We grow up with an inherent love for the wild world around us. From watching Bambi as a little one to sobbing at Sir David Attenborough’s every... dramatically... delivered... word... we can’t help but be drawn to the great soap opera that is nature.
The beautiful thing about the UK’s wildlife is that it’s all around us. If you can’t see it in your garden or local park, you can visit one of over 200 National Nature Reserves, not to mention nearly 50 zoos and several safari parks with everything from British bumblebees to African lions and Arctic polar bears right here in the UK. There’s really no excuse for not enjoying a date with nature now and then. To help you plan your next trip, we’ve gathered the best locations to see some of the nation’s favourite species right on your doorstep.
We’ll also bust a few myths. For example, you can still see red squirrels in England, there really are peregrine falcons flying around London and glowworms aren’t just seen in Disney films. Best of all, by paying a visit to some of the UK’s incredible nature reserves, zoos and wildlife parks, you can enjoy some great days out while supporting a network of charities which protect our wild world for future generations of nature lovers.
Where to see 50 of the UK’s favourite animals
We grow up with an inherent love for the wild world around us. From watching Bambi as a little one to sobbing at Sir David Attenborough’s every... dramatically... delivered... word... we can’t help but be drawn to the great soap opera that is nature.
Where to see mammals in the UK
The mammals of the UK are among our most characterful wildlife. Nothing quite compares to seeing a cute, fluffy or furry creature in the wild, even if it’s just a glimpse of a red squirrel’s bushy tail, the regal antlers of a red deer or the monochrome markings of a badger.
Badgers can be seen across the length and breadth of the UK but enjoy their highest numbers in the south. Similar to foxes, they love woodland and open countryside, but can also survive in towns and cities. Badgers are nocturnal, so your best chance of seeing one is when they emerge from their setts at dusk, especially in June and July when young cubs can be seen frolicking above ground when the weather is warmer. If you want a helping hand, the Wildlife Trust offers badger-watching activities around the country, as do farms such as Badger Watch Dorset on the south coast.
Beavers are a bit harder to find, with only three known locations at either end of Great Britain. Down south, visit the confusingly named River Otter in East Devon if you want to see beavers. Up north, make your way to the Scottish Beaver Trial in Knapdale Forest, or look along the banks of the River Tay on the east coast of the country.
In the 13th century, there were more than 60 royal forests where the monarchy hunted deer and wild boar with invited members of the aristocracy. Only a fraction of these ancient woodlands survives today – Sherwood Forest is a pristine example and one of the best places in the country to see red deer. Nearly three-quarters of these majestic mammals can be found in Scotland, with pine forests of Loch Arkaig being one particular hot spot. RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk is home to the largest herd south of the Scottish border. The New Forest National Park is another great option. The best time to see them is between late September and early November, during the rutting season when stags battle one another at dawn and dusk for the right to mate with the does.
On otter watch? Wales’ Bosherston Lakes in Pembrokeshire is your top option for ticking these cute little critters off your must-see list. The Earsham Wetland Centre on the opposite side of the country was once The Otter Trust’s breeding centre, so you better believe it’s brimming with these effervescent little wetland warriors. In Scotland, we recommend the Isle of Mull, but you’ll find otters at most sea lochs along Scotland’s coast.
You can also see otters chasing salmon in the Welsh waterfalls of Gilfach Farm between October and December, as well as the Falls of Clyde in Scotland. The Essex Wildlife Trust also runs a regular night watch with infrared cameras to give you the best chance of seeing these nocturnal animals.
Water voles are mouse-like mammals that live along the banks of rivers, streams, ponds and lakes across the UK. They’re quite rare, but your best chance of seeing them is during the breeding season in April and May when they’re most active. Our favourite place to spot them is Ouse Fen in Cambridgeshire. It’s a former quarry that’s been transformed into a nature reserve with the help of the RSPB. It’s well on its way to becoming the biggest reedbed in Europe and is already an incredible home for water voles. You can also try Cardowan Moss in Glasgow, Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, the Cromford Canal in Derbyshire, RSPB Minsmere on the Suffolk Coast and West Sussex’ WWT Arundel where you can spot water voles while aboard an expertly guided boat safari.
