Escape the crowds to roam some of the UK’s most beautiful natural landscapes – and encounter wild wonders from rare orchids to soaring eagles
The editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine takes us on a tour of 7 places to see some of our most sensational wildlife
The Forest of Dean
New Fancy View and Nagshead Nature Reserve
Imagine looking out over a sea of trees with almost no sign of humans. Climb New Fancy View – a mining spoil heap-turned observation tower – and you get a 360° view of forest canopy where unusual bird species such as crossbills and hawfinches flit among the more common woodland species.
Come here in early spring and you’ll witness goshawks and buzzards performing courtship dances high above the trees. For more intimate forest encounters, explore the RSPB’s Nagshead Reserve near Coleford in April and May for an enchanting chorus of woodland birds among the oaks, including migrants such as pied flycatchers, redstarts and wood warblers.
As you explore the Forest, you might wonder who has roughly ploughed the grass verges. This is the work of wild boar. Look down the wide forest rides around Speech House at dusk and you might spot them passing through.
St Agnes and surrounding area
A typical Cornish cliff-top and beach experience – and that means wildlife galore. Great cushions of thrift, studded with orchids and vetches grace the coastal paths, attracting butterflies and bees. Southern facing banks are home to common lizards, adders and slow worms while you may hear the searing shriek of peregrines nesting below.
The avian highlight however if the sea crow – the chough – most noticeable for its blood-red legs and curved bill. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the sea. Seals and harbour porpoises lurk all year round but in high summer mighty basking sharks cruise close to the shore. And when the tide’s out, head to the beach for rockpooling.
The Lake District
While parts of the Lake District can feel crowded with visitors, humans have taken a step back at Ennerdale and let nature decide its own future. Rivers and woodlands in this valley on the northwestern edge of the Lake District National Park have been allowed to run wild, while non-native conifers have been removed. Selective grazing by cattle opens up the landscape while sheep numbers have been reduced.
Red deer, otters, pine martens and red squirrels thrive along with 100 species of bird, though perhaps the greatest success is the reintroduction of the marsh fritillary butterfly. Visit the valley to see the Lake District at its wildest.
Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons
Glorious wildflower-filled grasslands are a rare sight in southern Britain but these 350 hectares are a summer delight. Managed by the National Trust – which involves year-round grazing by 500 cattle to keep invasive scrub at bay – the commons support 13 species of orchids, the rare pasque flower as well as cowslips and many more beautiful but declining species.
This floral carnival attracts a host of butterflies – most thrillingly the Adonis blue and the jewel-like Duke of Burgundy. Add in a chorus of skylarks, intriguing Iron Age earthworks and inspiring views over the Severn Valley.
Kenfig Pool National Nature Reserve
Surprisingly little known, Kenfig Pool near Bridgend is a natural freshwater lake set amid a riot of woodland and sand dunes on the South Wales coast. A valuable stopping point for migrating birds, the clear waters of the lake are remarkably pure – and support huge numbers of freshwater fish such as rudd and pike.
They are also a haven for dragonflies and other aquatic life. Delicate and lovely orchid species light up the dunes, including 90 per cent of the UK’s super-rare fen orchids. Other handsome wildflower highlights include autumn gentians, viper’s buglos and sea holly. In winter, look for bitterns among the rich cast of wildfowl sheltering on the lake.
Sandlings and shingle
Explore secret Suffolk, a land of coastal heaths, woodland and shingle where rare wildlife abounds. This is a stronghold of adders, fluting woodlarks and the mysterious nightjar. The latter’s eerie churring call curdles the dusk.
Hares box in the arable fields further inland, turtle doves purr in the hedgerows and nightingales sing from the scrub in early May. But the unmissable jewel in the crown is the RSPB’s Minsmere Nature reserve – which seems to blend all of Suffolk’s varied landscapes into one intense wildlife hit.
Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park
This is Scotland in miniature, a land of wooded hills, sparkling lochs and beguiling glens. Otters fish in the rivers though you are more likely to see ospreys plunge-diving to catch trout from the lochs. Red and roe deer stalk the woods, red squirrels are commonly seen around the region’s villages, and there’s a special viewing hide at the Lodge Forest Visitor Centre.
Keep an eye on the sky – with luck you’ll spot a golden eagle soaring high in search of hares and rabbits.