The IoS guide to wild Britain (Part 2)
In the second of our nature specials, David Randall talks to National Trust experts who reveal 40 of their prime places to spot the best and rarest of British flora and fauna, from butterflies and dormice to wildflowers and falcons
Sunday 21 August 2011
Welcome to the second of our Wild Britain 2011 specials. This week, we introduce you to 40 prime places to see wildlife that are in the care of the National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland. Their experts have supplied up-to-date details on where to spot some of our most unusual birds, plants, insects and animals, and these appear on the following pages.
The National Trust (we will come to Scotland's separate trust later) is almost a small country in itself. It owns, or has rights over, an area about the size of Luxembourg, and has 3.6 million members. What makes it special is not the quantity of those acres, but their quality. Its holdings include 215 houses and gardens, 40 castles, six World Heritage sites, 12 lighthouses and 43 pubs and inns, but it is the countryside and coast we are concerned with here. The trust cares for more than 630,000 acres – nearly 1.5 per cent of the total land mass of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland – and it owns or protects about a fifth of their coasts; some 709 miles of beachfront.
The trust began in 1895, and its founders were, as is the way of such things, a mix of the inspired and the slightly dotty, being the Duke of Westminster; conservationist and lawyer Sir Robert Hunter; social reformer Octavia Hill; and the curious Canon Hardwicke Drummond Rawnsley. He was a whirringly busy Victorian clergyman who founded two schools and a sheepbreeders' association, wrote around 30,000 poems and 40 books, collaborated with Beatrix Potter, was a county councillor, led a campaign against smutty postcards, was honorary chaplain to George V, declined the bishopric of Madagascar, and established the Lake District Defence Society. Today, Canon Rawnsley would be glad to know, the trust holds sway over a quarter of the Lakes.
Its first house, bought in 1896 for £10, was Alfriston Clergy House in East Sussex; the trust's first nature reserve, acquired in 1899, was two acres of Wicken Fen, near Cambridge. It has since added more than 40 parcels of adjoining land, making Wicken an extraordinary project in reclaiming for nature land that was once reclaimed for agriculture. In 1912, Blakeney Point was saved; countryside, such as Stonehenge and 4,000 acres around Coniston Water, continued to be bought between the wars; and now the trust is the prime steward of what we would call our natural and built heritage.
The National Trust for Scotland was founded in 1931, and, from this much later start, has acquired and now cares for: seven national nature reserves; 400 islands and islets; one World Heritage site; 200,000 acres of countryside; plus 26 castles and many other sites.
Many of us go to trust sites either side of the border, stroll around, have a slice of walnut cake, and maybe buy a tea-towel. But so much of the heritage we visit is a living one, and on the following pages, experts from both trusts give a glimpse of the wildlife to be seen.
Box Hill, Surrey
Chalk grassland paddocks rich in wild flowers, and areas of yew, box, and broad-leaved woodland on steep the slopes above Dorking. It also supports the rare Box Hill bug, which until recently had only ever been found here. Over a dozen species of orchids have been recorded, along with at least 400 other flowering species. This is one of Britain's richest areas for butterflies, with more than 40 species, including silver-spotted skipper; chalkhill, adonis, and small blues; dark-green and silver-washed fritillaries; white admiral; and purple emperor. The River Mole offers the chance to spot kingfishers, grey wagtails, moorhens, mandarin ducks, and ring-necked parakeets. The woodland supports many nationally rare species of deadwood insects including the stag and cardinal beetles.
Rolling hills and peaceful meadows rich in wildlife. Langham Ponds, a series of oxbow lakes, has an exceptional wetland plant community, supporting water beetles, more than 20 species of dragonfly, and many rarities, such as greater water parsnip, a relative of the carrot. Thousands of flowers and invertebrates can be found in the herb-rich hay meadows, such as the hoverfly – the larvae of which are thought to feed on wax-secreting aphids. Cooper's Hill Woods has all three native woodpeckers, song thrushes, nuthatches and tree creepers among the birds spotted here. Several hundred veteran trees support wildlife associated with wood-decay habitats, such as the vivid hawthorn jewel beetle and the goat moth, whose larvae supposedly smell like goat droppings.