Pretty much everything about pine martens makes them difficult to spot. They’re nocturnal, notoriously sneaky and live up in trees away from prying eyes. They live in Scotland, England and Wales, but you’ll be very fortunate to see one south of Hadrian’s Wall. They far prefer the Scottish highlands. You can try your luck at the Aigas Field Centre or Loch an Eilein in the Cairngorms National Park.
Of course, we can’t forget about red squirrels. Grey squirrels have driven their cuter crimson cousins out of much of the country. Greys carry a disease that’s deadly to red squirrels, which is why they’re now endangered today. However, you may be surprised to hear you can still see these iconic critters in all four countries of the United Kingdom. In Wales, they can be found in Newborough Forest on Anglesey. In Northern Ireland, try Mount Stewart House near Belfast. In England, there is a handful of fantastic National Trust walking trails where you can see red squirrels, including:
- Grasmere in Cumbria
- Aira Force in the Lake District
- Allen Banks
- Wallington and Cragside in Northumberland
- Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour
- Borthwood Copse on the Isle of Wight.
If you really want to see red squirrels, then make your way to one of their Scottish strongholds. RSPB Abernethy Forest in the Cairngorms is an excellent option. There’s also the Highland Wildlife Park at Kingussie, and the red squirrel trail of Dalbeattie Forest.
One crimson creature found in every corner of the UK is the red fox. Their brilliant bushy tails and blood-curdling shrieks can be seen and heard up and down the country. They’re one of the UK’s few species that’s more likely to be seen in towns and cities than the British countryside, but they’re nocturnal, so you’ll have little luck during the day. Red foxes are less common in the industrial cities of northern England and tend to favour the suburbs of commuter towns of southeast England.
Bats’ association with one particular blood-sucking count, among countless other spooky tales, means they often give people the heebie-jeebies. However, they’re much cuter and cooler than their reputation would suggest. You can see them in the summer months when they wake up from hibernation to hunt and breed. Turn your attention to the sky at dusk, around 20 minutes after sunset, and see their silhouettes speeding through the twilight.
It’s a myth that bats can’t see. Their eyesight is actually as good as humans’. The misconception stems from the fact that bats also have super sensitive hearing, which lets them see in the dark using echolocation – the out-of-water equivalent of sonar. So bats will have little trouble finding you if you want to build a bat box for them in your garden.
Where to see birds in the UK
The beauty of British birdlife is the sheer diversity of species you can see across the country. From dainty garden robins that greet you in the morning to dramatic golden eagles that reign over the highlands of Scotland, our birds really do come in all shapes and sizes. Over 600 species of birds have been recorded in the wild in the UK, and all are protected by law, so we’ve shortlisted a dozen of the nation’s favourites and pinpointed our pick of the best places to see them across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Puffins are lovingly known as the clowns of the sea, and every breeding season they bring their characterful show to the British coast for you to see. The puffin is one of the nation’s favourite birds. You can see them between March and August when they fly home to dry land to raise a puffling chick with their partner – they’re monogamous. Puffins, like the rest of us, enjoy a little peace and quiet, so they tend to take sanctuary on isolated islands such as Mull, Anglesey, Orkney, The Shetlands, Rathlin Island and the Farne Islands.
On the mainland, one of the best places to see puffins in the UK is Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire. This flagship RSPB reserve is a seabird city of half a million birds, with several viewpoints, a modern visitor centre, live streams of puffin nests, jaw-dropping views and seabird cruises aboard the Yorkshire Belle pleasure cruiser, which lets you see this spectacle of nature from sea level.
Bempton Cliffs and Troup Head in Scotland are the only two places on the UK mainland to see gannets. Otherwise, you need to head offshore to St. Kilda, the Northern Isles, Bass Rock in Scotland or Grassholm in Wales.
