Winning tip: Rainham, Essex
Cuckoos, kingfishers, water voles, marsh harriers, seals and fantastic views from the coffee shop: inside the M25! Take a bow, Rainham RSPB reserve. A two-mile walk around the reserve (which is only a 20-minute stroll from Purfleet station) yields rich rewards, and even spectacular views of Eurostar trains. Spring is particularly noisy, with warblers of all sorts, and winter, with large flocks of lapwings and a gazillion ducks, is spectacular. There are also rare bearded tits, comfortable hides, simple walking, kids’ events and a great coffee shop with a small playground. The Thames views are wonderful: the sun filling the cafeteria, which has huge windows over the reserve and the river with basking seals, makes one forget the nearby big smoke.
Peak District, near Oldham, Greater Manchester
Dove Stone Reservoir on the edge of the Peak District is easily accessible from Manchester including by train (nearby Greenfield station is on the Huddersfield-Manchester Piccadilly line). A gentle 2½-mile loop around the reservoir makes for a delightful amble, with offshoots offering additional paths to extend your day out, such as a 1½-mile trail that leads up through the hills to Chew Reservoir. Bring a picnic, pop yourself down at one of the tables dotted around the tree-lined way, and keep an eye and an ear out for some fabulous birds at this RSPB protected reserve – look out for ravens, curlew, golden plover and peregrines. On the moors, mountain hares can be seen. It’s free to visit..
Readers’ tips competition: send a tip for a chance to win a £200 voucher
Every week we ask our readers for recommendations from their travels. A selection of tips will be featured online and may appear in print, and the best entry each week (as chosen by Tom Hall of Lonely Planet) wins a £200 voucher from hotels.com. To enter the latest competition visit the readers’ tips homepage
On the Levels: cider, crafts and cycling in Somerset
Six thousand years ago, Shapwick Heath, west of Glastonbury on the Somerset Levels, was home to neolithic people who built raised walkways to traverse the Avalon marshes. Today you can follow the ancient Sweet Track and listen to booming bitterns and watch great white egrets and marsh harriers hunting (in very different styles) and, later in the year, astonishing starling murmurations. Reed warblers and bearded tits also feature, and if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of an otter.
• Free, avalonmarshes.org
Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway
Threave Castle on the outskirts of Castle Douglas combines the opportunity to see plenty of wildlife with the excitement of taking a boat across the river to a 14th-century castle on an island in the River Dee. Ospreys, peregrines (which nest on the battlements, now closed) and many other bird species can be seen on the walk to the boarding point for the boat. Otters regularly hunt in the river. The castle was originally the home of Archibald the Grim, third Earl of Galloway, a fearsome warrior who regularly raided England.
• Adult £6, child (5-16) £3.60, historicenvironment.scot
Rathlin Island, Co Antrim
10 of the best activity holidays in Ireland
Head out by boat to Rathlin Island off the coast of Northern Ireland, which is home to both grey and common seals that can be found lazing about on the island’s shores. On the island, head off on one of eight signposted walks to try and spot the elusive golden hare (a genetic variation possibly unique to the island) or pay a visit to the captivating upside-down lighthouse which is home to an RSPB nature reserve (£5 adult, £2.50 for child). Indulge your inner twitcher and observe nesting guillemots, kittiwakes, and puffins. For the avid birdwatcher, Rathlin is providing a safe haven for a resurgence of rare choughs and corncrakes. Plus there is always the chance of spotting dolphins and whales on the ferry ride from Ballycastle (adult £12 return, child £6, rathlinballycastleferry.com).
Morecambe Bay, Cumbria
Cross Jubilee Bridge on to Walney Island and you have your choice of two great nature reserves: South Walney is home to a grey seal colony that you’ll be able to see at high tide. The staff gave my grandson an explorer pack which he loved and helped us not only spotting seals, but also the many species of birds. I couldn’t stop gazing at the amazing views across to Morecambe Bay. Then North Walney’s 350 acres comprise heath, sand dunes, salt marsh and scrubland, so the wildlife is really varied, from waders and wildfowl to deer, badgers, voles and extremely noisy – but hard to spot – natterjack toads.
• £3 adults, £1 child, cumbriawildlifetrust.org.uk
For a great escape and immersion with wildlife, camping on Canna, a National Trust-owned island off the west coast of Scotland – one of the Small Isles – has to be one of my memorable experiences. Sea eagles, skuas, golden eagles, seals, puffins, merlins and whales … it has them all. A three-hour ferry from Mallaig (adult £11.20 return, child £5.60, calmac.co.uk runs five days a week (not Tuesdays or Thursdays). Once you get there, it’s free apart from sampling the cafe and shop, and a warm welcome is always extended.
There’s wildlife right in the heart of our capital. Historic cemetery Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park (next to Mile End tube station) is a nature reserve and woodland teeming with wildlife – all wrapped up in the history of east London. Its 30 acres have 435 beetle species alone and add new species each year. Birds seen here include red kites, buzzards, tawny owls, all three UK woodpeckers and turtle doves – just a couple of miles from Shoreditch. Pick up a butterfly pamphlet and find your own, or join one of the many free walks and kids’ events discovering the local nature led by the once Come Dine with Me winner, Ken! This magical spot is free to enter.
Wild west Wales: beaches, birds and a brew
A three-mile boat trip off the coast of south-west Wales lies Caldey Island. Housing nine Cistercian monks, golden beaches and leafy woodland, the island has in recent years introduced red squirrels. It has no cars or grey squirrels, and invasive rats have been eradicated, so its an ideal location for the new arrivals. The colony has adapted and survived, and at £35 for a family ticket, visitors can spot the reds climbing up trees and nibbling on hazelnuts. Native trees are being planted to help the colony in the long term. Alongside its peacefulness and natural beauty, Caldey Island is also home to seals, puffins and St Kilda-descended soay sheep, which can be seen along the various coastal and woodland walks.
• Boat from Tenby £14 adult, child £7, caldeyislandwales.com
Near Buxton, Derbyshire
For wonderful UK Wildlife I take my children to Priestcliffe Lees, which is managed by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. It’s just off the Monsal Trail. A belt of beautiful, wild-flowered grassland meets a line of hazel trees and it’s perfect for spotting brown hares, who don’t burrow but instead shelter on the woodland edge. In spring they make “forms” (scooped shallow shelters) in the long grass to birth and care for leverets. You can also see bank voles and badgers, while among the species of bird to spot are green woodpeckers, redstarts and woodcocks, which you’re likely to find with their long beaks in the grass hunting for insects. Butterflies attracted to the flowers on these limestone hillsides include the dark green fritillary.
Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips
Source: Read Full Article