Great summer wildlife guide: What to spot in British nature reserves
These 20 beautiful locations are home to rare birds and beasts. Chosen by the Wildlife Trusts
Allt Rhongyr, Brecon Beacons PowysWhat to spotBilberry bumblebees
This picturesque hilltop has dramatic views over the River Tawe and across the Brecon Beacons. There are carpets of wildflowers, including yellow rock rose, and if you look carefully you might see goldfinches feeding their fluffy fledglings. The reserve is home to bilberry bumblebees, also called mountain bumblebees. Ripening bilberries are turning from pink to inky blue at this time of year — the plants feed and shelter the bees, which make nests in their base. brecknockwildlifetrust.org.uk
Howe Ridding Wood Cumbria What to spot High brown fritillary
Much of this rich, ancient woodland reserve, between Kendal and Grange-over-Sands, has its roots in carboniferous limestone, creating terraces and crags where plants can thrive, including the Lancastrian whitebeam. Ash, birch and oak trees grow in the richer soil, towering over a diverse range of delicate plants, including the striking, dark-red helleborine, an orchid with blossoms that give off the scent of vanilla. Nuthatches can be spotted in the trees, and ravens can be seen flying high over the crags. Butterflies thrive in the sunny glades created by coppicing, including the high brown fritillary, Britain’s most-threatened butterfly.
Listen out for hen harriers at Dalby Mountain Moorland
Dalby Mountain Moorland Isle of Man What to spot Hen harrier
By late July this moorland in the heart of the Manx Southern Hills is in full flower. Swathes of cotton grass, western gorse and heather coat the landscape in colour. Walking through this beautiful heathland you can hear the calls of meadow pipits, ravens, choughs and peregrines. Look out for hen harriers: males are sleek and grey, females brown with a distinctive barred tail. manxwt.org.uk
Snipe Dales Country Park & Nature Reserve Lincolnshire What to spot Willow tits
Snipe Dales, in the Lincolnshire Wolds, is a beautiful example of a rare chalk-stream habitat. In summer dragonflies and damselflies dart over the surface of the waters, while buzzards soar over the open grassland of the nature reserve. This is a special place for willow tits, whose numbers have suffered a sharp decline in recent years.
Snipe Dales Country Park, Lincolnshire
Knapdale Forest Argyll What to spot Beavers
Set in the heart of Argyll, Knapdale Forest has Atlantic woodlands clad in flourishing lichens, beautiful coastlines, hills, glens and lochs. Home to some outstanding Scottish wildlife, including red squirrels and ospreys, this wild and remote spot also shelters one of Britain’s rarest mammals, the Eurasian beaver. They are easiest to spot at dawn or dusk, but you can also look out for signs of their presence, such as their dams.
Potteric Carr Nature Reserve South Yorkshire What to spot Bitterns
Potteric Carr is a wonderful mosaic of wetland, woodland and meadow. The reserve is home to more than 230 species of bird. Over the hundreds of ducks you may spot a kingfisher or a great crested grebe. Bitterns, once extinct in the UK, bred here for the first time in 2014. It is possible to see them, although they are fantastically well camouflaged, their golden-brown flecked plumage blending in perfectly as they hunt among the dense reeds.
Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve Essex What to spot Turtle doves One of the wildest landscapes in the county, Fingringhoe is a mix of woodland, meadows, ponds and salt marsh, with a spectacular view over the Colne Estuary towards Mersea Island. When late summer arrives the saltmarsh becomes a carpet of soft purple as sea lavender blooms, and the new tidal wetland comes alive with migrant wading birds and wildfowl. While the song of the turtle dove is disappearing from our countryside, you can still hear this evocative sound at Fingringhoe Wick in the summer. Dead branches are the favourite calling post for this bird, a relative of the less-colourful collared dove.
Greenham Common Berkshire What to spot Dartford warbler
In late summer the heathland at Greenham Common is transformed into a magnificent carpet of purple and pink heathers. Reptiles, including adders, bask by day, and at dusk nightjars — whiskery nocturnal birds — emerge to hunt insects. Listen for the rattling song of the Dartford warblers. It’s easy to tell them by their distinctive red eye-ring — you can spot them sitting on gorse bushes.
Hauxley Nature Reserve Northumberland What to spot Tree sparrow
This nature reserve is one of a chain of five along the spectacular seven-mile Druridge Bay. Once an open-cast mine, it’s now a lake with a number of islands. The reserve has an accessible trail taking in wildlife hides, but before you start, pause in the car park. There you’ll see tree sparrows, a species that has suffered a huge decline in numbers in the rest of the country, but which is benefiting from the planting done in this area.