As well as being a great place to see puffins, the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides is one of the best places to see the UK’s largest bird of prey, the white-tailed eagle. These enormous birds can boast a wingspan well over 2 metres. In spring and summer, you can book a place on a guided ‘Mull Eagle Watch’ to see them in the wild. Other hot spots include Wester Ross in the stunning northwestern highlands of Scotland, as well as large bodies of water like Loch Leven, which is just an hour’s drive from Edinburgh.
This is also golden eagle country. The famous bird of prey is Scotland’s apex predator and casts shadows across the wild open moorlands and mountains with its whopping 2-metre wingspan. Like white-tailed eagles, the Isle of Mull is a great place to see golden eagles, as are are Skye and Rum. Your best option is to make your way to the hills of Harris, the heart of golden eagle territory, where you can pay a visit to the island’s dedicated eagle observatory. If you’re plotting a visit to the Cairngorms National Park, keep an eye on the sky, as this Tolkienesque landscape is of international importance for wildlife like the golden eagles.
The Cairngorms National Park is also home to other incredible rarities such as western capercaillies. These grouse-like birds are in very real danger of extinction. Of their surviving population, four out of five are found in the Cairngorms. Seeing one in the wild is no mean feat, and their lekking grounds are kept secret, but if you visit RSPB Abernethy Forest on Loch Garten, there’s a chance you’ll see one from one of the hides.
Of the UK’s other birds of prey, ospreys are among the most dynamic. They are spectacular fishing birds and can be seen hunting the waterways of the Scottish highlands, with top sites including Loch Garten in the Cairngorms, the nearby Loch of the Lowes and Wigtown on the Solway Firth of Dumfries and Galloway. In Wales, you can see ospreys at the Wildlife Trust’s Cors Dyfi nature reserve, home to the inspiring Dyfi Osprey Project that’s helped to bring ospreys back to Wales. In England, they’re often seen at Bassenthwaite in the Lake District. You can also book your place on the Osprey Cruise at Rutland Water, one of the largest manmade lakes in Europe.
Buzzards are here year-round. In fact, they can now be seen in every county of the UK. They love woodland and moorland habitats but have even been seen in towns and cities, especially Glasgow. Cast your eyes to the sky when you’re out in the countryside in spring, and there’s a fair chance you’ll see the 4-foot wingspan of a soaring buzzard. For a better chance to see them, the RSPB’s top reserves for buzzards span the length and breadth of Great Britain:
- Labrador Bay near Torquay
- Brading Marshes on the Isle of Wight
- Carsington Water in Derbyshire
- Chapel Wood in Devon
- Darts Farm near Exeter
- West Sedgemoor on the Somerset Levels
- Cwm Clydach near Swansea
- Fairy Glen Falls near Inverness
The fact that you can see red kites in the UK today is one of nature’s great success stories. They were hunted to national extinction towards the end of the 19th century. Following one of the world’s longest running conservation projects, they’re back and boast strong populations in Wales, England and some areas of Scotland. In England, try your luck in the Chilterns, the Peak District, Harewood House in Yorkshire or Top Lodge in Northamptonshire. In Wales, Bwlch Nant Yr Arian near Aberystwyth is your best option. In Scotland, the RSPB’s Tollie Red Kites reserve hosts feeding events every afternoon, while the Galloway Kite Trail has several hides and a feeding station; likewise, the Argaty Red Kites also has ranger-led walks, hide visits and a feeding station.
Blink and you might miss a peregrine falcon. Famously the fastest bird in the world, these winged wonders have been clocked at speeds of more than 240 mph – that’s faster than a Formula One car! Historically, peregrines are best known for hunting in the marshlands of East Anglia. However, in recent times, they have adapted to survive in the concrete jungles of the nation’s towns and cities. They’ve been spotted in Manchester, Coventry, Chichester, Derby Cathedral, Ipswich, and most famously, Norwich Cathedral, Rockdale Town Hall and the BT Tower in Birmingham.
