Top 10 most extreme places to see wildlife in the British Isles

Feeling brave? Hate crowds? Here are 10 places that offer a really wild day out.
 
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Ben Nevis
© Ben Sheffield

 

1. Most northerly: Hermaness, Isle of Unst, Shetland (60° 50’ 14)

What's it like?

It feels as though it’s at the edge of the world. From the shore of Burra Firth, a path leads to a cliff edge that drops 170m at its highest point. The view across to the gannetry and the island of Muckle Flugga is spectacular.

When should I go?

This is a seabird destination, so May to the end of July is best. The star attractions are the piratical bonxies, or great skuas, which feed on other seabirds. 

What else might I see?

The 25,000 pairs of puffins are unmissable. Fulmars patrol the cliff edges, while snipe, golden plovers and red-throated divers nest in the blanket bog. Look out for common and Atlantic white-sided dolphins out to sea and porpoises in the firth.

Find out more:

Hermaness NNR ☎ 01595 693345; www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/hermaness/

 

 

2. Highest: Ben Nevis, Lochaber, Scotland (1,344m above sea level)

What's it like? 

Not only is this Britain’s biggest mountain, it is also very steep, especially on the dizzying cliffs that guard its northern rim. Even the ‘tourist path’ from Glen Nevis is arduous, and dangerous in fog, rain, gale or snow.

When should I go?

Late May to October is the time to see some of the mountain’s summer bird visitors, including wheatears and ring ouzels. Meadow pipits are common and ptarmigan use the boulder fields towards the summit.

What else might I see?

Watch for dippers and grey wagtails along the River Nevis at the start of the walk. The lower slopes are often squelchy, so bog plants such as butterwort, sundews and sphagnum mosses add splashes of colour. Clear days give mind-boggling panoramas from the upper levels.

Find out more:

Ben Nevis Visitor Centre ☎ 01397 705922; www.outdoorcapital.co.uk

 

 

3. Wettest: Ben Ime, Argyll, Scotland

What's it like? 

It’s a modest-sized mountain, but route finding and rock scrambling are tricky in the region’s legendary wet weather. When the rain does cease, the views across the Loch Lomond National Park and towards the sea at Loch Fyne are superb.

When should I go?

In summer swarms of midges can quite literally be a real pain, so opt for spring or autumn ascents. Resident golden eagles might soar at any time and, come October, the bellowing of red deer stags gives these hills a wild soundtrack.

What else might I see?

Red squirrels, roe deer and buzzards in the woods if you ascend from Butterbridge. Approach from Inveruglas for dippers along the burns, or from Succoth for porpoises at sea.

Find out more:

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park ☎ 01389 722600; www.lochlomond-trossachs.org

 

 

4. Windiest: Malin Head, Co Donegal, Eire (a 168kmph gust was recorded in 2008)

What's it like?

Ireland’s second most northerly point might jut out into the Atlantic like a thumb pointing to Iceland, but it’s not necessarily cold. “If you listen to the forecast,” says local wildlife expert Paddy McCrossan, “you might never go out, but a lot of the bad weather passes us by.”

When should I go?

Some 1,500 barnacle geese overwinter on or around Malin Head, and spring brings corncrakes from Africa. Choughs are doing well here, too – McCrossan says he has seen a single flock of 120 in the nearby Trawbreaga Estuary.

What else might I see?

Basking sharks are common in summer, and even belugas – the creamy white whales more commonly associated with the Arctic – have been recorded. Gannets are regular visitors but breed further south, while come autumn, Manx shearwaters fly past en route to South America.

Find out more:

www.inishowenwildlifeclub.com; www.malinhead.ie

 

 

5. Most westerly: Great Blasket Island, Eire (-10° 32’ 49”)

What's it like?

Inhabited until 1953, the main island in the beautiful Blasket chain just off the Kerry coast is only 2km from the Dingle peninsula, but it can be rendered invisible by the region’s notoriously poor weather.

When should I go?

The boat from the mainland runs from Easter until October if the seas permit. But no landing stage means a bit of a scramble on arrival.

What else might I see?

Once up on the ridge that serves as the island’s spine (past the abandoned cottages), you’ll be in the company of skylarks and rabbits, and serenaded by the chipping ringtones of choughs. But the view from the top (if there is one that day) will take your breath away as you gaze across to the other islands and the rocky cliffs and silver beaches of Kerry’s long coastline.

Find out more:

Dingle Peninsula Tourism: www.dingle-peninsula.ie

 

 

6. Lowest: Holme Fen NNR, Cambridgeshire (3m below sea level)

What's it like?

The surrounding farmland is now actually lower by a few centimetres, but here at the westerly end of the East Anglian fens, that sunken feeling certainly remains.

When should I go?

Autumn, when it’s home to more than 500 species of fungi. “The colour of the trees against the black soil is dramatic at that time,” says site manager Alan Bowley. “It’s like walking through a cathedral, with the birch trees as pillars.”

What else might I see?

Daubenton’s bats and cormorants live around the meres, and noctule bats roost in the birch trees. Buzzards and red kites thrive here, while winter brings large flocks of varied wildfowl. Eighteen dragonfly species compete for airspace, alongside comma, white admiral and small copper butterflies.

Find out more:

Holme Fen NNR: ☎ 01487 812363; www.naturalengland.org.uk

 

 

7. Most easterly: Ness Point, Lowestoft, Suffolk (1° 45’ 48”)

What's it like?

This is where the North Sea first bumps into the UK. The industrial setting makes it an exposed, bleak place, but the most striking feature is how adjacent the Broads National Park and the sea are here, offering a total contrast in wildlife habitats.

When should I go?

September and October are best for seabird watching, with shearwaters, gannets and skuas cruising on the strong northerly breezes. Migrating Siberian thrushes often make their first landfall here. There’s also a colony of 300–400 kittiwakes in Lowestoft harbour.

What else might I see?

In the three nearby fenland reserves, look out for marsh harriers, bearded tits, barn owls and perhaps a skulking Cetti’s warbler, along with the Broads’ rare summer plants, including marsh pea, bogbean and bog pimpernel.

Find out more:

Suffolk WT ☎ 01473 890089; www.suffolkwildlife.co.uk

 

 

8. Driest: Hunsdon Mead, Hertfordshire 

What's it like?

Hunsdon Mead is a great and sadly rare example of a lowland hay meadow that lies ungrazed between March and August. It may not be extreme but it is special.

When should I go?

Mainly a spring/early summer destination with a wide diversity of wildflowers. One particular speciality is the green-winged orchid, but, says Hunsdon’s volunteer warden Barry Edgeworth, “the spectacle of buttercups and cowslips covering the whole of the 68-acre meadow must be seen.”

What else might I see?

Go now to spot winter visitors such as snipe, fieldfares, redwings and lapwings, while breeding birds include buzzards and sparrowhawks. The adjacent River Stort is a good breeding ground for dragonflies.

Find out more:

Hertfordshire WT ☎ 01727 858901; www.hertswildlifetrust.org.uk

 

 

9. Sunniest: Shanklin, Isle of Wight 

What's it like?

This is one of the most important places for rockpool species on the south coast. Soft cliffs plunge to important reefs for marine wildlife, containing species from both the North Sea and the Channel.

When should I go?

The first two weeks of May are best for the chalk woodlands of Eaglehead and Bloodstone Copses, when the bluebells chime and the parasitic toothwort flowers in large numbers.

What else might I see?

Look for barn owls and bullfinches in the nature reserve, along with warblers such as blackcaps. The hazel coppice hosts a population of red squirrels, while the small area of chalk grassland supports a variety of butterflies such as the brown argus and chalkhill blue.

Find out more:

Hampshire & Isle of Wight WT ☎ 01489 774400; www.hwt.org.uk

 

 

10. Most southerly: St Agnes, Isles of Scilly (49° 52’ 57”)

What's it like?

For a sense of the sea’s awe-inspiring presence, head for the granite heathland of Wingletang, which is exposed to hearty Atlantic gales and buckets of sea spray. Here you’ll find tiny rare ferns such as the least adder’s tongue.

When should I go?

In the spring, you’ll see colonies of nesting shags, lesser black-backed gulls and roseate terns all around the island, and mid-May is good for flowers such as the dwarf pansy on the wind-pruned heathlands.

What else might I see?

Keep an eye out for basking sharks, minke whales, dolphins, porpoises and sunfish. Annet Island, uninhabited and lying to the west of St Agnes, is the only place in England where you’ll find breeding storm petrels.

Find out more:

Isles of Scilly WT ☎ 01720 422153; www.ios-wildlifetrust.org.uk

 

 

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