Wildlife Holiday News

Otter

The UK’s Most Exciting Mammals, and Where to See Them

Dominic CouzensBy Dominic Couzens
24th October 2019

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

If you thought that the UK was a poor place for mammals, you’d be quite wrong. True, we don’t have as many species as some parts of the world, and our large predators have been wiped out, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot have some world-class encounters with mammals in our countryside and along our coasts. We have significant seal colonies, easy-to-see dolphins, magnificent dramas among herds of deer, a marvellous population of Otters bouncing back from near-oblivion, a coterie of fascinating rodents and shrews that people hardly ever see and a weird and wonderful collection of bats. And while birds are very easy to see day by day, mammals offer a distinct taste of adventure when you look for them, often at night when it is quiet, offering great reward for extra effort. Mammals overflow with character and each offers a unique challenge. Here are a few tips for finding them.

Red Squirrel

The ravishing Red Squirrel looks like a Grey Squirrel after a makeover – slim, trim, with shiny red fur, a perfectly coiffed tail and ear-tufts that would make a hairdresser proud. It has retreated in the face of competition with its American cousin, but is still reasonably common over parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and a few places in England. More arboreal than the Grey, it is often found high up in trees, especially conifers, but if you can find a bird table or other feeder, it cannot ever resist easy pickings and will soon make an appearance. Squirrels are so familiar that we easily forget how remarkable they are; their ability to run down, as well as up trees is very unusual, and their ability to leap acrobatically from branch to branch rivals any tree-living animals.


Holidays that regularly provide sightings of Red Squirrel:

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Ardnamurchan - Wild Scotland in Spring

An 8-day holiday focusing on the birds and mammals of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula...

8 days £1,295 land only

The Lakes & Fells - Wildlife of England's North-west

A 4-day holiday exploring the rich natural history of Morecambe Bay, the Lake Di...

4 days £550 land only

Scotland's Mammals & Highlights of the Highlands

An 8-day holiday in search of mammals and birds in Scotland's 'wild west', the A...

8 days £1,395 land only

Hazel Dormouse

Once so common in the countryside that a sleepy person might be nicknamed a ‘dormouse’, this soft-eyed beauty with golden-brown fur has long been declining in Britain. Seeing one in the wild is a major challenge, not only because it is small, nocturnal and forages in the trees, but also because it hibernates throughout the period between October and May, which rules those months out completely. If the nights are too hot in the summer, it is also prone to lapse into torpidity. However, there is a way to see a Hazel Dormouse at close quarters, and that’s to join in with the regular monitoring of these rodents where they use nest-boxes for breeding or wintering. There is considerable excitement as an expert checks each box, nobody knowing whether this gorgeous animal is inside.


Holidays that regularly provide sightings of Hazel Dormouse:

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The Forest of Dean - Mammal Special

A 3-day break with more focus on the mammals of the Forest including Dormice, Ba...

3 days £360 land only

Hampshire - A day with small mammals

...

1 days £80 land only

Bats

Are there any mammals more mysterious, and so startlingly different in lifestyle to us than bats – coming out at night, flying in the dark, hanging upside down and using sound echoes to move around? Once feared, bats are happily objects of great interest and conservation effort these days, and with the advent of bat detectors and a greatly increased pool of knowledge, it is now possible to appreciate them more easily. They occur throughout Britain, and you can detect them just about anywhere, even in urban areas, on summer nights. On several of our tours we bring along bat detectors to identify the local species, with the possibility of rare species in wild locations, such as the New Forest.


Holidays that regularly provide sightings of bats:

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Daubenton's Bat

The Island of Lundy

A 5-day holiday to explore the quiet charm and natural history of Lundy in the c...

5 days £895 land only

South Devon in Spring

A short wildlife break in search of the bountiful natural history in the gloriou...

4 days £645 land only

Hampshire - A Hampshire Bat Evening

...