Due to their nocturnal nature, owls are among the most difficult birds of prey to see in the UK. If you want to see barn owls, your best chance is at dusk. However, when the winter frosts creep in, these curious birds can be seen hunting during the day as they try to find enough food to survive. Lincolnshire is the best county in the country to see these twilight hunters as they search for voles, shrews, mice and rats.
We recommend visiting Vine House Farm and taking part in one of the guided walks around this popular barn owl breeding site. Excellent RSPB reserves include Pulborough Brooks in the South Downs National Park, Middleton Lakes just outside Birmingham and Ouse Fen – a former quarry that’s being transformed into a nature reserve the size of the town, containing the biggest reedbed in the UK, and providing a home for some of the nation’s most incredible wildlife.
As the largest nature conservation charity in the country, the RSPB does an incredible job protecting the nation’s birdlife. It’s best shown by the charity’s emblematic bird, the avocet, which the RSPB helped to bring back from national extinction and now can be seen at several reserves across the country:
- Leighton Moss in Lancashire
- Marshside above Liverpool
- Minsmere in Suffolk
- Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk
- Snettisham in Norfolk
- Wallasea Island in the Thames Estuary
- Frampton Marsh in Lincolnshire
- Dearne Valley in Yorkshire
Great Spotted Woodpeckers
Birds of prey and bold little puffins are well worth hunting down during a day trip to one of the UK’s many national parks or nature reserves. But that’s not to say there isn’t incredible birdlife right on the doorstep of your own home. You can attract great spotted woodpeckers to your garden with peanut feeders during the winter months. At this time of year, they’re easier to spot, as the trees are bare of leaves. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can make your way to your local park or nearest woodland nature reserve to see woodpeckers.
Sherwood Forest in the heart of England is the prime example. However, great spotted woodpeckers can be found across all of England, Wales, most of Scotland and the east coast of Northern Ireland. Simply follow the sound of their telltale pecking. Did you know woodpeckers peck 20 times a second? Most of the time, woodpeckers peck wood while looking for creepy crawlies to eat. However, they also use their adamantine beaks to chisel nesting holes out of tree trunks and branches, and also to mark their territory instead of singing.
Hawfinches may look like your regular garden-variety birds, but they’ve become extremely tricky to see in the wild. The best time to see them is late autumn and winter when their population booms with visitors from continental Europe. They’ll be foraging for food to fatten themselves up for the winter. They particularly like hornbeam trees and fruit-bearing yew groves. Three of the best places in the UK to see them are Mawddach Valley in Snowdonia National Park, Nagshead in the Forest of Dean and the ancient Highnam Woods in Gloucestershire.
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Starlings are one of the most common garden birds in the country. So to say we’ve saved the best until last might seem odd. However, there are few events in nature that come close to the majesty of a murmuration of starlings. It’s a shimmering mass of thousands of birds undulating unpredictably through the sky.
If you’re wondering where to see starling murmurations in the UK, then Middleton Moor in Derbyshire is one of the very best places, often attracting more than 100,000 starlings. You should also try Gretna Green in Dumfries and Galloway, Albert Bridge in Belfast and Aberystwyth in Wales. In England, RSPB Ham Wall on the Avalon Marshes is an all-around fantastic reserve and excellent for starlings.
Where to see reptiles and amphibians in the UK
The best thing about the UK’s reptiles and amphibians is they can’t kill you. Well, if there were enough of them, in a bad enough mood, then they might do some damage. But, by and large, unlike in other more exotic climes of the world, you’re safe to go searching for our slithery friends. So, here’s how, when and where to find adders, slow worms, smooth snakes, sand lizards, great crested newts and natterjack toads in the UK.
For starters, don’t look in winter as all five will be either hunkered down hibernating or hidden beneath rocks, mud or the bottom of your compost heap. However, from April through October, you can go wild looking for these wonderful creatures.
Adders and slow worms can be found up and down the UK, even in your garden or allotment if you’re lucky. Heathland, grassland and woodland habitats are your best bet. In Scotland, try Carsegowan Moss in Dumfries and Galloway. In Wales, try Parc Slip in Glamorgan. In England, there’s the Humberhead Peatlands in South Yorkshire and the Wyre Forest in Worcestershire.
Arguably the best is RSPB Arne in Dorset. This flagship nature reserve is regularly featured on the BBC’s Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch programmes. It’s one of the heathland strongholds of the UK and one of the only places where you can find all six of our native reptiles, including our rarest and most endangered snake, the smooth snake.
That’s just a drop in the ocean of the more than 2,565 species that have been recorded at RSPB Arne. On hot dry days, you can find adders basking in the open, and slow worms warming themselves beneath rocks and other objects heated by the sun. It’s also one of a handful of places, along with RSPB Farnham Heath, where you can see endangered sand lizards.
Great crested newts aren’t exactly easy to find. These spotty little tykes are protected and spend most of their time submerged at the bottom of ponds, only to emerge at night to hunt down some delicious worms, slugs and bugs to munch on. Peterborough has some of the UK’s largest populations of newts. You can also see them at Kintbury Newt Ponds in Berkshire or Derbyshire’s Hartington Meadows, Hilton Gravel Pits or Rose End Meadows. All three are reserves run by The Wildlife Trust.
Great Crested Newt
Natterjack toads are fabulous little amphibians which famously run around instead of hopping. Merseyside and the Solway Firth in Scotland are the only reliable places for seeing natterjack toads. Our top recommendation is RSPB Mersehead, a stellar nature reserve in Dumfries and Galloway that’s recently been expanded to help these characterful toads. It hums with insect life, with a menu of delicious spiders, woodlice, snails and worms for these fantastic toads to feed on.
Where to see sea life in the UK
It has never been easier to observe sea life around the coasts of Great Britain. In 2018, there were record numbers of whales, dolphins and porpoises in our waters. Better still, sightings stretch from Lands End up to the Outer Hebrides. One of the best places to see sea life in the UK is along the South West Coast Path – an official National Trail stretching 630 miles.
Dolphins are majestic and we love them. It may come as a surprise that they’re commonly spotted right the way through from April to November. Your best bet is Cardigan Bay, off the coast of Aberystwyth. It’s home to the country’s largest pod of more than 300 bottlenose dolphins. Other places to see dolphins in the UK include:
- Durlston Head in Dorset
- Prawle Point in Devon
- Porthgwarra in Cornwall
- Chanonry Point in the Moray Firth
- Loch Gairloch in Wester Ross
- Chanonry Point in The Black Isle
- The Torry Battery overlooking Aberdeen Harbour
Sharks and whales migrate to the UK in summer and tend to have a soft spot for the Scottish coast. Minke whales are the smallest species of whale to grace our waters. But at six metres in length, they’re certainly not small. These curious cetaceans are famous for their regional songs. In the same way Brits sound different to Aussies and Americans, the minke whale’s song can sound like boings, crickets, and even a lightsaber. If you want to see one, they’re often spotted off the west coast of Scotland.
The larger humpback whales can grow up to more than 15 metres in length and weigh more than 30 tonnes. These behemoths of the sea have been seen from Wales, all the way up and around Scotland, down past Aberdeenshire and the East Yorkshire coast, and – once – in Norfolk. The summer months are their feeding time (they live off fat reserves over winter), so if you see one off the coast of the UK, it’s probably getting its fill of krill, plankton and little fish-like sand eels and mackerel.
You can expect to see killer whales in the UK anywhere there’s seal pups, particularly the Orkney and Shetland Islands. These orcas follow herring shoals from Iceland and stay to hunt baby seals. The Hebrides are also home to the UK’s only native pod of orcas, which are larger and feed on other whales, porpoises and seals instead of their fish-eating Nordic cousins.
Despite the orca’s more popular moniker, this mighty mammal isn’t actually a whale, it’s the largest member of the dolphin family. There’s no doubt it’s a killer though. Orcas are the largest, most powerful predators on the planet and boast the second biggest brains in the animal kingdom, bested only by one of the ocean’s gentle giants, the sperm whale.
If you’re in the Hebrides, you may want to visit Skye or Mull to catch sight of a basking shark. These five-ton beasts are the second largest fish in the world, so you can spot them a mile off. Despite their size, basking sharks are friendly giants which eat plankton. They’re found off the Isle of Man, in Cardigan Bay, and Cornwall and Devon.
Cardigan Bay, along with much of the Welsh coast, is also great for seeing one of the basking shark’s smaller relatives, the harbour porpoise. These shy dolphin-like sea creatures love shallow waters along the west coast of the UK, so they’re easily spotted from the shore.
Seals spend much of their lives at sea, but they come ashore during the pupping season to raise their young. Their favourite sites tend to be remote and away from prying eyes:
- In Scotland, visit the Orkney Islands, the Monarch Isles in the Outer Hebrides, and the Moray Firth near Inverness.
- In Wales, seals love Skomer Island.
- East of England, try the Farne Islands in Northumberland, Horsey Gap and the Blakeney National Nature Reserve in Norfolk or Donna Nook in Lincolnshire.
- Seals are also often spotted in Cornwall, particularly Falmouth and Mutton Cove near St. Ives.
Timings vary depending on where you are in the country, but you can find beaches brimming with seals and their pups in August in Cornwall, September and October in Wales and November and December in Scotland and the East Coast of England. There’s also a handful of seal sanctuaries you can visit around the country, including the Natureland Seal Sanctuary in Skegness and the Cornish Seal Sanctuary near Helston.
Where to see insects in the UK
Insects come in every colour of the rainbow and all shapes and sizes. Britain is blessed with curious buglife, and – best of all – seeing it can be as easy as paying a visit to your local park or even your garden.
On sunny summertime days, butterflies will be out and about flapping around the flower beds. If you want see them during a day out, some of the best places in the country to see butterflies are National Trust attractions, like Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire, Upton House in Warwickshire and Sissinghurst in Kent, where the carefully manicured gardens offer the perfect home for cute creepy-crawlies.
Butterflies thrive in humid climates, so we recommend visiting the Eden Project in Cornwall or attractions such as Tropical World in Leeds, which is home to over 20 species of butterflies, with some growing as large as dinner plates!
The purple emperor is one of the most sought after species of butterfly. These large luminescent lovelies are Britain’s second biggest butterfly but are restricted to a handful of sites in the southern woodlands of England. With no small portion of luck, you’ll find them flitting around the canopies of Wormley Wood or Tring Park in Hertfordshire, Cadora Woods in the Wye Valley of Gloucestershire or Piddington Wood in Oxfordshire.
Ouse Fen in Cambridgeshire, the former quarry which is being transformed into the largest reed bed in Europe, is one of the best places in the UK to see dragonflies. They can be just as beautiful as their fluttery butterfly cousins.
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire is one of the best places to see them. It was the first dedicated dragonfly centre in Europe. In the spring and summer months after the larvae have hatched, they zip and dart across the wetlands, painting the landscape with fleeting brushstrokes of colour. The reserve is run by the National Trust, offering waterway cruises and safaris to help you spot the 22 different species of dragonfly that can be found in Wicken Fen.
In Essex, Foxearth Meadows is another reserve dedicated to dragonflies and damselflies. In Scotland, the Caerlaverock Wetlands in Dumfries and Galloway is a British Dragonfly Society hot spot and regularly hosts events through the summer months. In Wales, Dowrog Common on the Pembrokeshire coast is also an excellent option thanks to its network of man-made dragonfly pools.
We thought glow worms were the stuff of make-believe; the kind of fantastical creature concocted by Disney to wow watchers of kids’ movies. But, trust us, they’re the real deal. Between June and July, you can try and hunt them down in lowland grassland areas of England, Scotland and Wales. Gardens, meadows, churchyards and woodlands are all good places to look, as are canal paths and river banks.
Where to see popular zoo animals in the UK
One of the best ways to see animals in the UK is by paying a visit to one of the many great zoos, wildlife parks or safaris. They allow you to see some of the world’s most exotic and endangered creatures without having to pack your bags for a trip to the other side of the planet.
What better family day out is there than taking your kids to see some of their favourite species and helping them learn about our fascinating natural world? David Attenborough may have brought the scorched plains of Africa and the frozen wastelands of Antarctica to the world’s living rooms, but nothing quite compares to seeing the likes of lions, elephants and polar bears in person.
Zoos play a pivotal role in the conservation of our natural world. The Zoological Society of London’s Whipsnade Zoo is the largest in the UK, while London Zoo is the oldest in the country. Visit either and you’ll be supporting ZSL conservation projects spread across more than 50 countries around the world. The nation’s number one zoo, Chester Zoo, is a pioneer of scientific research into endangered wildlife. Meanwhile, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Highland Wildlife Park and Edinburgh Zoo are helping to protect Scottish wildcats from extinction in the highlands as well as chimpanzees and giant armadillos through conservation projects which stretch from Brazil to the Budongo Forest in Uganda.
Tigers, Lions, Zebras, Giraffes and Flamingos
You can also see the likes of tigers, lions, zebras, giraffes and flamingos at many of the zoos in the UK. The latter have a wonderful home at Flamingo Land in North Yorkshire, where you can enjoy a fun-filled day of rollercoasters and exotic wildlife a short drive from the Scarborough coast.
The UK’s best zoos offer events which help you get even closer to the action. If you fancy getting up close and personal with a 400-pound tiger, then ZSL Whipsnade, Colchester Zoo and Howletts Wild Animal Park all offer close-up feeding sessions with these mighty wild cats. Likewise, you can also feed the lions at Bristol Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade. Or, if you’d rather get handsy with something a little less toothy, then you can feed the giraffes at Marwell Zoo, Paignton Zoo, Chester Zoo, Colchester Zoo and both ZSL zoos
Everyone loves elephants, but you can’t see them everywhere. There are only half a dozen zoos in the UK we’d recommend for seeing elephants. They’re Howletts Wild Animal Park in Canterbury, Paignton Zoo in Devon, Chester Zoo, Colchester Zoo, Blackpool Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo.
You’ll find red pandas at several of our recommended zoos, such as ZSL London Zoo, Chester Zoo, Bristol Zoo, and Flamingo Land. However, if you want to see giant pandas, then you’ll need to pay a visit to Edinburgh Zoo. Here’s a fun fact: China owns every giant panda in the world – they’re just loaned to zoos in different countries.
Similarly sparse are polar bears. As you’d expect, they can only be found in the colder parts of the UK. You’ll have to pay a visit to either Yorkshire Wildlife Park or the Highland Wildlife Park in the Cairngorms. They’re a huge draw, so both zoos hold daily polar bear talks and feeding events for visitors where you can find out what polar bears eat, how much they weigh and why you shouldn’t believe the myth that all polar bears are left-handed.
If you want to see wolves in the UK, you only have a handful of options: Colchester Zoo, Paignton Zoo, Howletts Wild Animal Park and Paradise Wildlife Park in Hertfordshire. In the wild, these intelligent pack hunters will eat whatever meat they can lay their paws on. However, Paradise Wildlife Park is the only place in the UK where you can hand-feed the wolves some delicious steak, if you dare.
Last but not least, if you want to see one of the rarest species in the UK, then make your way to the Highland Wildlife Park in the Cairngorms National Park and visit the Scottish wildcats. There are only a couple hundred of these fantastic felines left in the wild. Trying to find one is like finding a needle in a haystack. They’re slightly larger than your typical tabby, but they’re wonderfully camouflaged and have a proclivity for perching up in trees.
Q) How can I attract wildlife into my garden?
