Unsurprisingly, given the ongoing uncertainty about foreign travel due to the pandemic, staycations are on the rise. We wildlife enthusiasts are also rethinking our plans and discovering that there is much more on our own door-step than we ever imagined.
From attending a Festival of British Wildlife in Scotland in May to a family seal snorkelling adventure in the Farne Islands, here are ten ideas to whet your appetite this spring and summer.
1. Festival of British Wildlife, Scotland
Join a team of expert photographers, naturalists and conservationists in the Scottish Highlands for a Festival of British Wildlife with Wildlife Worldwide (01962 302 086, wildlifeworldwide.com). Based at the 600-acre Aigas Estate west of Inverness, your days will be filled with talks and master classes (photography, wildlife, conservation projects) as well as boat trips and field trips into the surrounding forests, hills and glens. Regular sightings include pine martens, beavers, otters, bottlenose dolphins and both white-tailed and golden eagles. From £2,995 for eight days (May 21st–29th) including all meals, talks, expert guides and activities.
2. Wildlife Safaris, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire
Join naturalist, broadcaster and wildlife detective, Ed Drewitt, on the hunt for bats, deer, badgers, foxes, voles, mice, hedgehogs and wild boar in the Forest of Dean staying at the Tudor Farmhouse Hotel (01594 833046, tudorfarmhousehotel.co.uk).
You will visit sites often frequented by wild boar and their humbug-patterned boarlets. Spring and summer staycation packages cost from £627 for three nights including two dinners and breakfast. Private safaris with Ed can be booked with the hotel for £150 for up to 6 people (£25 for each additional person).
3. Yorkshire wildlife in Summer
This two-centre holiday takes in some of the most beautiful parts of both east and west Yorkshire along with some of its most iconic bird reserves. In late June and early July, Bempton Cliffs, an RSPB Nature Reserve, is teeming with breeding gannets, Atlantic puffin, razorbill, guillemot, kittiwake and fulmar. Watch from above and also from a boat below the cliffs. You will also visit Blacktoft Sands, North Cave Wetlands and the Yorkshire Wolds in search of red kites, otters and water voles. Seven nights with Speyside Wildlife (01479 812498, speysidewildlife.co.uk) costs from £1,1795 full board with guides.
4. Whales and dolphins of the Hebrides
See whales and dolphins on a mini-cruise along The Minch, the magical stretch of water between the Hebridean islands of Lewis and Harris, Skye, and the north-west mainland of Scotland with Naturetrek (01962 733051, naturetrek.co.uk). In summer, it offers rich feeding grounds with possible sightings of up to eight species of cetacean including minke whales and Risso’s dolphins. On the Shiant Islands, you will also see huge colonies of breeding seabirds, including puffin, fulmar, razorbill, kittiwake and great skua with possible sightings of white-tailed eagles and basking sharks. From £2,395 for seven days including five nights full board on the MV Monadhliath (July 3rd–9th).
5. Wildlife walking, Gower Peninsula, Wales
Famous for its beautiful beaches, heather-clad moors, and rugged coastline, this six-day walk with Exodus Travels (020 8772 3943, exodus.co.uk) takes in the top wildlife sites on the Gower Peninsula. Wander through the Whiteford Burrows Nature Reserve and the Llanrhidian Marsh SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and spot oystercatchers and turnstones among the rare marsh orchids and dune gentian. After Rhossili village and the famous ‘Worm’s Head’ tidal island, you will visit the Oxwich Burrows National Nature Reserve on the way to Three Cliffs Bay and the Mumbles lighthouse. From £799 half-board and the services of a tour leader.
6. Spring birding bonanza, Somerset
This three-day tour with Somerset Birdwatching Holidays (01934 712831, somersetbirdwatchingholidays.com) includes visits to the best locations in Somerset at the peak time for bird action (Apr–Jun). Based at Walls Farm, near Bristol, excursions include the Quantock Hills (pied flycatcher, wood warbler, redstart), Steart Marshes on the coast, as well as the famous Somerset Levels. You will have opportunities to see well over 100 different species including some memorable close-up views (hobbies, marsh harriers, great white egrets) and dawn chorus experiences. All the spring migrants will have arrived and be in full song. From £565 including accommodation, most meals and expert guides.
7. Snorkel with seals, Farne Islands
The Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast are home to one of the largest seal colonies in the UK as well as an abundance of other wildlife, including puffins. Staying at a choice of holiday cottages on the Northumberland coast through Crabtree & Crabtree (01573 226711, crabtreeandcrabtree.com) in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, both parents and children (aged nine upwards) will have the opportunity to snorkel with seals around the islands and join a coastal ‘surfari’ paddleboarding down the coast accompanied by a support boat. The View (sleeps six, dogs welcome), near Beadnell Bay, costs from £1,295 for seven nights in high summer.
8. Wildlife of the Scottish highlands
Your base for this seven-night wildlife experience in the Scottish Highlands is Alltshellach, a stately Scottish house on the shores of Loch Leven. Guided by an expert tour leader from HF Holidays (020 3974 8865, hfholidays.co.uk) you will go in search of pine marten, capercaillie, mountain hare, buzzard, golden eagles and the highly elusive Scottish wildcat, on land, while hoping to spot sea otters, harbour and grey seals on the coast. There will also be opportunities to visit the nearby Mamores mountains, Glen Coe and Ben Nevis. From £944pp full board plus guide, transport and boat hire (17th–24th July).
9. New Forest family wildlife safari
Discover the wildlife, flora and fauna of the New Forest staying in brand new (2021) African safari style tents at Green Hill Farm Holiday Village (0333 200 2790, lovatparks.com). The family-friendly tents sleep four adults and two children with a kitchen, dining area and wood-fired hot tub. On site, there is also a Wildlife Centre, a Wildlife Trail and a ranger who gives talks on bushcraft. Along with its famous ponies and deer, the New Forest is home to rare birds, butterflies and amphibians and has more than 40 walking trails. More info: thenewforest.co.uk.
10. Birders tour to Mull
Led by expert guides from Wildlife Tours and Education (01263 837038, wildlifetoursandeducation.co.uk), this seven-day tour goes in search of golden and white-tailed eagles, black and red-throated divers, corncrake, wood warblers, pied flycatcher, redstarts and many other birds on the island of Mull off the west coast of Scotland. There will also be opportunities to spot multiple species of whale, dolphin and basking sharks. The tour also takes in key birding locations in Lancashire and the Yorkshire Dales on the drive north. From £1,780pp full board including transport and guides (7th–13th May).