Black Down, South Downs, Surrey
Black Down heath covers 287 hectares (709 acres) over the Low Weald, near Haslemere. It provides a vital habitat for reptiles such as sand lizards, birds such as Dartford warblers, and also boasts an area of bog ponds. These support wet-loving species of plant such as the carnivorous round-leaved sundew, and are home to several species of dragonfly, including the endangered black darter, Britain's smallest resident and only black (males) dragonfly. The black darter requires ponds, pools and ditches on heathland and moorland in which to breed. While fairly widespread in the north of Britain, it remains local in southern, eastern and central areas.
Selborne Common and The Lythe, Hampshire
The common has "hanging" beech woodland on a north-facing escarpment leading to a wooded plateau. Below the village lies The Lythe, a narrow, mainly wooded valley with unimproved, flower-rich meadowland, and a meandering stream. The ancient pollarded beech trees on the common are home to scarce "deadwood" invertebrates and fungi. Rare beetles and flies such as the bumblebee-mimic hoverfly occur, alongside fungi such as chicken of the woods and oyster mushroom. The woods also support a rich flora, including white helleborine, bird's-nest orchid, and Italian lords and ladies. Birds include stock dove, all three species of woodpecker, and bullfinch in relative abundance. Among the butterflies are purple emperors and silver-washed fritillaries.
Afton, Brook and Compton Downs, Isle of Wight
Here is an immensely rich chalk downland flora, a considerable invertebrate fauna, and staggering views and sunsets over the Channel. Towering chalk cliffs support clumps of the rare hoary stock and breeding peregrine falcons. The exposed downs themselves are carpeted in birdsfoot trefoil, common rock-rose, and horseshoe and kidney vetch, which support huge populations of butterflies such as dingy skipper, brown argus, plus adonis, chalkhill and small blues. Dark-green fritillaries abounds among areas of mown gorse on the crest of the downs, and there are also colonies of grayling and Glanville fritillaries. On warm summer nights, the lower slopes resound to the metallic rattle of the great green bush cricket.
Slindon Estate, West Sussex
Bats such as the serotine and brownlong-eared varieties are now breeding in roof spaces and can be seen hunting around the village, or on the wider estate up and down the farm tracks at night. Greater and lesser stag beetles can be seen clattering about trying to find each other to mate, and they only have a few days to manage this. This beetle's larva spends up to five years eating its way through dead wood. We have an abundance of badgers, barn owls and a hen harriers that overwinters. Hazel dormice are resident, having benefited from the masses of regeneration after the Great Storm flattened our woods in 1987. The South Downs' only colony of Roman snails is here too.
Harting Down, South Downs, West Sussex
Harting Down is a 200-hectare common and renowned nature reserve, designated for its chalk grassland and juniper scrub. Its three hills form part of the South Downs Way, and it has a rich blend of habitats with panoramic views. It is a haven for skylark, flocks of greenfinch, yellowhammer, wheatear and sparrow hawk. You can also see large colonies of the Duke of Burgundy butterfly. Spot nationally scarce bees such as the blue carpenter and small ermine moth, and see one of the largest stands of lowland juniper in southern England. Ancient woodland includes yew and ash woods, large leaved lime and varied molluscs including the rare cheese snail.
Leigh Woods, near Bristol, Somerset
Perched high above the River Avon and overlooking the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Leigh Woods National Nature Reserve is a fascinating site. Ancient pollard oaks provide a glimpse of the past, when the site was a wood pasture. The trust has recently reintroduced cattle grazing to maintain the open limestone grassland. There are six North Devon cows grazing part of the woods at the moment. The gorge has many rare and endemic species, including various species of whitebeam – with three found only in the Avon Gorge – and Bristol rock cress. Other rare plants include Hutchinsia, dwarf mouse-ear and compact brome. Leigh Woods hosts a good population of dormice, and peregrines and ravens nest in the gorge.
Horner Wood, near Porlock, Somerset
Horner Wood is one of our largest wooded national nature reserves and covers some 364 hectares of ancient, wild oak woodland nestled within the steep combes of Exmoor National Park. Trees and rocks are carpeted with lichens and mosses, and in the summer they provide perfect nesting sites for such visitors as pied flycatchers, redstarts, and wood warblers. Most British bat species, including the rare barbastelle, are found deep in the cavities of trees. High up, on the woodland edge, are red deer and the scarce heath fritillary butterfly, while the tracks of the valley bottom hug the crystal-clear River Horner, the haunt of the dipper and the wild brown trout.
