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Free Spirits Guide to Wildlife Watching in the UK

Wildlife watching provides an opportunity to sit back and immerse ourselves in nature. Is there an animal you’d like to watch; like a rare bird, nocturnal creature, or an insect?

Make a start by observing what’s in your garden and watch the wildlife who live outside your home. Although the temperature has dropped and the days are shorter you may be surprised by what you see.

To help you start noticing the most timid creatures, we’ve created this guide to help. Plus, what to wear and when. Whether you’re happy wildlife watching in your garden, or book a long weekend away, pick up your binoculars and get ready to observe some wildlife.

How do I start wildlife watching?

First, find the right wildlife watching equipment. Whatever your location, even if it is just your front room or the end of your street, you’ll need the right wildlife watching supplies.

Which is the best wildlife watching equipment?

  • A camera trap is a wireless, digital camera, connected to an infrared sensor. It can “see” warm objects (animals) that come into contact with its sensor. When it sees an object it will record footage of the animal, which you can playback later. They might be used for conservation projects but you can also purchase them for home use and control them via your smartphone app.
  • Night Vision Kit are also useful if you’re watching wildlife after dark, at home, or within a nature reserve. Choose from night vision monoculars and binoculars, which have versatile night vision units. To enable you to see wildlife easily and at a distance, they have infrared (IR)-sensitive CMOS sensors and micro LCD screens.
  • Thermal imaging kits are the next level up when it comes to wildlife watching gear! They worked for James Bond and they can work for you too. They’ll give you the visibility to spot owls and deer at a distance, despite the animal’s visual camouflage. The digital camera can provide you with an image because it can sense infrared radiation (emitted heat) and translate it into a visual.

Once you have picked your equipment, next think about what to wear…

What’s the best clothing to wear?

Apart from warm clothing such as gloves, socks, and fleeces, the items below will be useful for wildlife watching, when you need to blend in with nature or walk safely during dusk and in the darkness.

Clothing for wildlife watching: 

owl watching

  • Wildlife watching hides. A hide is a lightweight bag that you can hide in, to spot wildlife. The best ones are waterproof, windproof, and help you to camouflage in the wilderness. You can also use some of them as a poncho when walking or sit within them to shield yourself from the elements.
  • Camouflaged clothing such as a jacket, trousers, and hat.
  • Sturdy waterproof footwear for all weathers.
  • A head torch, if you’re out in the darkness, so you can see your footing and manage your equipment at ease.

With all the wildlife watching gear and clothing to choose from you’re almost ready to go!

If you’re looking for a particular type of bird though, you may want to train your ears. Luckily the RSPB website has an easy resource for you to identify each bird you hear or see.

When is the best time to go wildlife watching in the UK?

The UK’s wildlife can be watched at any time of the year. However, not all wildlife is on show throughout each season. So just decide where you want to explore and appreciate what you do spot.

Where can I see wildlife in the UK all year round?

  • Visit saltmarshes and estuaries in autumn and winter to see ducks, geese, swans, and waders.
  • Along the coasts, you can watch bird migrations in the spring and autumn.
  • Within urban parks, where crows, magpies, and squirrels can be spotted and both hedgehogs and foxes live. In leafy parks, you may also see deer!
  • Discover ancient and unusual trees, which are the homes of squirrels and dormice.
  • Rockpools are the perfect environment for the skulking crab, white starfish, blooms of sea anemone, and shrimp.

When you think about it, you might not need to travel far to do wildlife watching. The right location maybe your garden or park! To get an idea check out the Wildlife Trust website. If you see a wildlife sighting that you’d like to report, visit the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) website to do so. Not sure what the species is? Visit the woodland trust website for more help.

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Where can I go on a wildlife watching tour in the UK?

  • The Isle of Mull, West Scotland

Visit the magical Isle of Mull and the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, located in Lochaber. Renowned as remote, the Isle of Mull is home to Otters, Hen Harriers, Red Deer, and White-tailed Eagles. Go on the Mull Nature Expedition which includes short walks, where you can learn about the habitats of the wildlife of Mull.

  • Collard Hill, Somerset

To watch the flutter of the rarest species of butterfly in the UK, visit the National Trust Reserve at Collard Hill. Since disappearing from sight in the 1970s, you can now catch a glimpse of the Large Blue butterfly within quiet spots along the Glastonbury Tor. You can also book a birds and butterfly tour during the warmer months.

