Countryside and coastal holidays are a great way to experience British wildlife and now’s the time to start thinking about the coming year. Amateur naturalist Steve Wright shares his tips and experience of planning a trip – and how to get the most out of it …
Once a year I’ll try and go on a British wildlife holiday. It’s an opportunity to recharge my batteries, relax in fresh air, stimulate my senses and explore new places.
'The season and the intended wildlife watching need to be a happy marriage of ideas'
The date of my holiday is usually determined by work commitments. As soon as I know the dates I can escape, I start researching regions to visit. You wouldn’t plan a British skiing holiday in summer, or go sunbathing by the seaside in winter. The same thought process should apply when planning your wildlife holiday; the season and the intended wildlife watching need to be a happy marriage of ideas.
If it’s autumn there’s potential for an adrenaline fuelled red deer rut in Scotland. Winter could reward you with starling murmurations or waders swirling along the Norfolk coast. Summer is a great time to be in the Dorset and Hampshire heathlands with scurrying lizards and fizzing crickets. Most of the countryside is beautiful and flourishing in spring. I love spring and that’s why I’ll usually choose May or June for my adventures.
Next, I’ll decide which lucky village or town will be blessed with my custom (they might see this quite differently). I’m not a fan of busy cities, but I also want to go out in the evenings. I won’t stay anywhere which requires a 10-mile hike to get to the local pub.
Before booking any accommodation, I’ll check online for nearby RSPB, National Trust or Wildlife Trust reserves. If there are no reserves in the vicinity, I’ll look elsewhere. I enjoy a bit of culture and history in addition to wildlife. Therefore, places like Orkney, Shetland or Northumbria are all perfect destinations for me, because they tick a lot of boxes for both natural and human history.
'There are so many wonderful locations to visit in the British Isles'
Based on these requirements, the choice is certainly not limited, in fact it’s still vast. There are so many wonderful locations to visit in the British Isles. I’m excited just thinking about all the possibilities. Even though I’m well-travelled, there are hundreds of regions for me to still explore and new wildlife spectacles to discover.
Once the accommodation is booked, I’ll create itineraries for each day and put it on a spreadsheet, usually with two or three reserves to visit each day, including some rainy-day options. Once I’m on holiday, I’ll completely ignore the spreadsheet and make it up as I go along.
With departure day looming, I’ll decide what to pack in my suitcase. You might expect me to list essential items for a wildlife adventure, for example; binoculars, long lens camera, waterproofs and insect repellent. However, all the above items are ones I’ve forgotten to take in the past. Despite their absence, I’ve still had wonderful wildlife holidays, so don’t get too worried about the kit you take.
There are many wonderful locations to visit in the British Isles | Steve Wright
Eventually it’s holiday time and you’ve arrived at your accommodation, perhaps in a friendly coastal village or a quiet rural town. You’ve sampled the local pub and tomorrow is the first full day of your trip. My primary suggestion is to set your alarm to go off early. You might think this is a crazy idea – surely holidays are all about lazing about in bed. However, I always try and rise with the lark (admittedly I occasionally fail in this endeavour and switch off my alarm immediately when it sounds).
'Wildlife is mostly influenced by daylight and many species stir at dawn'
An early start has nothing to do with beating the rush hour traffic or getting to breakfast before the other guests. It’s about seeing as much wildlife as possible, because nature doesn’t schedule itself by human clocks. Wildlife is mostly influenced by daylight and many species stir at dawn and immediately go into action, which during summer can be very early. If you arrive at a reserve during mid-afternoon you could have missed out on all the good stuff. However, it’s important to check your first nature reserve has 24-hour access. You don’t want to arrive at 6am and find you’re locked out.
Once inside the reserve, try and locate an information board and note the species you might encounter. Take a photo on your phone of the reserve’s map (you might want to refer to it later if you become lost). If you encounter reserve staff, go for a chat and find out what’s to see. I’m never afraid to speak to strangers at reserves, they usually love discussing the natural world.
Take your time in nature reserves. I plod along – I don’t race-walk. I stop and study anything I see, hear or smell. Anything I can’t identify or understand immediately will be researched later online and my knowledge subsequently becomes richer.
Most importantly, while out in nature, try and avoid causing disturbance. The best wildlife encounters are always the ones when the subject of your interest is unaware of your presence.
I hope these tips help you get the most from your British countryside holidays, there’s so many wonderful and beautiful places to visit with lots to discover. Enjoy!
About Steve Wright
Steve Wright’s book Wild Enthusiasm is available from all good bookshops or directly from the publisher (Merlin Unwin).