Watersmeet, North Devon
Here, where the East and West Lyn rivers collide, are tumbling (and sometimes raging) waters that plunge through sessile oak woods rich in wildlife. Birds include: herons, dippers, grey wagtails, long-tailed, blue and great tits, wood warblers, chiffchaffs, pied flycatchers, nuthatches, treecreeper,s and sparrowhawks. The East Lyn is known for its trout and salmon, which use the pools as resting places before making their way up the river's shoots and rapids to spawn. Otters live in the more secluded parts of the river, and silver-washed fritillaries can be seen in woodland glades in summer. The rare barbastelle bat can also be spotted here. Nearby is the coastal heath at Countisbury with buzzards, ravens, stonechats or wheatears.
Salcombe coast, South Devon
This dramatic cliffland, rich in wild flowers, is the most southerly point in Devon, and home to the cirl bunting, a bird confined in the UK to South Devon and parts of Cornwall. It has yellowish-green body plumage, with red-brown patches, and a striking, yellow-striped head. Wading birds, such as redshank, shelduck, and oystercatcher, are often to be seen pottering around by the waterside at Batson. Along the tideline all around the estuary you may spot a common sandpiper in summer. Terns are also found and catch fish in rapid little plunge dives from just above the water. The scrubby woodland above the tideline beyond Snape's Point attracts birds such as the blackcap and chiffchaff.
West Penwith cliffs & moors, Cornwall
The cliffs and hinterland are renowned as a world heritage site for industrial archaeology, but the inland moors have barely been recognised for their immense wealth of wildlife. Here is a well-linked mosaic of heathland communities among farmland characterised by small fields bounded by ancient stone walls. Inland from the maritime heath are wet and dry heath, on mineral and peaty soils. Rare plants include purple gromwell, cornish moneywort, pale butterwort, small-flowered catchfly, and yellow bartsia. Three species of heath occur, alongside western gorse and other characteristic heathland plants such as dodder, heath milkwort, and lousewort. Birds species include linnet, nightjar, skylark, stonechat, and yellowhammer. A number of scarce invertebrates can be found, including various weevils, and butterflies such as dark-green and small pearl-bordered fritillaries.
Fontmell and Melbury Downs, Dorset
One of the largest areas of unimproved chalk downland in England, with steeply rolling hills and deep valleys interspersed with small areas of woodland and scrub. Summer brings the quintessentially English song of the skylark and possible sightings of ravens, stonechats, and grasshopper warblers. Yellowhammers call from tall hawthorn shrubs, while stonechats make their rattly noise on lone gorse bushes. The marsh fritillary, adonis blue, and silver-spotted skipper butterflies are seen. On summer nights visitors may encounter the downs' luminous glow-worms. Flowers such as devils-bit scabious and early gentian can be found. The scent of wild thyme and the coconut fragrance of gorse add to this rich grassland landscape.
Calstone and Cherhill Downs, Wiltshire
Some 200 hectares of chalk grassland with a good population of juniper, and an array of wild flowers such as clustered bellflower and round-headed rampion. The Wiltshire Downs are great for chalk grassland-loving butterflies, and there is a massive adonis blue population, plus colonies of chalkhill blue, marsh and dark-green fritillaries, green hairstreak, marbled white, and dingy skipper. You may also see clouded yellow in the late summer, or day-flying forester moths. Other notable invertebrates are the heath snail (whitish shell with dark bands), and something almost unmentionably rare: the wart-biter bush cricket. Listen out for it in this month. The hill fort on top of the downs is alive with the sound of skylarks and meadow pipits.
EAST OF ENGLAND
Blakeney, north Norfolk
Blakeney Point is a barrier spit, actively growing westwards. On the Point are sand dunes, dune slack hollows, shingle, and saltmarsh. On the landward side are acres of saltmarsh at Blakeney, Stiffkey, and Morston. There is a very diverse flora, with superb saltmarsh flowers in summer, such as sea aster, sea lavender, sea-blite, and purslane. Grazing marshes with ditches are rich in invertebrates. The reserve is justifiably famous for its birdlife and home to four of the five species of tern including a very important breeding colony of Sandwich terns. Oystercatchers, ringed plovers, redshanks, shelduck, gadwall, skylarks, meadow pipits, linnet and reed bunting can be seen. Grey and common seals haul out on the Point.
