It is no exaggeration to say that the UK, abundant in natural wonders and beautifully preserved species, is a haven for wildlife. Just in England, there are 224 National Nature Reserves, constituting a total area of over 94 400 hectares, not to mention other magnificent sites in the UK, in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. From rural wilderness to urban areas flourishing with greenery, here are 10 nature reserves and natural landmarks in the UK.
- The Peak District, Derbyshire
The Peak District was designated as the UK’s first national park in 1951, and is the world’s second most visited national park (next only to Mount Fuji in Japan). Situated in the outskirts of Manchester, Derby and Sheffield, the park is split into the Dark Peak along the north, characterised by its gritstone and moorland landscapes; and the White Peak in the south, where limestone dales and caves support a wide array of species. These include white-clawed crayfish, water voles, lampreys and colonies of bats. Its limestone plateau also offers refuge for the water crowfoot and great crested newt.
The White Peak is a popular area for outdoor recreation such as cycling, horse riding and cave climbing.
- The Lake District, Cumbria
Perched on the northwest coast of England, the Lake District National Park was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017. Due to its range of varied topography, the district is home to a great variety of wildlife, accommodating the largest population of red squirrels out of the estimated 140 000 red squirrels in the UK. England’s only nesting pair of golden eagles can also be spotted, as well as other bird species including ospreys, red kites, buzzards, and the ring ouzel bird.
Ecology aside, the scenery in the district — long celebrated for its historic literary associations — is a tourist favourite. With 16 lakes across the whole national park, the district is the perfect place for a foray into glacial lakes and rugged mountains.
- The Jurassic Coast, Southern England
As the only wholly natural World Heritage Site in England, the Jurassic Coast stretches over 150 km from East Devon to Old Harry Rocks, Dorset, and is of outstanding geological value for its rocks, fossils and landforms. Apart from preserving important sources of Jurassic reptile fossils, the UNESCO-protected coastline is populated by a wealth of plants and animals — most notably seabirds, including guillemots, kittiwakes and fulmars. The ocean is home to harbour porpoises, short-beaked common dolphins and various species of whales. Furthermore, the flora in the meadows of Dorset is a delight, which include burnt-tip orchids, cowslip, autumn gentian and bellflowers.
- The Wash, East Anglia
Covering almost 8 800 hectares, the Wash is the biggest national nature reserve (NNR) in England. The wetland features a vast expanse of saltmarsh, sandbanks, mudflats and tidal creeks which provide a vital habitat for large flocks of migrating birds. In winter, for instance, the saltmarsh grass attracts pink-footed geese from Iceland and Greenland, brent geese, wigeons and shelduck. Waders and seabirds are also frequent visitors to the Wash, and common seals breed there often. Apart from that, intertidal mudflats support an abundance of fish, notably plaice, sole, cod, shrimps and other small crustaceans.
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- Walthamstow Wetlands, London
If you’re looking for an urban nature reserve that’s more accessible, Walthamstow Wetlands is your ideal destination. Located in the heart of Lee Valley, just 15 minutes from central London, the 211-hectare site comprises ten working reservoirs that supply drinking water to the city. Currently managed by London Wildlife Trust, the reservoir complex is recognised for its migrating, wintering and breeding wetland birds, such as pochards, grey herons, cormorants and heronry.
- RSPB Saltholme, Cleveland
Saltholme Nature Reserve is a wetland reserve on the site of a former salt works in the Tees Valley. The shallow pools, wet grassland and reedbeds at Saltholme offer a great sanctuary for wildlife, supporting aquatic habitats for otters and water voles. In summer, it’s easy to spot common terns, sand martins and yellow wagtail nesting in the banks of creeks; whilst in winter, waders and ducks from Siberia are prevalent.
- Insh Marshes, Scottish Highlands
Nestled in the north of Scotland is the picturesque Insh Marshes in Scottish Highlands — an 11-kilometre floodplain of River Spey where you can marvel at the landscape and observe varied habitats. Rare plant species, birds and invertebrates roam the area, such as lapwings, redshanks, curlews, roe deer and foxes. It is also dominated by flowering and sedge plants like awlwort and cowbane. During winter, the marshes flood, welcoming swans, geese and waders to the area.
Since 1973, seven kilometres of the marshes have been managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Till now, the region serves as one of the largest areas of fen vegetation in Scotland.
- The Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim
The Giant’s Causeway is arguably one of Ireland’s best-known landmarks. Also a World Heritage Site (as well as an NNR), the coastline features approximately 40 000 interlocking basalt columns, formed as a result of a volcanic fissure eruption 60 million years ago. Geology aside, its ecology is spectacular, with various types of seabirds worthy of close inspection, including peregrine falcons and choughs. The weathered rock formations also host numerous unusual plants, such as sea spleenwort, vernal squill, sea fescue and frog orchid.
- Gilfach, Radnorshire
Formerly a traditional hill farm, Gilfach is a nature reserve tucked away in rural Mid Wales and managed by Radnorshire Wildlife Trust. The site accommodates up to 413 species of lichen, 55 breeding birds, and six species of bat. Pied flycatchers, dippers and redstarts all spend time at Gilfach, not to mention leaping Atlantic salmon with the River Marteg running through.
- Parc Slip, Bridgend
Further south in Wales sits Parc Slip Nature Reserve, a 300-acre area of mixed habitats restored in the 1980s from its former status as an opencast coal mine. Currently run by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, the site is a must-go for wildlife enthusiasts. Fields are ablaze with colourful wildflowers like oxeye daisy, ragged robin, fleabane and red bartsia. Open water ponds provide habitat for teal and lapwing. Acid soils attract great crested newts and the nationally rare Irish damselflies, whereas the woodland is home to grass snakes, green woodpecker, and tawny owls.
Parc Slip has a four-kilometre cycle track and several footpaths for dog walking. Family activities such as pond dipping, bug hunting and bird box making are also available at the Visitor Centre.
These UK nature reserves and natural landmarks are just some of the natural beauty that the UK has to offer. Getting a regular dose of nature is always a top priority; not only does the recharge keep you healthy, but you also get to enjoy some of the most glorious wildlife spectacles and nature reserves in the UK and find tranquillity outside of the hustle and bustle.