1 days £25 land only

Wildcat

There are those who say you are more likely to catch sight of the Loch Ness Monster in the Highlands than a Scottish Wildcat! It isn’t quite true, but with numbers in the wild possibly reduced to below 50 individuals, this is certainly one of the hardest and most elusive mammals to see. Nonetheless, if there is any place in the UK where you have a chance, it is the Ardnamurchan Peninsula in the west of Scotland, a wild, remote area of rugged landscape where the cat’s favoured tapestry of habitats – patches of forest and open country – occurs. This thrilling animal, which looks like a giant, muscular tabby, lives in a large territory, seeking out rodents, Rabbits, birds and even fish. It hunts mainly in the darkness, meaning that your main chance to see one is spotlighting at night, and hoping for a lot of luck.


Holidays that might provide a Wildcat sighting:

Image

Ardnamurchan - The Red Deer Rut

An exciting 5-day holiday focusing on the Red Deer rut as well as some of the pe...

5 days £795 land only

Ardnamurchan - Wild Scotland in Spring

An 8-day holiday focusing on the birds and mammals of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula...

8 days £1,295 land only

Scotland's Mammals & Highlights of the Highlands

An 8-day holiday in search of mammals and birds in Scotland's 'wild west', the A...

8 days £1,395 land only

Otter

For sheer charm and playfulness, it is hard to beat the Otter, a fish-eating carnivore of rivers, wetlands and seashore. Once very rare in Britain, it has now made a decisive comeback almost throughout the country, but that doesn’t make it any easier to see. On a few of our tours, such as the Somerset Levels, you might catch a glimpse of one incidentally, but if you really wish to increase your chances, there is nowhere better than the west coast of Scotland. Here Otters (sometimes wrongly called ‘Sea Otters’), are reasonably easy to see along the sheltered shores of lochs, where they are completely at home. While typically nocturnal in many parts of the country, here they are routinely active in the daytime. Look out for the unexpectedly large size, the square head and that long, snake-like tail. When diving, they go down head-first, tail-last, like a whale.


Holidays that regularly provide sightings of Otter:

Image

Ardnamurchan - Wild Scotland in Spring

An 8-day holiday focusing on the birds and mammals of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula...

8 days £1,295 land only

St Kilda & the Hebrides - Islands on the Edge of the Atlantic

A 9-day wildlife cruise around the isolated islands and seabird colonies of nort...

9 days £2,695 land only

The Magic Of Mull

A 7-day exploration of Mull, in the Inner Hebrides, a natural history paradise b...

7 days £1,350 land only

Pine Marten

Since the BBC’s ‘Watch’ series moved up to the Cairngorms, the Pine Marten has become something of a mammal megastar. This remarkably talented, bushy-tailed predator is so agile that it can catch squirrels in the trees, hunt voles and amphibians on the ground and even locate the well-hidden eggs of birds. Its varied diet also includes berries, honey, nuts and fungi, and it is perfectly content to forage from people’s rubbish, as well. Once found throughout Britain, it is still largely confined to Scotland and Northern Ireland but is recolonising Wales and parts of England. Fortunately, it has a habit of visiting bird tables and other feeders after dark and can become quite tame. This is by far the easiest way to see it, other than the occasional fleeting glimpse on a night drive.


Holidays that regularly provide sightings of Pine Marten:

Image

Ardnamurchan - The Red Deer Rut

An exciting 5-day holiday focusing on the Red Deer rut as well as some of the pe...

5 days £795 land only

Ardnamurchan - Wild Scotland in Spring

An 8-day holiday focusing on the birds and mammals of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula...

8 days £1,295 land only

Scotland's Mammals & Highlights of the Highlands

An 8-day holiday in search of mammals and birds in Scotland's 'wild west', the A...

8 days £1,395 land only

Badger

It always seems remarkable that such a comparatively large predator can live amongst people on our crowded islands, but many people enjoy the sight of Badgers coming into their back gardens, especially if provided with their favourite food, peanuts – in the wild the diet is based on earthworms. Every Badger has a slightly different pattern on its stripy nose, and that’s how the animals themselves recognise each other. They live in groups in a communal burrow system, or sett, in a social group averaging six animals, with both males and females. Unless habituated, Badgers are shy and quickly retreat into their burrows at any sign of human presence. They are usually nocturnal, but this needn’t be the case in remote places. Although garden visitors are always delightful, there is nothing quite like the sight of Badgers emerging from their setts at nightfall in the ‘wild’, as they sniff the air and scratch themselves, ready for a night of foraging.