Sheringham Park, Norfolk
Here is mature woodland, parkland, and cliff-top grassland, as well as 20 hectares of wild garden. Firecrest are present all year round, crossbills are a regular sight, and barn owls are known to be nesting. Eight species of bat have been recorded and there's a stronghold of barbastelle. Britain's largest bats, the noctule and the serotine, are particularly visible in August and September feeding on dung beetles. The elusive purple hairstreak butterfly can be seen from the top of one of the viewing towers overlooking oak woodland. White admiral can be spotted along the woodland rides. Adders, slow worms and glow-worms are also regularly seen, and more than 350 species of moth have been recorded.
Felbrigg Estate, Norfolk
Farm and woodland birds such as firecrest, mandarin duck, and grey partridges breed here and, on the lake, 16 species of dragonfly. The lawns round the house are home to 10 kinds of waxcap, with a wealth of other fungi species to be found on the rest of the estate. Felbrigg also has some species that really should not be here. Round silk-moss, for instance, is normally found half way up a Welsh mountain, and the red data book cranefly should be living happily in ancient carr woodland, not in wet wheel ruts. The Great Wood is also home to the slender slug, its translucent yellow body and purple horns making it a contender for the "handsomest slug of all".
Dunwich Heath, Suffolk
Dunwich Heath offers a show of flowering purple heather in summer, with all three main British species: common, bell, and cross-leaved. This site is probably most important for its 40-odd pairs of Dartford warbler, whose short, scratchy song can be heard all over the heath. Dunwich is a vital habitat for adders, which can be seen basking in the sun on warm days. The heathland goes right to the clifftop, where there is a sea-watch station equipped with telescopes for visitors to look out to sea and hope to spot passing seals, porpoises, and seabirds. The delightful Docwra's ditch on the southern edge is a haven for dragonflies and grass snakes. Antlions, strange lacewing-like insects rare in Britain, are also found here.
Wicken Fen, Cambridgeshire
One of the very few surviving, undrained, and largely intact fragments of the ancient fenland that once stretched from Cambridge to the Wash. Wicken Fen was the first nature reserve acquired by the National Trust in 1899. It's quite possibly the most species-rich nature reserve in England, with more than 8,400 species recorded, of which 75 per cent are insects. Ditches and ponds also support plants such as the carnivorous bladderwort, and showy yellow and white water lilies. Birds include marsh harriers, and abundant Cetti's, willow, and grasshopper – warblers. The trust is actively expanding this nature reserve by buying farmland and creating new wildlife habitats, where Konik ponies and Highland cattle are put out to graze.
Hatfield Forest in Essex
This is a former medieval hunting forest, complete with coppices, plains, pasture and veteran pollarded trees. Some are more than 1,000 years old, including giant oak, hornbeam, and field maple. Mistletoe is abundant, and is one of 400 flowering plant species here. The forest is rich in the invertebrates and fungi associated with the old trees, a specialised and rare habitat. The wetlands alongside the brook support orchids, fleabane, rare sedges, and mosses. The lake has common terns nesting on a raft, and pairs of great-crested grebes. The three species of woodpecker in the UK, and tawny and little owls live across the woodlands. Herds of fallow deer emerge from the coppices to graze the wood pasture in the evenings.
Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
A rich and varied landscape, from rolling grassland to ancient oaks. Some of the trees are among the oldest in Europe, and two oaks are more than 1,000 years old. In the park, look out for the herd of red and fallow deer, and 50 grazing rare-breed Portland sheep. The ancient trees support a huge range of wildlife from fungi to insects, and more than 350 types of beetle have been recorded here. Damselflies include azure, common blue and blue-tailed; and butterflies such as meadow brown, ringlet, and common blue; plus day-flying moths such as silver Y, chimney sweeper, cinnabar, and six-spot burnet. Among notable bird species are the nuthatch, treecreeper, all three types of woodpecker, little owl, and spotted flycatcher.
Kinder Scout, Peak District
This moorland plateau boasts common plant species such as cottongrass, and, in the drier patches, heather, crowberry, and bilberry. One unusual mammal you may be lucky enough to see is the mountain hare, which is unmistakeable in the winter months when its coat turns white. Kinder Scout supports blanket bog, wet heath and dry heath, and is noted for upland breeding bird populations of merlin, which hunt over the heather, short-eared owl, and golden plover. Red grouse can often be seen noisily taking to the air when disturbed. Short-eared owls breed here too and can sometimes be spotted hunting in daylight. The blanket bog is home to the stunning emperor moth with its striking "eyes" on all four wings.
Dovedale, Derbyshire-Staffs border
One of the finest examples of a limestone and ash woodland habitat found in Europe, with rare remnant true ancient woodland around the crags. There are significant amounts of the scarce and beautiful blue Jacob's ladder. You might spot skylarks, meadow pipits, linnets, song thrushes, and grey partridges in the limestone grassland, but you'll have to be eagle-eyed to spot the dormice, water voles and stoats that reside here. In the ash woodland, listen out for the garden warbler, willow warbler, bullfinch, nuthatch, and great spotted woodpecker. And under logs and stones in the ash woodlands of the Peak District are the world's largest black slugs. They can grow up to 30cm long so they are easy to spot.
Long Mynd, Shropshire Hills
The most important habitat in the West Midlands for upland bird species such as merlin, hen harrier, golden plover, raven, kestrel, curlew, skylark, and wheatear. The largest mammals present are badgers and foxes, but hares, rabbits, and several species of small rodent also occur. The heathland is home to caterpillars of moths and butterflies and several colonies of grayling butterflies – thought to be extinct here but recently rediscovered. A wide range of beetles, some of which are nationally rare, are present, such as the hawthorn jewel beetle. In the ponds, there are sticklebacks, waterboatmen, pondskaters, frogs, toads, and the rare and protected great crested newt. A very recent discovery is the lesser horseshoe bat.
Sandscale Haws, near Barrow-in-Furness
Sandscale Haws is an outstanding dune habitat that supports a wealth of wildlife and has magnificent views of the sandy estuary and Lakeland mountains. Plants on the dune grasslands include the very rare Dune Helleborine. The common lizard and all six native amphibians (common frog, common toad, natterjack toad, smooth newt, palmate newt and great crested newt) occur on the site, which supports around 15 per cent of the rare British natterjack toad population. The mammal population includes brown hare and five bat species: the pipistrelle, Daubenton's, brown long-eared, whiskered and noctule. Among rare invertebrates are the silver spiny digger wasp and ruby-tailed wasp, bee fly, southern grass bug, and flat-backed millipede. Waterfowl and waders include pintail, knot, and redshank.
Arnside Knott and Silverdale, Lancashire-Cumbria border
Species-rich limestone grassland, woodland, wet meadow, scree, and scrub. The Scotch Argus butterfly is at its southernmost site here (there is only one other in England), but on a good day there may be clouds of these dark – almost black – velvety beauties rising from the blue moor grass pastures. Look for the caterpillars of the painted lady on nettles, and purple hairstreak on oaks. Southern wood ants can be seen foraging and even climbing trees. Among the bird varieties are nuthatch, bullfinch, marsh tit and great spotted woodpecker. Roe and fallow deer are found in woodland areas. Don't miss the unusual limestone heath on adjacent Heathwaite, where acid-loving heather blooms alongside specialist limestone flowers such as dropwort and red bartsia.
A large area of beach, sand dunes, and pine woods. Formby is well known as a special place to see red squirrels, though numbers fell drastically during 2008 due to an outbreak of squirrel pox virus. Recovery seems to be well on the way with signs of red squirrels feeding in the pine woods, and sightings coming in daily. Formby is also famous for its natterjack toads, and this is only one of a few sites in England where they will breed. In the evening the male's distinctive song can be heard and is known locally as the "Bootle Organ". In spring, the males gather at the edge of shallow pools in the dune slacks and sing to attract a mate.
Styal Estate, Cheshire
Ravine woodland with the River Bollin flowing through. Semi-natural ancient woodland is mainly beech, plus oak. Exotic tree species, including the coast redwood and giant redwood or Wellingtonia, are found in the northern woods. The estate is home to 650 different kinds of fungi, many associated with wood decay. Bird species include the rare tree sparrow, and the lesser spotted woodpecker which breeds in the summer woods. Buzzards and kestrels can be found across farmland. Salmon are in the River Bollin and kingfishers are occasionally spotted by the river's edge. Goosander, a fish-eating duck, can be found on the river in the winter. American mink can be seen here, and there is a possibility of otters.