  • Norfolk in Winter 

In winter, go on a wildlife photography safari tour. Escape to Norfolk’s biodiverse Coastline to look out for Barn and Tawny Owls by night and seal pups and pink-footed geese by day! Tuition and flash equipment can also be provided by professional, wildlife photographer David Tipling. The area has a lot of photographic potential and so do you! Visit beaches, David’s woodland hide, and Norfolk’s National Parks for some wildlife photography inspiration.

wildlife watching

Wildlife Watching Hikes

Go for a wildlife-watching hike by visiting one of the UK’s nature reserves. Seek out Britain’s best wildlife in meadows, wetlands, ancient woodlands, moorland, heathlands, around the coast, and mountains. With 224 nature reserves to choose from you should be able to find one not far from home.

The best places to go for a wildlife watching hike in the UK:

  • Pembrokeshire, Wales; where you can find the small island of Skomer. Skomer’s bay provides a shelter for puffins, seals, and bluebells when you visit between 1st April and 30th September.
  • The Bystock Nature Reserve, Devon; which is a patchwork of lily ponds, heaths, and open meadows. With the Jurassic Coast in the distance, you can greet the great spotted woodpecker and dragonflies.
  • Lindisfarne, Northumberland; where you can take in views of the North Sea. Much of it is mudflats and marshlands but this provides the perfect home for geese, ducks, and shorebirds.
  • Smardale Gill in The Peak District has a limestone landscape, which has been the home to sheep for centuries. Among its hamlets and villages, you can also spot red squirrels and wild birds such as aquatic denizens and nuthatches.
  • BEES Urban Nature Reserve Bradford, Yorkshire; has existed since 1990. An area with contrasts. On one hand, it’s historically associated with Britain’s industrial past. On the other, it’s a relaxing spot where you can observe dragonflies and damselflies.

If you choose to plan a hiking or trekking adventure in a group, be rest assured that Free Spirit will cover you for hikes between 3,001 and 4,000m, at an additional premium (activity pack 4). However, if that sounds a bit too challenging, you can always find shorter walks by visiting the Wildlife Trust website. for a route. Once you have decided where you want to spot wildlife, find yourself a wildlife retreat to rest in during your wild weekend away.

wildlife watching tour in Pembrokeshire

The top Wildlife retreats and cottages in the UK

  • Secluded Shepard’s Huts in Dorset. Sleep in a Shepherd’s hut near the Jurassic Coast. Surrounded by fruit trees within an area of outstanding natural beauty, you’re sure to wake to the sound of birdsong.
  • Woodlands retreats in Norfolk; for a fairy-tale hideaway opt for a treehouse or bell tent in Norfolk’s woodland. Although small, a boutique glamping site can offer you all the facilities you require, as well as the warmth of a wood-burning stove or BBQ. At dusk, go wildlife watching from your treehouse!
  • Luxury self-catering holidays cottages in Devon;  if you prefer to take all your home comforts away with you. Watch the wildlife from your doorstep while staying in a charming cottage. Sit back and take in views of wooded glades, mighty moorlands, and rolling green pastures with fluffy sheep.
  • Lodges in Cumbria; for a tranquil backdrop in a remote location. Stop in at one of the Lake Districts’ beauty spots at a warm lake house or lodge. Full of traditional furnishings, it will be a nice welcome after a day searching for red squirrels, deer, and otters along the lakes.

There are many benefits of wildlife watching too…

The Benefits of Wildlife Watching

We have a natural human desire to be close to wildlife. Wildlife watching also offers essential benefits for our well-being too.

deer at night

  • After spending time close to nature it has been reported that you can concentrate better (Attention Restoration Theory).
  • Watching wildlife in a natural environment can help you relax and recover from fatigue.
  • When we watch nature we remove ourselves from the socially constructed fast pace of life and are left in stillness to enjoy the natural world.
  • As we focus all our thoughts and actions on our encounters with wildlife, it provokes a deep feeling of well-being, spiritual fulfillment, and psychological health benefits.

What should also be noted is that the long-term advantage of preserving wildlife is not just so we can watch. Through conservation projects, initiatives can be put in place to protect human health. The Conservation International Reports tell us that “more than 50% of modern medicines and more than 90% of traditional medicines come from wild plants and animals”. So we should spend some time watching and appreciating wildlife when we have the opportunity to do so.

We hope we’ve provided you with everything you need to know to get set and go wildlife watching! Don’t forget that if you need to cut your break short or cancel unexpectedly, Free Spirit UK Travel Insurance will provide you with cancellation and curtailment cover if needed.

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