Carlton Marshes Suffolk What to spot Fen raft spiders Carlton Marshes, in the Waveney Valley, has an abundant mix of wetland habitats. At this time of year look out for juvenile lapwings and redshanks, their alarm calls ringing out whenever the shadow of a marsh harrier soars overhead. Among the flower-filled dykes you may see fen raft spiders running across the water. The spider hunts above and beneath the water, catching prey as big as stickleback fish.
Sandwich and Pegwell Bay Kent What to spot Sand lizards This massive expanse of windswept coastal wildness incorporates sand dunes, mudflats, salt marsh and shingle beach — all home to an astonishing range of wild plants and animals. In high summer the salt marsh glows with golden samphire. The open sand and grass ridges of the dunes are perfect for sand lizards and the endangered natterjack toad. You can recognise male sand lizards because of their bright green flanks.
Water voles are the stars at Magor Marsh
Magor Marsh Gwent What to spot Water vole
In the heart of the vast, historic Gwent Levels, Magor Marsh’s grid of medieval waterways — known as reens — are full of wildlife. Dragonflies hover over pink, ragged robin flowers and golden-yellow lesser spearwort. The star of the show, though, is the water vole. Listen for the sound of one chewing on a reed stem, or, if you tread lightly, catch sight of one eating on a raft.
Upton Broad and Marshes Norfolk What to spot Norfolk hawker
Even on the well-maintained paths this woodland, in the Bure Valley, feels completely wild, full of the sound of the late-summer songbirds. The real jewels of Upton Broad, however, are the dragonflies. More than 20 species have been recorded here, including the Norfolk hawker. This large, brown dragonfly with bright green eyes is found only in wetlands in Norfolk and Suffolk.
Longhaven Cliffs Aberdeenshire What to spot Harbour seal Walk along a path that winds around the granite cliffs of the Buchan coastline. At this time of year the site is filled with pink and blue wildflowers. Keep an eye out for puffins perched
on the cliffs and harbour seals basking on the rocks — this species has experienced a recent and dramatic decline in the east of Scotland. Farther out to sea you may catch a glimpse of whales and dolphins.
Tiddesley Wood Worcestershire What to spot Noble chafer beetles
Worcestershire Wildlife Trust bought Tiddesley Wood, near Pershore, with the aim of restoring it to its full glory as a semi-natural ancient woodland. It has a diverse range of habitats, with woodland of different ages supporting a variety of life. Wildflowers thrive in the glades, providing food for white admiral butterflies, while violet helleborines flower in the shade of the older trees. The orchard at the main entrance, now managed for wildlife, is the best place in Britain to find the noble chafer beetle. Look out for this glittering green insect as it feeds on meadowsweet.
Windmill Farm Nature Reserve Cornwall What to spot Small pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies
Set on Cornwall’s beautiful Lizard Peninsula, this 210-acre farm’s wide array of habitats are home to a huge variety of plant, bird and insect life. If you follow the boardwalk trail through wet woodland you can spot speckled wood butterflies and listen out for the willow warbler’s song. On the specially created ponds look out for newts drifting beneath the surface. Look out too for the colourful flash of small pearl-bordered fritillaries feeding on the pale lilac marsh violets — these beautiful butterflies have undergone a severe decline in England.
Longis Nature Reserve Alderney, Channel Islands What to spot Blonde hedgehog Walk up from the sands of Longis beach and head for the big brambly hedge — there you’ll find the home of the blonde hedgehog. At this time of year the parents can be seen out feeding with their hoglets. About 60 per cent of the hedgehogs on Alderney have blond spines, a genetic quirk.
They have pink, as opposed to black, noses.
Sydenham Hill Wood is home to the endangered stag beetle
Sydenham Hill Wood London What to spot Stag beetles
The Great North Wood once grew across a large slice of south London. Much has been lost, but London Wildlife Trust is raising awareness of the wildlife-rich parts of it that remain in places such as Streatham Common, Sydenham Hill Wood and Crystal Palace Park. Look out for Britain’s largest land beetle, the globally endangered stag beetle.
Clunton Coppice Clun Valley, Shropshire What to spot Pine marten
A single track cuts through the ancient oak woods of Clunton Coppice, where the trees are full of wood warblers and pied flycatchers. Dawn or dusk are the best times to catch a sight of the elusive pine marten. Watch for a flash of a yellow bib or dark brown coat as it forages on the forest floor or emerges from a temporary den in the hollows of old trees.
Meeth Quarry Devon What to spot Wood white butterflies
If you walk along the wide tracks of Meeth Quarry, just north of Hatherleigh, you can clearly see signs of its industrial heritage. A landscape carved from clay, dominated by two wide expanses of water, it is a great example of how nature can reclaim the land. Look out for damselflies hovering over the lakes and ditches, and many species of butterfly in the grass and woodland areas. If you are lucky you will see the wood white, a dainty butterfly whose numbers are declining in other parts of the country because of changes in woodland management.