Farne Islands, off the Northumberland Coast
A renowned national nature reserve with spectacular wildlife all year round. The islands support more than 80,000 breeding pairs of seabirds during the summer months (including three species nesting in "internationally important numbers") with the puffin being the most numerous at 36,000 breeding pairs. Added to this, the islands act as a major migratory hotspot with thousands of birds utilising the north-east archipelago during the spring and autumn months. It's not just the seabirds to watch out for, as the islands also support England's largest grey seal colony, with 1,300 pups born annually during the months of September through to December. Many cetaceans are visible in the surrounding water with harbour porpoise seen almost daily, and if you're lucky, a minke whale or two.
Gibside, Tyne and Wear
This is the region's best place to see the red kite, graceful, large, fork-tailed birds of prey. It is one of our wildlife conservation success stories, with the kite having been reintroduced in the past 15 years. Gibside's 18th-century landscape park and nature reserve is now a hot spot for this bird. Head to the dramatic orangery ruin, perched upon a river cliff, and you may see two or three swooping and twirling together at your eye height as you gaze out over the valley of the River Derwent. Other species include otters, a good population of great crested newts in the estate's ponds, grass snakes, badgers, and bats roosting in the buildings (including the car park toilet block!).
This wasn't always somewhere that you would expect to see in a list of best wildlife sites. Until the mid-1990s, spoil from the area's many collieries was dumped over the sea cliffs creating the vast "black beaches" and causing massive environmental damage. In 1997, a £10m clean-up operation got under way and today this stretch of coast is once again a haven for wildlife. The coastal slopes and cliff tops are fantastic for wild flowers, including orchids, and rarities such as rock rose and bloody cranesbill, foodplant of the Durham Argus butterfly – a sub-species of the nationally scarce northern brown Argus best seen on south-facing slopes. And, in the grassland, is the least minor moth, a scarce, slightly dull brown, day-flying species.
Hardcastle Crags and Gibson Mill, Yorkshire
Hardcastle Crags was the inspiration for the poet Ted Hughes, and he refers to the "colonies of large ants" still here today. They are the northern hairy wood ant, which makes big mounded nests. The trees are a mixture of beech and larch; areas of wet woodland with willow and alder; more natural stands of oak, birch and rowan; with Scots pine plantations favoured by the wood ants. The sound of water cascading over weirs can be heard through the woods, and, in the heart of them, Gibson Mills stands as a solitary reminder of the area's industrial past. Dipper, herons and grey wagtails inhabit the river banks, and eight species of bat live and feed within the woodland.
Hafod y Llan, Snowdonia
The estate rises steeply from a patchwork of level fields bounded by dry-stone walls, through rugged wooded slopes to the dramatic Cwm Llan and the summit of Snowdon itself. The heathland in Snowdonia turns hills pink in late summer and the north end of the estate is a rich mixture of juniper and heather. Rarer mountain plants like sundew have started growing among the heathers. Elsewhere, old Atlantic oaks provide a habitat for many birds and bats. Choughs can be seen in the Nant Gwynant valley along with ravens, the largest member of the crow family. The latter has a distinctive, deep "kronk, kronk" call quite different from other crows.
Whiteford Burrows is a national nature reserve renowned for its sand-dune flora and insects, beach strandline communities, and wading birds. The flora is exceptional and includes many rare breeds and local species, including early marsh orchid, fen orchid, early sand grass, and dune gentian. Bloody cranesbills, or wild geraniums, have large magenta flowers visible from a long way off, especially among the creamy white burnet rose on the sand dunes. Common blue butterflies abound, and in July and August, there are graylings in the more open sandy areas. On the shoreline, look out for carpet shells, banded wedge shells, sea potatoes, jellyfish (mainly moon jellyfish but sometimes by-the-wind sailor), oysters, cuttlefish, pod razor, mussels, common whelk and common otter shells.
