Nature's greatest spectacles: Where to feast your eyes on Britain's wildlife

A A A


Basking sharks

Where to go: Falmouth, Cornwall

Talk about charisma. The basking shark – the second largest fish in the world, after the whale shark – can grow up to 11m long and weigh 4.5 tons. It swims with its enormous mouth agape, filtering 2,000 cubic metres of sea water per hour in order to trap plankton in its gill rakers. This summer, The Wildlife Trusts are offering the opportunity to see basking sharks off Britain's west coast. Colin Speedie, a leading marine conservationist and the skipper of the yacht Forever Changes, will take volunteers out to help collect information on basking sharks, as well as monitoring the effects of climate change on marine species. Speedie has been studying basking sharks since the 1980s. "During 2007 we will be re-surveying known basking shark hotspots and other new areas to establish their distribution and habitat use," he says. As well as the sharks, you might also see whales, dolphins, turtles and a wide variety of seabirds.

http://baskingsharks.wildlifetrusts.org/

Bottlenose dolphins

Where to go: Moray Firth, Scotland

There's something magical about a wild animal that comes to you voluntarily. Watching dolphins is exhilarating, especially when they leap and dive alongside your boat. The Moray Firth is an excellent spot to see them – around 130 are thought to live in the area. Dolphin-watching boat trips leave from the village of Cromarty. On dry land, the best spot to head for is Chanonry Point on the northern side of the Firth. Twice a day, fish surge through the channel and are ambushed by waiting dolphins.

www.wdcs.org/mfwc; www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~nkhtl/cruise.html

Glow worms

Where to go: Arnside Knott, Cumbria

Wordsworth called them "earth-born stars". Rather more prosaically, a balmy summer's night lit by glow worms makes you feel as if you could be in the Med. Glow worms are actually beetles and it is the females who do the glowing. The key to their fluorescence is a protein called luciferin. Adding oxygen and water produces a chemical reaction that results in a pale green glow. The female can switch her light on and off by increasing or decreasing air to the luciferin layer. Females glow to attract males, who have larger eyes to help them pick potential mates. The National Trust runs glow worm walks at some of its sites.

www.glowworms.org.uk; www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Seals

Where to go: Blakeney Point, Norfolk

If you're looking for sheer cuteness, you can't go wrong with seals. Both the grey and common species frequent our coastline. From Blakeney you can take a boat three miles out to the tip of Cley Beach. In July, the samphire is as lush as the grass at Lord's and interspersed with the purple, papery flowers of sea lavender. This is one of the most popular spots in the country for common seals to rest after a few days' fishing. Although largely solitary creatures, seals do gather in large numbers at certain sites: at Blakeney there are sometimes as many as 600. Summer is a good time to see them because they've just had pups. Their mothers bring them here after they've been weaned; the youngest are about four weeks old. Intermingled with the common seals are grey ones. The key to telling them apart is that the common seals look rather like Labradors, with their round faces and snub muzzles.

Silver-studded blue butterflies

Where to see them: The Great Orme, Wales

The Great Orme is a limestone peninsula with views of the sea and Snowdonia; the south-facing slope is covered in butterflies. Silver studded blues are tiny – about the size of a thumbnail – but there are half a million in the 60 hectare site. When the sun comes out they open their startling blue wings and flutter in small clouds, the males vying with each other to impress the females. The peak season is late June through July. They have an unusual life cycle: the caterpillars exude a sticky substance that attracts ants, which in turn milk the caterpillars and help protect them from predators.

www.greatorme.org.uk

Red kites

Where to go: Gigrin farm, Powys, Wales

Red kites are a rusty colour, with a wingspan of almost 2m. This beautiful bird was pursued by game keepers and egg collectors and, by 1903, Britain's kites were down to just five breeding pairs. In 1989, conservationists brought kites here from Spain; there are now 3,000 of them. At Gigrin, meat is put out every day, so you can get within a few metres of the birds – close enough to get a good look at those impressive talons.

www.gigrin.co.uk/

Orchids

Where to go: Park Gate down, Kent

Orchids can be irresistibly fascinating, with a whiff of the illicit about them. We have 56 species of native wild orchid in the UK and the warm chalk downland of Kent is one of the best places to see them. Park Gate Down, a reserve managed by Kent Wildlife Trust, has 10,000 orchids growing in a tiny area. You're likely to see fragrant, greater butterfly, late spider, musk, pyramidal, common spotted, early purple, lady, as well as the very rare monkey orchid. The latter is only found in three sites in the whole of Britain and, when you look closely, the flower really does look like a gangly spider monkey.

www.kentdowns.org.uk; www.kentwildlifetrust.org.uk

Natterjack toads

Where to go: Ainsdale, Merseyside

This nature experience is not so much a case of seeing, but listening. Ainsdale is one of the best places to hear natterjack toads calling. Although smaller than the common toad, this little beast is the loudest amphibian in Europe. In spring and summer, the males call to attract mates and their chorus of croaks can carry for a mile. Natterjacks are nocturnal, so one of the best ways to hear them is to go out at night. It's a magical experience standing by a pond, the jet-black surface shimmering with the moon's reflection, the sea whispering on one side as all around toads sing their throaty songs. The toads have fairly flat bodies that are warty brown, olive or grey (the males can lighten or darken their skin in order to camouflage themselves better), with a distinctive yellow stripe that runs all the way down the middle. Males have nuptial pads: hard patches on the inside of their forefingers that they use to grip the female during mating, and large vocal sacs. They're not very good at jumping, only doing it if they are alarmed. Surprisingly, they're poor swimmers and can drown in deep water.

www.naturalengland.org.uk/regions/northwest/

Puffins

Where to see them: the Farne Islands, Northumbria

Who doesn't love puffins? There's something comical about their plump bodies, parrot-like bills and dapper, plumage. Puffins nest in large colonies on cliffs with grassy slopes, where they dig burrows. A puffin normally lays one egg in its burrow at the end of May; the chick hatches 43 days later. At this time of the year chicks will still be reliant on the parents for food. Their main diet is sand eels, the over-fishing of which has led to a decline in puffin numbers. On the Farne Islands, though, they are doing well: there are around 55,000 pairs, and you'll be able to get quite close. The islands are one of Europe's most important seabird sanctuaries, home to more than 20 different species, including eider ducks and four species of tern – some of which will dive-bomb you , so wear a hat.

www.farne-islands.com; www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-farneislands

Ospreys

Where to go: Rutland, Leics

Ospreys feed exclusively on fish. Their underparts are white, with dark brown above, and their legs have thorny hooks to help them hang on to fish. With a wing span of 150cm, they're impressive birds, especially when hunting. At this time of year the adults will be feeding their young. Ospreys are endangered, because they were hunted by fish farmers and have been affected by pesticides. There are now more than 130 pairs in Scotland, and we finally have the first English-born ospreys for more than 150 years.

www.rutlandwater.org.uk

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried