I am taking my father to the UK for his birthday late April to early June. He is letting me plan most of it as he is just excited to be going. I am hoping to find some wildlife to photo while I am there so any advice is appreciated!
Scotland leg is pretty well planned out but we have maybe an afternoon/evening in Glasgow that we can fill and maybe a full day in/around Inverness. Then we are off to Isle of Skye which I have someone coming up with stuff so I don’t know if we will have time to kill then or not. Final stop is Isle of Jura and we have a day to find places to go here.
England is pretty open right now. He wants to go to London, and we are planning on going to Stonehenge. I want to find adders (since snakes are my favorite), I have been looking at where to see birds and possibly go on a dolphin watch. Any locations that would give me diversity?
Ireland. The only thing for sure here is a friend told me of a falconry place and Skellig Island. We are very open to suggestions. We end our journey in Dublin so anything near there for the end of our journey?
The catch is we are relying on public transport and are not renting a vehicle, so locations we can take a taxi and then hike around are ideal, or a guide is also great. If I were going solo I would be wildlife based 100% but since it is not a solo trip, I am taking into consideration what he wants to do as well so I know I can’t do everything that will be recommended. Thank you in advance!
I’m usually there a month or so later than you will be but have had a lot of good birds at Gibraltar Point NNR in Lincolnshire and Bempton Cliffs RSPB in East Yorkshire. Gibraltar Point has a lot of variety but is mainly marsh birds and Bempton has thousands of nesting gannets, puffin, fulmar, etc. Both are on the East Coast of England. There is also an option at Bempton to go on a boat tour if you don’t want to walk along the cliffs. Both are good in my opinion.
Fantastic! Thank you so much. I will look into one or both being added to the itinerary. I’ve never been to the UK so everything will be new and exciting.
I spent some time in the Midlands a few years back, if you end up passing through Derbyshire there’s a few places you might stop.
Duffield Millennium Meadow: my friend runs this little nature preserve. It’s tiny but has a surprising diversity of life. From the last email she sent me, here’s a few of the species spotted in the past year:
The early blossoming of the blackthorn was quickly followed by the native daffodils, the cherry blossom and later the crab apple blossom. These cheerful flowers were joined by a spectacular show of**cowslips, bluebells, frittalaries, snowdrops, knapweed, lady’s bedstraw, betony, meadow sweet, loosestrife, ragged robin, water mint, water iris, tansy, mallow, teasel and cow parsley. The ponds are full of life including fish from previous flood events from the river, frogs newts and toads. A mink was seen in one of the copses near the wetland so we took up an offer to put out traps and successfully caught one large specimen. This invasive species is prolific on the Derwent and a menace to fish, ducklings and any other food they can find.
The amount of birdlife on the reserve is phenomenal. A recent count recorded blackbird, dunnock, robin, wren, mistle thrush, kingfisher, kestrel, cormorant, crow, bullfinch, jay, magpie, jackdaw, blue tit, great tit, long tailed tit, siskin, goldfinch, lesser red poll, tree creeper, visitng redwings and overflying buzzards (to name but a few).
There have been otters seen on the Ecclesbourne and one filmed near the holt on the reserve. The spawning salmon will soon be able to get further upstream in greater numbers once the weir is lowered, so hopefully nature will balance out the competing needs.
The resident badger has maintained its sett and seems to find enough earthworms and beetles etc to eat in the grass and the brash piles.
In that general area as well the Cromford Canal is a really nice walk full of native wildflowers and water birds, and Ambergate Woods is gorgeous. All of these spots are very accessible to public transport as well.
I didn’t get much chance to travel outside of that region so I don’t really know how it compares to other parts of the UK, but I loved it there and really want to go back some day.
Fantastic! Derbyshire was a place I was looking at exploring. I will add that to the list and hopefully I will get to visit your friends nature preserve!
As you are thinking of spending time in London and like snakes you may be interested in looking for the Aesculapian Snakes by the Regent’s Canal at Regent’s Park. Not native but a long established colony here http://www.jasonsteelwildlifephotography.yolasite.com/aesculapian-snakes.php
The best place in England for wildlife is the New Forest, next door to Southampton. Some might think that is too dogmatic, but that is my opinion. It is an ancient hunting forest, meaning it is a tract of land set aside by the monarchy for hunting deer, not forest in the sense of covered by trees. When you step over the border, it is like gong back 200 years. Much of it is heath and bog, so good for adders and other reptiles and a top site for rare birds. There is a railway line across it, so OK for getting there by public transport.
You might find this website useful for planning your trip:
Tbh if you are looking to explore natural areas England is pretty flat and urban for the most part and can’t compete with Wales, Scotland and Ireland to my mind. Lots of amazing heritage architecture in England but it will pale in comparison to the wildlife and landscapes of places like the Isle of Skye.
Of the England nature spots, the National Parks are the main highlights though.
I particularly recommend the Lake District : https://www.nationalparks.uk
There are also the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty :
Then not England, but for dolphin watching, the Pembrokeshire coast in Wales is one option. Lovely to hike the coastal paths early summer - rich in UK coastal flora and fauna …and there are boat trips out to see seals and dolphins, near Ramsey Island.
I’ve never seen an adder but I see on iNaturalist there are lots of observations in NW Wales. The national database shows a broader distribution …but there were only 21 records nationally last year, so I expect they are pretty difficult to find no matter where you are. - https://species.nbnatlas.org/species/NBNSYS0000005075
and SSI sites of scientific interest?
I think some important questions here are how long you have in total for this trip, what time of year you are planning it for, what kind of landscapes and wildlife are you most interested in seeing, and how concerned you are about budget (e.g. trains journeys in the UK can be quite expensive)?
Since you mention Skellig – there are lots of beautiful places along the west coast of Ireland, particularly in the south-west. There are a number of whale tours from Baltimore and a few other sea tours operators including for dolphins further north along the coast up to (and particularly including) Dingle. There are lots of different islands… Garnish island is a nice little garden island with seals in the harbour you can see on the way over, and close to the stunning Glengarriff Woods. There is a sort of mild micro-climate down there which leads to some amazing woodland in the region. By far the most famous national park in the country is Killarney National Park, and for good reason. Plenty to explore around there. While other places worth considering in the area include Gougane Barra, Gleninchaquin, Lickeen, Inch Beach, and Glanteenassig.
The raptor centre I happen to know personally is on the central west coast at Aillwee Cave in Clare. This is in the famous karst limestone region of the Burren with some particular plant species, loads of old stone age forts, the Cliffs of Moher (sea birds on the sea stack there), Doolin Cave and stalactite and Aran Islands.
However in general the west coast of Ireland can be a challenge to navigate by public transport. Maybe with taxis added to the mix it can work OK. If you only end up making it to the Dublin environs, then you might like to go north to Newgrange passage tomb (much older than Stonehenge :-P), or more particularly, south to Wicklow Mountains National Park. Glendalough is a favourite destination there from which you can do a walk around the lake valley and see red deer.
Hope that helps. I figure you should get more and better feedback on the UK than I can provide. But I live in Kent, so feel free to give me a poke if you’re considering that region… (e.g. Stodmarsh National Nature Reserve is a good wetland for birds). :)
I haven’t explored these much as don’t have a car, but the one in walking distance to me is actually locked off to public. I can only access the edge of it. It’s also really not a general area I would recommend visiting on a whistle stop tour of UK and Ireland (ugly suburban wasteland basically).
There are over 1400 SSIs just in Scotland. But I guess if you are looking for something very specific perhaps you can find the correct SSI for that habitat (though I imagine for protected species like Adders their presence in SSIs would not be public domain information anyhow).
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) are areas designated by the government conservation agencies for protection. Some are geological, most are biological, and some are designated for both aspects. They are meant to protect the best examples of different habitats or important populations of particular species. So anyone’s land can be designated as an SSSI, whether they want it to be or not. Most nature reserves are SSSIs because the conservation bodies buying land for nature reserves are to some extent using the same criteria as the SSSI criteria. Many SSSIs are privately owned and there is not necessarily any right of access for the public. On the other hand, the huge network of public footpaths in England and Wales gives some access to many SSSIs. You won’t find SSSI boundaries shown on Ordnance Survey maps, but you can get them off websites: Lle.gov.wales for Wales and designatedsites.naturalengland.org.uk for England. I don’t find them very easy to use but that is probably my fault rather than the websites’.
But for a quick tour of UK wildlife sites, I would concentrate on the easily accessible ones - nature reserves of Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage (the three British government agencies) plus the charities National Trust, RSPB and county wildlife trusts rather than trying to negotiate access to SSSIs that are not open to the public.
Second Derbyshire/midlands, very nice natural areas
I also LOVEEEE Dartmoor, and Cornwall both. There are excellent places for searching for ammonites as well that I found many at. There is relatively easy access by bus to many spots, and one lovily thing about the UK is how very open access things are, you won’t get shot on all the public paths like you would wandering in the countryside in the US :) Pre-covid I used to go to the UK almost every year. I have some Dartmoor photos up on flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunguramy/albums/72157677199168195
Tamar Valley is gorgeous. Careful at old mine sites don’t assume water is good (arsenic and other heavy metals from old mining operations)
Make sure to get a Prima Pasty if your go to the SW! :D
If you have time in Ireland you should really try to get to the Burren in County Clare. A dramatic limestone karst landscape and a real botanical hotspot with many species not found elsewhere in the British Isles. You will be there at peak time. Lisdoonvarna and Ballyvaughan are good centres for accommodation. Getting around on public transport may be a bit of a challenge but there is information here on buses etc. https://www.burrengeopark.ie/discover-explore/transport-options/. A guided tour might be a good plan - this one https://www.heartofburrenwalks.com/tailor-made-walks looks good but I’m sure there would be others if you search.
I will add that to the list! I think he wants to spend a couple days in London so I should be able to make this work. Thank you!
Great! New Forest will be moved to the top of the list. Thank you for the website!
Actual days are leave the US April 25 landing on April 26 in Dublin. But quickly jumping to Glasgow on the 27th. Scotland adventure until May 11/12 then England. England will be May 12 to 25/26 and then back to Ireland. Ireland will be from the 26th of May to June 8 when we return to the States. I’m not rich so I am taking money into consideration and trying to stay on the cheaper side of things when able.
I believe Kent was a place we were looking at visiting when in Ireland. I don’t have my list of plans open in front of me just now. Killarney sounds familiar too with things we were thinking of doing. We will be in Dublin for a day or two so will add Newgrange Passage to the list of must see. Thank you so much!
This was a great list. Although I have no plans to visit the UK, I do like to know about the “what ifs.” It’s nice to know about more than the British Museum (Natural History) and Darwin’s historic home at Down.
Do you mean Cork? Kent is SE England.
Bear in mind that, sadly, Killarney National Park suffered extensive damage in a wildfire in April 2021: https://www.irishexaminer.com/news/munster/arid-40274054.html.