A) Attracting wildlife to your garden is often as easy giving animals, birds and insects some food and shelter. Take hedgehogs, for example. They’re officially the nation’s favourite species, but they’re having a hard time because people are doing away with hedges and closing off their gardens with fences and walls. How are the hedgehogs supposed to get in? Make a hole to welcome them in and out of your garden, and leave out some of their favourite food like minced meat, chopped unsalted nuts, or non-fishy cat or dog food, and with a bit of luck, you’ll have a prickly pal bustling among the begonias in no time.
It doesn’t matter how big or small your garden is, you can easily transform it into your very own Eden. Birds will appreciate the addition of a bath, feeder or seed table. Let your lawn grow out in places and you’ll encourage insects to find a home on your doorstep. Or, if you were hoping for something a bit more hippity hoppity, you can get frogs into your garden with a wildlife pond. Simply pick your spot, dig your hole, underlay and line it to make sure it’s waterproof and doesn’t get punctured by rocks or roots, then let it fill with rainwater (tap water is treated and can give you algae problems). Last of all, add some aquatic plants such as hornwort which will help to keep your pond healthy.
Top tip: You can make a wildlife pond with as little as a washing up bowl. Put some gravel in the bottom, add a rock to one side to help animals in and out, and add a little hornwort to oxygenate your mini pond.
Q) What can I do to support wildlife conservation in the UK?
A) Helping wildlife in your garden is one thing, but what about the rest of the nation’s incredible species? One way you can support wildlife conservation in the UK is simply by visiting some of the nature reserves, zoos and wildlife parks we mention in our guide. And they’re just part of a nationwide network of hundreds of reserves and charities dedicated to protecting wildlife and our natural world. There’s bound to be somewhere nearby for you to enjoy a day out with nature and help our wildlife.
You can also choose to become a member of a charity. The RSPB is just one example. It’s the largest conservation charity in the UK, with projects and reserves spanning the nation and helping all kinds of wildlife, not just birds. Or, you can choose to adopt an animal with the Wildlife Trusts for a monthly fee that’ll help to support wildlife conservation work in the UK.
Q) Are wildlife sanctuaries and reserves good for animals?
A) In a word, yes. More specifically, wildlife sanctuaries and nature reserves are protected areas of natural habitat dedicated to the flora and fauna that lives there. They aren’t just good, they are the best places in the UK to see wildlife – even better than in the wild – because people can help manage the land, and make sure it’s the best it can be for the species that call it home.
For example, Ouse Washes is a wonderful wetland reserve which floods during winter to the delight of its resident birdlife and migratory waterfowl. In recent times, it’s fair to say Britain’s weather has been a little less than predictable. However, thanks to a wonderful network of waterways and sluices, the RSPB are able to manage this incredible wetland, even when the weather doesn’t go as planned, to ensure it’s always an incredible home for the likes of black-tailed godwits, snipes and wigeons.
Q) What efforts are being taken to protect endangered wildlife?
A) There are a number of UK laws protecting our wildlife. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is the main legislation protecting the nation’s animals, plants and habitats of England and Wales. The Wildlife and Natural Environment Act 2011 is a separate but similar law protecting the wildlife of Scotland. These legislations help to ensure that all birds, their nests and eggs aren’t disturbed and that certain endangered species, such as red squirrels, are also protected. Breaking these laws could lead to unlimited fines and even prison sentences.
Q) When is world wildlife day?
A) World Wildlife Day takes place on 3rd March each year, celebrating and raising awareness of the world’s wild fauna and flora. The National Trust does a great job organising events around the date, such as wildlife walks and talks at some of their most popular reserves and attractions; take a look and see what’s on near you.
It would be a shame to only appreciate wildlife one day a year. Throughout the calendar, the nation’s nature reserves and national parks curate excellent programmes of events to help people get out into the great outdoors.
You can even play your part in protecting wildlife from the comfort of your home. The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch is the largest wildlife survey in the world, with more than half a million people taking part each year over the course of a weekend in January. By recording the wildlife that comes to your garden or local park, you can help the charity keep tabs on which species need their help.