Mar Lodge Estate
Set amid the Cairngorms National Park, the estate offers a wide range of walks, from family strolls along level ground to strenuous mountain treks. One of the most important nature landscapes in the British Isles, it is home to a number of Sites of Special Scientific Interest and provides a habitat for rare species, including golden eagles, capercaillies, black and red grouse, pine martens, red squirrels, and red deer. The estate also features some outstanding examples of conservation work by the National Trust for Scotland, particularly the regeneration of the native Caledonian pinewoods. Other species of note include the narrow-headed wood ant, ptarmigan, snow bunting, mountain hare, golden plover, peregrine falcon, buzzards, kestrels, tawny owl, Atlantic salmon, water vole, and otters.
Killiecrankie and Linn of Tummel
The Pass of Killiecrankie is a spectacular wooded gorge in a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Turbulent history and picturesque nature combine in a landscape of peaceful walks through broad-leafed woodlands. There are also reminders of 1689's brutal Battle of Killiecrankie such as the Soldier's Leap, where a fleeing soldier leapt across the River Garry to safety. The NTS visitor centre exhibition has seasonally changing, interactive wildlife displays, and the more adventurous can try the Soldier's Leap for themselves at a nearby, privately run bungee jumping facility on the bridge. Species of note include the pine marten, red squirrel, otter, pied and spotted flycatchers, wood warbler, great spotted woodpeckers, roe deer, slow worm, and bats, including daubenton and pipistrelle.
Ornamental and walled gardens, plus the wildlife garden and Caroline's Garden are great places to watch birds, bees and butterflies. Waymarked trails take you through woodland, farmland, and freshwater habitats, where roe deer, red squirrels, woodpeckers, buzzards and kingfishers can easily be glimpsed, as, more rarely, can otters and red kites. There is a large heronry, and bats can also be seen flying over the millpond and around the castle in the evenings. Crathes is a good place to listen out for jays screeching their way through the woods. Look out, too, for treecreepers making their way around the large oak trees. Crathes is really good for fungi on the lawns and throughout the woods in the late summer and autumn.
Crom, County Fermanagh
A tranquil landscape of islands, woodland and historic ruins with the largest area of oak woodland in Northern Ireland. On the shoreline, there are marsh-loving plants such as meadowsweet, purple loosestrife, iris, and water lilies, plus rare species such as fen violet and pointed stonewort. Among birds are snipe, curlew, redshank, heron, sedge warbler and kingfisher. In quiet spots around the estate, catch a glimpse of red squirrels, otters, fallow deer, Irish hares, and one of the eight species of bat. An overnight stay in the mammal hide offers the chance to see the elusive pine marten. There are 12 species of dragon and damselflies, in-cluding the rare hairy dragonfly. Also present are wood white and purple hairstreak butterflies.
Strangford Lough, County Down
This is the UK's largest sea inlet with a myriad of little inlets and bays, plus more than 120 islands dotted across its surface, rich in wildfowl and marine life. Among plants now in flower are sea aster, the last of the thrift, and sea lavender. Around 200 pairs of cormorants breed here, and up to 75 per cent of the world population of light-bellied brent geese over-winter here. Around 70,000 birds come here each winter including knots, dunlins, curlews, redshanks, oystercatchers, wigeons, plovers, and godwits. One-third of all Ireland's terns nest in dense colonies on its islands during late spring and early summer. Around the islands, look out for common seals, grey seals, otters and porpoises.
Murlough National Nature Reserve, Co Down
The fragile 6,000-year-old sand dune system is an excellent area for walking and birdwatching. Here are 22 butterfly species, including the endangered marsh fritillary, small heath, common blue, and meadow brown. There are more than 300 types of moth, several rare beetles, and tunnel-burrowing solitary bees. Ireland's only native reptile, the common lizard, can be found basking in the sun on hot summer days. Birds breeding include skylark, cuckoo, song thrush, spotted flycatcher, dunnock, house sparrow, linnet, and bullfinch. Wildfowl and waders seen here are the oystercatcher, lapwing, redshank and curlew, and, during the winter, black-tailed godwit, turnstone and ringed plover. There are healthy populations of common and grey seals.
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- 3 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 4 Now we know whose fault it is if you end up being murdered in Thailand
- 5 35,000 walrus gather ashore on north-west Alaska beach 'for a rest'
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Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Benefits 'smart cards' plan revealed by Iain Duncan Smith to stop claimants spending welfare money on alcohol
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