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Wildlife Spotting in the UK

Wildlife Spotting in the UK

When hiking and camping in the UK there are a few things you can count on; firstly, it's almost definitely going to rain at some point! Secondly, you're not going to get stalked by a bear or mountain lion.  

However, just because we don't have any life endangering animals living in the UK doesn't mean we don't have some weird and wonderful wildlife right on our doorstep. Here are my top ten creatures to look out for on your next hike.

European Yellow Tailed Scorpion

Where: Kent, Hampshire, Plymouth
When: Year round
Background: Having arrived by boat some 200 years ago from the Mediterranean, these tiny scorpions haven't spread widely across the UK as it's believed to be too wet for them to flourish.  Although venomous, the yellow tailed scorpion is not particularly dangerous to people but should not be handled in case of an adverse reaction to the venom.
Did you know: Scorpions glow blue under UV light.

Basking Shark

Where: South-west coast of England, North coast of Ireland, West coast of Scotland, Isle of Man
When: May until late October
Background: Basking sharks were hunted for their liver oil, meat and fins until the mid-1990’s, 1998 to be exact, when they were made a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.  Despite their huge size, they live on a basic diet of plankton.
Did you know: Basking Sharks, measuring at up to 12 metres in length, are the largest fish in UK waters, and second largest in the world. The largest is the Whale Shark.

Basking Shark

Eurasian Beaver

Where: River Otter in Devon, River Tay in Scotland, Knapdale in Scotland
When: Year round
Background: Wild beavers have not been present in the UK since the 1600s. Numerous studies have been carried out to determine whether they should be reintroduced due to the massive ecological impact they have. As a result of this, four reintroduction sites were established in England and Scotland with the sites at River Otter and River Tay being the outcome of unauthorised introductions. A reintroduction in Wales is still under discussion.
Did you know: Young beavers are called Kits.

Ptarmigan

Where: Mountainous terrain in the Scottish Highlands
When: Year round
Background: Ptarmigans are a small game bird, similar to a red grouse. They're hard to spot due to their camouflage abilities which make them perfect for the conditions of the Arctic plateau of the Cairngorms and other mountainous areas.
Did you know: In winter, the Ptarmigan changes colour to become entirely white, except from its tail and eye patch which remain black.

Ptarmigan

Bennett's Wallaby

Where: The Roaches, Peak District
When: Year round
Background: During WW2, five wallabies escaped from a private zoo at Roaches Hall in the Peak District. These five wallabies went on to breed and there are now thought to be up to 50 living wild in the area.
Did you know: Whilst the Roaches Wallabies are the biggest colony, there are further smaller colonies of escaped or released wallabies in the Isle of Man, Loch Lomond in Scotland, Ashdown Forest in Sussex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Devonshire!

German Hairy Snail

Where: Brentford Docks, various Thames Islands
When: Year round
Background: The German Hairy Snail is thought to have travelled to the UK during the last ice age, when we were still connected to mainland Europe.
Did you know: The snail uses a 'love dart' during courtship to aid mating.

Wild Boar

Where: Woodlands in Sussex, Kent and Dorset
When: Year round
Background: Wild boar have been declared extinct twice in the UK; firstly, in the 13th century, and secondly, in the 17th century when reintroduced animals were hunted to extinction. The wild boar is most active at dusk and dawn, when they forage for nuts, roots, and carrion. They are considered as potentially dangerous and should not be approached.
Did you know: Wild boar were not deliberately reintroduced to the wild. A 1998 report by DEFRA confirmed the presence of two populations which were probably bred from escaped farmed boars.

Pine Marten

Where: Scottish Highlands and Grampians, Ireland
When: Year round
Background: Until the 19th century, pine martens were found all over the UK. Since then, populations in England and Wales have declined to the point of near extinction. Around 3,000 - 4,000 remain in the UK and the same number live in Ireland alone.
Did you know: The pine marten is credited with reducing the population of invasive grey squirrels.  The squirrels retreat against pine marten populations. It's thought that grey squirrels spend more time on the ground where they are more likely to meet a pine marten than red squirrels who spend more time in the trees - therefore the red squirrel population hasn’t been as affected.

Pine Marten

Killer Whale

Where: West coast of Scotland, North-west coast of Ireland, Pembrokeshire coast
When: Rare and sporadic
Background: The west coast community of Orcas consists only of 8 or 9 animals which have travelled as far south as Pembrokeshire, but are mainly seen around the Hebridean Islands, with occasional sightings off Ireland. Strangely, the pod does not interact with migratory groups found further north in the North East Atlantic waters.
Did you know: The conservation status of the group is under threat as no sightings have been recorded of calves in the pod since research began nearly two decades ago.

Reindeer

Where: The Cairngorms National Park in the Scottish Highlands
When: Year round
Background: Although native to the UK, wild reindeer haven't been seen in around 800 years. The Cairngorm herd were introduced in 1952 and roam over 10,000 acres. There are now over 150 reindeer in this herd.
Did you know: These reindeer aren't wild of course - you can take trips to visit them with the Cairngorm Reindeer Company where you can hand feed them! If you happen to be out hiking or climbing in the Cairngorms, keep an eye out for the herd - they're a magnificent sight to see out in the hills.

Reindeer

If you're planning to spend some time wildlife spotting in the UK, there are a few things to remember:

  • Don't get too close. The best experiences are when you can see an animal behaving naturally. Take binoculars if need be.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. Try to blend in with the colours of your surroundings, and if there's a chance you'll be sitting still for a long time, wear warm clothing and consider a seating mat such as the Vango Comfort Seat Pad.
  • Don't wear strong scents. Animals have a far more developed sense of smell and your favourite perfume could scare them off. If you want to take a warm drink with you, use a vacuum flask to ensure animals aren't attracted to the smell.
  • Leave no trace. Don't clear the bush out way, or move logs or rocks and ensure you don't leave anything behind, including food.  


The UK has a diverse and wonderful range of wildlife, some of which is closely monitored. If you've been wildlife spotting and seen something rare, consider checking to see if there is a register of sightings which you could add to. www.wildlifewatch.org.uk is a great resource for children to print off flora and fauna spotting sheets, and to learn all about native species.

Have fun, and keep an eye out for those mysterious big black cats which have been spotted across the UK but never clearly photographed!

Posted on 25-04-2016 by Laraine Wyn-Jones Home 0 4295

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