Holidays that regularly provide sightings of Badger:

Image

The Best of Dorset's Wildlife

A 4-day appreciation of one of Britain's most scenic and interesting widlife cou...

4 days £645 land only

The Forest of Dean - Mammal Special

A 3-day break with more focus on the mammals of the Forest including Dormice, Ba...

3 days £360 land only

Scotland's Mammals & Highlights of the Highlands

An 8-day holiday in search of mammals and birds in Scotland's 'wild west', the A...

8 days £1,395 land only

Wild Boar

Long ago the Wild Boar was native to Britain, but it was hunted out by 1300. The animals currently at large have only been here since the 1980s, when several fashionable Wild Boar farms came and went, and their incumbents escaped or were deliberately released. The largest population is in the Forest of Dean, but there are others, and their numbers are growing. The Boar certainly act like the real thing, being nocturnal, shy and very skittish, and they are tricky to see, even on a night drive. However, you certainly won’t miss the signs: the grubbed-up grass, the sausage-shaped droppings, the large two-toed prints and even their muddy wallows. The bulky, hairy adults are an exciting sight in the British countryside and if you’re fortunate you might even see the attractive piglets which have pale-striped backs.


Holidays that regularly provide sightings of Wild Boar:

Image

The Forest of Dean

A 3-day break focusing on the birdlife and other natural history of the Forest o...

3 days £325 land only

The Forest of Dean - Mammal Special

A 3-day break with more focus on the mammals of the Forest including Dormice, Ba...

3 days £360 land only

Grey Seal

The Grey Seal is one of Britain’s special mammals. Although it is quite common in many parts of coastal Britain, especially the Scottish islands, the species itself is confined to the Atlantic and we host no less than 36% of the world population. Our other seal, the Common Seal, is much more widespread. Seals are, of course, marine mammals and spend much of their time out to sea on solitary fishing trips, sometimes wandering as far as 50km and diving down as deep as 300m. However, every 2-5 days individuals return for a break at what is known as a ‘haul-out’ site – a bank, island or beach where they socialise with other members of their kind, sometimes in their hundreds. Haul-outs are among the best places to see Grey Seals, especially at low tide, when they basically loaf about. The species breeds late in the year, from September to December, when the attractive white young remain on land for about three weeks.


Holidays that regularly provide sightings of Grey Seal:

Image

Northumberland - Seabirds & Castles (Wildlife Photography)

A 5-day Wildlife Photography holiday to Northumberland's photogenic coast and th...

5 days £895 land only

St Kilda & the Hebrides - Islands on the Edge of the Atlantic

A 9-day wildlife cruise around the isolated islands and seabird colonies of nort...

9 days £2,695 land only

Wild Flowers of the Cornish Valleys and Lizard Peninsula

A 4-day tour to discover the rich flora of Cornwall's Lizard Peninsula and the C...

4 days £495 land only

Bottlenose Dolphin

Britain is a surprisingly good place for dolphins and whales, the cetaceans. Many species are seen in our waters, but this fact is lost on many people because it usually takes a boat trip, or a long-range telescope, to see them. One of the easiest and most widespread species to see here is the Bottlenose Dolphin, which often forages waters close to shore. These animals are sometimes seen from ferries and incidentally while people are watching out for seabirds. If a large flock of birds is excitedly gathered over the water, fishing a shoal, there is always a good chance a dolphin will appear nearby to join in the plenty. Bottlenose Dolphins are large dolphins which live in groups. They are famously inquisitive and playful, often leaping out of the water and evidently for the joy of it; they come towards vessels and bow-ride.


Holidays that regularly provide sightings of Bottlenose Dolphin:

Image

Northumberland - Seabirds & Castles (Wildlife Photography)

A 5-day Wildlife Photography holiday to Northumberland's photogenic coast and th...

5 days £895 land only

St Kilda & the Hebrides - Islands on the Edge of the Atlantic

A 9-day wildlife cruise around the isolated islands and seabird colonies of nort...

9 days £2,695 land only

Wild Flowers of the Cornish Valleys and Lizard Peninsula

A 4-day tour to discover the rich flora of Cornwall's Lizard Peninsula and the C...

4 days £495 land only

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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