With a diverse landscape and an expansive coastline, Britain is teeming with varied wildlife. From giant basking sharks and playful bottlenose dolphins to comical puffins and hardy Shetland ponies, the UK is the perfect place to get up close to nature. Here, Musement reveals where to see Britain’s best wildlife:
1. Basking Sharks, Cornwall, England
One of the most mysterious creatures of the seas, the basking shark is the largest fish in the UK, and almost the world, second only to the whale shark. Despite their large size, basking sharks only feed on plankton, which they filter out of the water whilst swimming with their mouths wide open. Basking sharks are migratory, so they are usually only spotted in UK waters between the months of April and October. Found all around the UK coastline, they are most frequently seen around the South-West of England, Wales and West Coast of Scotland. For the best chance to get up close and personal with these gentle giants, take a boat trip from Cornwall.
2. Killer Whales, Orkney, Scotland
Orcas have been sighted all around the shores of Britain, but they are most frequently spotted in the north and west of the country. Even though Scotland has its own small resident pod of orcas, which can be commonly sighted around the Western Isles and Skye, Orkney and the Shetland Isles are considered the hotspots for sightings of transient pods. The transient pods travel from Iceland to the area during the summer months in pursuit of prey. You can fly to Orkney from many Scottish airports or take a ferry from mainland Scotland.
3. Bottlenose Dolphins, Cardigan Bay, Wales
Dolphins are common throughout British waters, but the stunning coastline of Cardigan Bay is one of the best places to see these playful animals in the wild. With more than 60 miles of coast, Cardigan Bay is home to one of the largest communities of bottlenose dolphins in the UK. Although there is no guarantee of sightings, May to November are the best months to catch a glimpse. Many whale and dolphin watching boat trips depart from the seaside town of New Quay in Cardigan Bay.
4. Grey Seal Colony, Blakeney Point, England
Blackeney National Nature Reserve is famous for its wildlife, especially for its large seal colonies at Blackeney Point. Due to the remoteness of the reserve, the lack of predators and limited disturbance, this area has become the largest breeding grey seal colony in England, with over 3,000 seal pups born each year. The best and safest way to see the seals is on a boat trip from either Blackeney Harbour or Morston Quay.
5. Atlantic Puffins, St Kilda, Scotland
One of the most remote places in the UK, St Kilda is in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The island is home to the UK’s largest colony of Atlantic Puffins, as well as many other seabird species which use the island as a breeding ground. The best time to visit is between mid-April and early August when the birds land on the island to raise their chicks. The island is uninhabited, but it can be explored on a day trip from the Isle of Harris or Skye. Short camping trips on the island are also permitted.
6. Reindeer, Cairngorms, Scotland
The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd is the UK’s only free-ranging herd of reindeer. Once native to Scotland, reindeers were reintroduced from Scandinavia in the 1950s and they have been thriving in the Cairngorm Mountain range ever since. There is currently around 150 in the herd, split over two locations to facilitate breeding. The Cairngorm Reindeer Herd Centre organises daily hill walks in search of the herd with a trained guide, where you can get up close to them. Keep your eyes peeled for the mountain hares too, they turn from brown to white in the winter to camouflage themselves against their snowy surroundings.
7. Wild Boar, Forest of Dean, England
Reintroduced to Britain in the 1980s, there are now several confirmed breeding populations in the UK. The best place to catch a glimpse of these animals in the wild is in the Forest of Dean, where there is believed to be a population of around 1,000. They can be pretty elusive creatures, only coming out at dusk and feeding throughout the night. Keep an eye out for large areas of disturbed soil, a tell-tale sign of wild boar presence.
8. Otters, Isle of Mull, Scotland
The Eurasian Otter is a semi-aquatic mammal and the only species of otter found in the UK. They will generally live anywhere that has a source of fresh water. This can sometimes include the coast, but they still require fresh water nearby. The Isle of Mull’s coastline is one of the most fool-proof areas to find them in the UK. Although they can be tricky to spot as they blend in with their surroundings, they can sometimes be found feeding or grooming on the rocks or resting amongst the seaweed at the shoreline.
9. Shetland Ponies, Shetland, Scotland
Shetland ponies have roamed the Shetland Isles since the Bronze Age. Used for pulling carts and ploughing the land, they were taken to mainland Scotland in the mid 19th century to carry coal in the mines. As you travel through Shetland today you will see lots of them grazing by the roadside. And although they may appear to be wild, the ponies are in fact all owned and tended to by local crofters. They are extremely hardy and remain outdoors even during the harsh winter.
10. Parakeets, London, England
Certainly not native to the UK, London is home to thousands of ring-necked parakeets. The origins of how they came to London is a mystery, and a few popular theories exist. Some say that the parakeets escaped from a filmset of The African Queen in 1951, others believe they escaped from damaged aviaries during the Great Storm in 1987, and there is even a theory that suggests a pair were released by Jimi Hendrix during the 1960s. Regardless of how they came to be, the population is thriving in the UK and the birds have now been seen much further afield than just the south of England.