Travel UK: More Escapes: Nature Reserves In The South-West

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The Independent Culture
1. St Catherine's Hill

North Christchurch, Dorset. 01202 495043

Dorset heathland and pine forestry; rare habitat for sand lizards, smooth snakes, Dartford warblers and nightjars. Magnificent views over the Avon valley (a Site of Special Scientific Interest), the Isle of Wight, Bournemouth and - on a clear day - right up to the Purbeck hills. Daily public access at any time. Entrance free.

2. Dawlish Warren Nature Reserve

Devon. 01626 863980

Sand spit with beach at mouth of river Exe. Large flocks of wading birds best spotted from hides at high tide in winter. Also the only site in Britain sporting the Warren crocus. Reserve open all year daily. Entrance free. Visitor centre open: 28 March-30 September daily, 10.30am-1pm and 2pm-5pm. And from 1 October to 27 March on Saturdays and Sundays 10.30am- 1pm and 2pm-5pm.

3. Abbotsbury Swannery

New Barn Road, Abbotsbury,

Dorset. 01305 871858

Six-hundred-year-old swannery billed as a paradise for nature enthusiasts. Visitors can walk among free-flying mute swans or watch as they hatch, between the end of May until the end of June.

Restaurant, gift shop, audio-visual show, shire horse and cart rides. Open 14 March-29 October daily, 10am-6pm.

4. Alstone Wildlife Park

Alstone Hall, Highbridge,

Somerset. 01278 782405

Hands-on experience of a herd of 20 red deer, a hand-reared Mongolian camel, llamas, emus, kune-kune pigs, rheas and unusual goats. Entrance: pounds 2.75 for adults, pounds 1.75 for children and pounds 2.50 for senior citizens. Open 2 April-31 October daily, 10am-6pm.

5. Brownsea Island

01202 707744

Known as the "getaway place" by locals, this picturesque island is one of the last homes of the rare red squirrel. Wading birds flock to the lagoon and there are 500 acres of woodland walks. Ferries leave every half hour from Poole and Sandbanks and take 20 mins and 10 mins respectively. There is a National Trust entrance fee of pounds 2.50 for adults, pounds 1.30 for children and pounds 6.30 for families. Island open from 27 March-3 October daily, 10am-5pm and in July and August until 6pm.