffins, it involves looking out from the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, westernmost British mainland, to spy dolphins or porpoises, and wandering the beaches in search of Otters. There’s even a trip inland to look for Chequered Skipper butterflies. And, as in all series, there lurks the cliffhanger – will there really be a Wildcat round the next corner?

Time of Year: June

Days: 5 

Price: £595

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Image

Puffin


Geese on Islay

Take one goose and you won’t be impressed; take a thousand and they transform into a spectacle. A single goose cackles or honks; multiple geese make music. A goose close-up is awkward and gangling, but wild geese at a distance are lithe and alert and flighty. Islay, in the Inner Hebrides, is the UK’s Goose Central in the autumn and winter, home to 40,000 Barnacle Geese, 10,000 Greenland White-fronted Geese and a smattering of other species, all migrating in from the far north. Say it quietly, but their movements at dawn and dusk rival those of Starlings, and their laughing cackles are easier on the ear. They rise at dawn and commute from the safety of lakes or bays to local fields to feed, the birds taking off and writing formations, scrawls of Vs and Ws and Us in the lightening sky; at dusk they return. It’s a glorious tide of sound and colour.

Time of Year: June

Days: 7 

Price: £1,395

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Image

Barnacle Geese


White-tailed Eagles on Mull

It’s said to be the size and shape of a ‘barn door’ and it’s the largest bird of prey in Britain. After being successfully reintroduced, the huge White-tailed Eagle is now relatively numerous in parts of Scotland, where it shares the skies with the more predatory Golden Eagle. Most observations of these bulky birds are at a considerable distance, but amazingly, at Loch na Keal on the island of Mull, it is possible to get close up and personal. Several birds are used to feeding on fishy handouts from a tourist boat and, attracted by the commotion of the local gulls, come in for some easy food. The birds often plunge down within 20-30m of the Lady Jayne and snatch fish from the water surface. It is an awe-inspiring and unique wildlife experience. Get those cameras ready!

Time of Year: June to July

Days: 7 

Price: £1,350

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Image

White-tailed Eagle


Big Day Birding in Norfolk

Such is the richness of Norfolk that a day in the county can be as full of bird species and experiences as a week elsewhere. Get the details right and you can fit in a range of thrills, from waders massing in their thousands at high tide at places like Snettisham, to geese making their noisy dawn exits, to Barn Owls quartering the fields at dusk, with encounters with thrilling species such as Bitterns, Marsh Harriers and Avocets sandwiched in between. The mix of habitats, ranging from reedbeds that ping with Bearded Tits, to dunes with their roaming flocks of Snow Buntings and Shore Larks, to farms with Grey Partridges and Skylarks, to woods with Golden Pheasants and heaths with Great Grey Shrikes, ensures that you can watch birds without ceasing, unaware that the hours are passing. Barely a minute passes in Norfolk without a rarity lurking somewhere and a birder watching it. The reserve names – Titchwell, Cley, Hunstanton – are as famous as the birds, and generally have excellent facilities. If there is a British birding HQ, it is here.

Time of Year: May and November

Days: 3 

Price: £295

Spring Tour    Winter Tour
Image

Barn Owl


Get in touch

For further information, on our holidays, call 01962 733051 to speak to our friendly office experts, or email us using the contact form below. We’ll get right back to you!
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