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Wild ponies in the New Forest
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7 places to spot cute, rare and wonderful wildlife in the UK

After some animal magic? These wonderful landscapes are home to the UK’s rarest and most intriguing wildlife

Written by
Alexandra Sims
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Okay, so the UK may not have lush rainforests or mesmerizing savannahs full of charismatic megafauna. But if you explore enough, you’ll find the country’s mesmerizing coastlines, leafy forests, and beautiful national parks are filled with rare, cute and intriguing wildlife. 

From a pretty forest island filled with red squirrels to dramatic shorelines packed with breeding seals and puffins, these are the best places in the UK to experience Mother Nature in all her glory.

Please note: Travel restrictions in Wales and Scotland may differ from those in England, and government advice is to avoid busy times and routes on public transport. Some facilities and businesses in the towns and villages we mention may be closed at the moment. Please be mindful of the people who live locally. If you decide to travel, check whether car parks are open before you set off and stick to social distancing guidelines on your visit.

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Best places to see animals in the UK

Seals in Norfolk
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Seals in Norfolk

A four-mile-long spit of rugged salt marsh, Blakeney Point (in the heart of the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) is home to England’s largest colony of grey seals. It’s become a haven for the big-eyed sea mammals, who have no natural predators here and find it the perfect spot to give birth. Between October and January each year, hordes of seals congregate at the point to produce around 3,000 pups. The best way to watch the phenomenon is on a boat trip from Morston Quay: there are a handful of family-run businesses that run seasonal expeditions.

Dolphins in Scotland
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Dolphins in Scotland

The Black Isle in the Scottish Highlands is straight out of a fairytale: fringed by pink-tinged beaches and dotted with waterfalls with names like Fairy Glen, this sea-scuffed peninsula is a magical place. It’s lent even more romance by the fact you can see the world’s most northerly pod of bottlenose dolphins from its shores.

The pod is one of just two resident in the UK and its inhabitants are known to be cheeky, active souls, bow riding alongside boats and coming close to the shore. The best place to spot them is at Chanonry Point, the tip of a thin stick of land that points out into the Moray Firth where they feed. Search for them from a beach viewing area behind the lighthouse, or head out on a boat tour.

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Otters in Wales
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Otters in Wales

Otters are shy and elusive creatures, so catching a glimpse of one porpoising through a river is a very special thing indeed. Due to hunting and habitat destruction, European otters have very nearly disappeared from the UK. Thankfully, they still survive in small numbers in certain areas. There’s a good chance of seeing at least one of the skittish creatures at 90-acre wildlife reserve Magor Marsh, which is one of the last remaining pieces of fenland on the Gwent Levels in south-east Wales. Winter is a particularly good time to look for signs of them around the pond and along the reeds.

Red squirrels in Dorset
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Red squirrels in Dorset

Unlike the ubiquitous grey squirrel – seen rifling through park bins and digging up flower beds across the country – the red squirrel is an endangered species only found in scarce smatterings across the UK. One of the few places you’ll find them in southern England is Brownsea Island, just off the Dorset coast. The entire island is a nature reserve and (thanks to the fact it’s separated from the mainland by a big streak of blue sea) is home to 200 hundred red squirrels. The best places to spot them are in the tops of the trees on a woodland walk near St Mary’s Church or at the feeders in the Villa Wildlife Centre. . 

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Wild ponies in the New Forest
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Wild ponies in the New Forest

Stretching from Salisbury to the Solent, the New Forest’s 285 square miles of heathland and trails are home to 5,000 four-legged locals, who have had the legal right to graze there for thousands of years. The stocky horses even have priority over traffic, allowing them to roam free across the national park, trotting over roads and galloping across the open moorland. As well as looking cute, their grazing helps keep the New Forest landscape in tip-top condition, which in turn supports the rare species that live there. Don’t get too close though: these ponies aren’t used to human contact.

Ospreys in Rutland
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Ospreys in Rutland

Ospreys are one of the country’s biggest wildlife success stories. From a single pair in 1954, the birds have bounced back from the brink of extinction and there are now 270 pairs across Scotland, England and Wales.

These fish-eating birds of prey were first introduced to Rutland Water in 2001, and today, around 150 young ospreys have fledged from nests in the area. If you want an up-close look at the majestic birds when they’re in the UK in the summer months, a water-front hide on Manton Bay is the perfect viewing spot to see the birds nesting and catching fish in flight from the water. You can also head out on an osprey cruise to get an expert guide to the birds.

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Puffins in Northumberland
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Puffins in Northumberland

In May and June, the windswept, sea-scuffed cliffs of the Farne Islands swarm with thousands of puffins. Breeding season fills every craggy nook and cranny of the island’s rocky edges with a a group of the squawking seabirds. Boat tours are available from Seahouses harbour on the mainland to get a close-up view of the bird-covered rocks, or you can venture around Inner Farne and see the puffin colony from a viewing boardwalk.

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