Inspired by Wild Isles? 8 locations in the UK to see the best of British wildlife
By Charles Smith
A special collaboration between the WWF, the RSPB and The Open University, Wild Isles compiles three years of footage to showcase the best of the UK’s wildlife.
Six episodes of David Attenborough and his crew travelling through the UK’s four key habitats – grasslands, woodlands, freshwater, and marine – aired on BBC One, and they’re now available to view on iPlayer.
If the series inspired you to explore more of our native wilderness, here are eight places you can visit to see the best of British wildlife.
1. South Stack Cliffs, Anglesey
In the spring, guillemots, razorbills, and the puffins which featured in the first episode of Wild Islesflock to South Stack to find their mates. Around 9,000 seabirds build their nests on the sea cliffs, and other birds such as peregrine falcons and ravens can be found on the rocks all year round.
For excellent views of the seabird city and the gorgeous wildflowers that blanket the clifftops, you can climb Ellin’s Tower. And in autumn, keep an eye out for passing shearwaters, porpoises, and dolphins in the tidal races just offshore.
The nature reserve’s heathland is also part of the largest area of maritime heath in North Wales. This crucial habitat is carefully maintained to provide suitable conditions for the 10 pairs of the rare chough that call South Stack their home.
2. Sherwood Forest, Nottingham
If you wish to visit the ancient oaks that were discussed in the woodland episode of the show, there’s no better place to visit than Sherwood Forest.
Once a royal hunting ground, the woods are filled with ancient oaks who have watched over the land for around 500 years. But the oldest and most majestic of all of them is the Major Oak, which is thought to be over 1,000 years old.
It’s so old, in fact, it’s become legendary; it’s said that the Major Oak was Robin Hood’s favourite place to hide from the evil Sheriff of Nottingham.
3. Killarney National Park, Ireland
A trip to this national park in County Kerry from late September until early November will reward you with the sight of one of the most magnificent creatures: red deer.
These few months are when the stags become territorial and fight one another over food and mates, and this particular herd is Ireland’s last surviving indigenous one, which has resided in the park since Neolithic times.
During the rest of the year, the Emerald Isle’s protected wilderness boasts several walking trails which take you through stunning glens, waterfalls, and forests against a mountain backdrop. And during your trip, you may be lucky enough to see some of the rarer mammals who live there, including otters, stoats, and American minks.
4. Mull of Galloway, Scotland
The wildlife in Mull is so unique that their tourism sector makes a jaw-dropping £8 million each year. The gorgeous wildflowers and harbours filled with dolphins, Atlantic grey seals and the occasional Minke whale would be brilliant on their own, but the birds are what draw most people to this scenic location.
Wild Isles focuses on the largest bird of prey in Britain: the white-tailed eagles, with wingspans reaching up to two metres long.
But they aren’t the only birds that visitors travel to see. During the early autumn, thousands of songbirds pass through the Mull of Galloway. If you visit on a day where the tide is high, you can witness the spectacular phenomenon known as “visible migration”.
5. Lerwick Harbour, Shetland
Lerwick Harbour is home to some of the most amazing marine life in Britain. Between May and August, you can find orcas – also known as “killer whales” – and white-sided dolphins swimming close to the shore. There have even been sightings of rarer ocean creatures, such as basking sharks and sperm whales.
If you’re interested in seals, both grey and common seals live in the harbour. Common seals tend to bring out their pups in June, which you can recognise thanks to their very dark coats.
Grey seals, on the other hand, usually pup in November and are born with a creamy-white coat, which they shed at about three weeks old.
If you’re lucky, you may also spot some otters. The best time to see the little creatures is the summer, as that’s when the female otters show their cubs how to hunt in the shallows of the kelp forest that surrounds most of Shetland.
6. Glencripesdale, Morven
If you’re interested in visiting one of the Celtic rainforests mentioned in episode two of Wild Isles, you need to explore Glencripesdale.
You can stroll along the rocky shores of Loch Sunart to look for sea eagles and otters, and then venture into the woodlands to admire the ferns, wildflowers, and abundant animal life.
Celtic rainforests support hundreds of species of mosses, lichens, and liverworts, as well as animals and birds such as pine martens, wood warblers, and red squirrels. Although experiencing the woodlands involves a long walk into the nature reserve, it’s well worth the effort for the beautiful wildlife.
7. Snettisham, Norfolk
From late summer to early winter, tens of thousands of wading birds collect on the mudflats of The Wash. When the tide rolls all the way in, these knots, oystercatchers, and dunlins take to the sky and flock around the reserve.
In summer, you’ll be able to see a gathering of over 100,000 knots as they create patterns similar to a starling’s murmuration. And in winter, up to 40,000 pink-footed geese meet on The Wash after making their way to Norfolk from Iceland and Greenland.
The stunning aerial displays performed by these birds make for a spectacular viewing experience, but make sure to check the nature reserve’s website before travelling to ensure you visit on one of the high tide days.
8. Bouldnor Forest, Isle of Wight
The Isle of Wight is free of grey squirrels, which means you can find the smaller and rarer red squirrels anywhere on the island. But Bouldnor Forest is the best place to go if you’re interested in seeing the adorable creatures in their natural habitat.
As well as squirrels, you will also find tree creepers and bullfinches on the branches of the forest. And if you visit during spring, you’ll be treated to the sight of heathland rarities such as pale dog-violet brightening the coastal path.
The forest is also adjacent to the beach, where you can explore the Isle of Wight’s prehistoric past. If you look closely enough at the pebbles on the shore, you might find small fossils.