1 Inversnaid, Loch Lomond
Part of the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, the RSPB Nature Reserve at Inversnaid, on the east shore of the loch, is an important woodland area of some 800 hectares, including rare Atlantic oaks.
The reserve climbs from sea level to the top of Being a’ Choin. You can approach it by road, but even better during high season are the regular cruises across the loch from Tarbet to Inversnaid.
Expect to see black grouse, redstarts and pied flycatchers, and listen out for the wood warbler. Pine martens live in the woods and you might also glimpse peregrines, ospreys and golden eagles.
Where to stay: on the western side of the loch, you’ll find Loch Lomond Holiday Park perfectly placed to enjoy the best of the area, including the many waterspouts on offer.
2 Glen Affric, Highlands
Widely celebrated as ‘the most beautiful glen in Scotland’, the reserve at Glen Affric is a wonderful mix of lochs, mountains, rivers and pine forest – in fact, it is home to one of the largest ancient Caledonian pine woods in Scotland.
The area is popular with walkers, who can view the beautiful Plodda Falls, follow the hiking trails near the River Affric, or even canoe on Lough Beinn a’Mheadhoin. This is scenic Scotland at its spectacular best, with an array of wildlife on display, including majestic golden eagles and magnificent red deer.
Otters, pine martens, ospreys and a vast range of woodland birds add to the magic of this location, and can all be viewed from the many walking and cycling trails.
Where to stay: Cannich Woodland Camping Site, which is well located in the village of Cannich, at the head of the Glen Affric Nature Reserve, offers bicycles for hire.
3 Lundy Island, North Devon
One for aficionados of all things maritime, Lundy became the first statutory Marine Nature Reserve in 1986 and in 2010, the UK’s first Marine Conservation Zone.
This 15-square-mile island, in the Bristol Channel is famous for its excellent marine life and habitats, and its visiting grey seals.
Even if you’re not a diver, you can still spot porpoise, dolphins and minke whales from boats or the shoreline.
Day returns on Lundy’s own vessel, the MS Oldenburg (departures from Ilfracombe and Bideford) cost £42 (book in advance); on the island you can see everything from Bronze Age settlements to a Georgian lighthouse. The island is also renowned for its birdlife, particularly puffins, after which it is named – ‘Lundy’ derives from the Old Norse word for ‘puffin island’.
Where to stay: Damage Barton Caravan and Camping Site is well placed for Ilfracombe and the golden sands of nearby Woolacombe. While you’re there, a visit to the chocolate box village of Clovelly is also within easy reach.
4 The Lizard National Nature Reserve, Cornwall
The designation ‘National Nature Reserve’ (NNR) indicates an area of natural habitat that is of national importance.
The Lizard Peninsula, for example, is considered one of the best locations in the whole country for wildlife, as well as a wealth of rare plants and iinvertebrates.
It also has breathtaking coastline, with dramatic cliffs cut with natural coves. Coastal highlights include Kynance Cove, Lizard Point and Black Head, a stretch of the South West Coast Path from which you can enjoy superb sea views.
Inland, Windmill Farm Nature Reserve, at Predannack Downs, is owned by the Cornwall Birdwatching and Preservation Society and Cornwall Wildlife Trust, and comprises grass- and heathland that is home to buzzards, sparrow hawks, cuckoos, skylarks, reed buntings and more.
Where to stay: Silver Sands Holiday Park is on the reserve and was the regional winner in our 2020 Top 100 Sites Guide.
5 Lindisfarne, Northumberland
The tidal island of Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, just off Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland, is a popular destination.
Although the island’s 16th-century castle is impressive, the real treasure has to be its incredible dunes, salt marsh and mudflats, home to a multitude of wildlife.
Butterflies, wildflowers, overwintering waterfowl and a variety of wading birds, ducks and geese make this a natural place of pilgrimage for ornithologists drawn by the unique landscape.
The dunes here are home to nationally important plants, including 11 species of orchid, while unusual marine animals, such as brittle stars and top-shells, can also be spotted.
Where to stay: Berwick Seaview Caravan & Motorhome Club Site is well situated for visiting both Lindisfarne and the nearby Farne Islands, with their famed population of grey seals.
6 Malham, Yorkshire Dales
The spectacular limestone pavement that you can explore above Malham Cove gets top marks for sheer topographical wonder.
This marvel of nature, located in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, is the product of deeply eroded limestone that over time, has created an unusual pattern of natural crazy paving.
The cliffs from the cove below stretch up some 8cm high, but the pavement can be reached fairly easily from a good footpath.
The beautiful waterfall at Janet’s Fosses is old a short walk from Malham, and the natural alkaline lake at Malham Tarn is home to an impressive amount of flora and fauna This is England’s highest freshwater lake and forms the backdrop for several interesting walks.
Where to stay: Knight Stainforth Hall is just a short drive away, near the busy market town of Settle.
7 Blakeney, Norfolk
Part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Blakeney Nature Reserve is best known for its large populations of common and grey seals, which come to bask in huge numbers at Blakeney Point.
This is a vast landscape of salt marshes, shingle and sand dunes, and an important location for breeding birds.
Common seals are most abundant here in the summer months, while greys tend to arrive later in the year.
This beautiful and dramatic landscape is also great for birdwatching, with terns being especially prolific. An excellent way to see the nesting sites of common, Arctic, little and sandwich terns is from one of the many boat trips which operate out of Blakeney Harbour.
There’s plenty more to see here, with some 270 species of birds identified, and there are good walks to be had along the Norfolk Coast Path.
Where to stay: Old Brick Kilns Caravan & Camping Park, our Top 100 Sites Guide regional winner, is just half an hour’s drive away.
8 Seaford Head, East Sussex
When it comes to imposing white cliffs, Dover often gets top billing, but we’d argue that those found along the Sussex coast make for a more beautiful landscape.
At Seaford Head, you can take in the views across the Cuckmere Valley and out towards the Seven Sisters, which stretch away towards Beachy Head.
The cliffs are home to many species of seabird. Below, the River Cuckmere flows into the Channel at Cuckmere Haven, used as a film location for the 1991 Hollywood move Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
The Seven Sisters Country Park is great for cycling and birdwatching, although the hill walks are the star attraction.
Where to stay: Buckle Holiday Park has its own private access to the gorgeous Blue Flag beach at Seaford Bay.
Rutland Water Nature Reserve, East Midlands
With more than 390 acres of wild habitat, 25,000 wildfowl and 31 bird hides, Rutland Water Nature Reserve has to be one of the best places in the UK if you enjoy watching birds and wildlife.
A vast wetland (it’s one of the largest constructed lakes in Europe), the reserve has seen great success in increasing the population of ospreys, once an endangered species, and they are a highlight of any visit.
The huge number of species on view is too long to list here, but autumn visitors can expect to see redstarts and warblers, along with waders and the early winter wildfowl. Aside from the very impressive bird colonies, there are sweeping meadows of wildflowers, common spotted orchids and hedgerows rich in wildlife.
Where to stay: Lyndon Top Caravan & Camping Park’s site borders the shores of Rutland Water.
10 Minera Quarry Nature Reserve, North Wales
The restorative power of nature never fails to amaze, and such is the case here. This former quarry, which was first mined for lead and then quarried for limestone, is now a precious haven for a huge range of flora and fauna.
Invertebrates, such as butterflies, bees and moths, can be seen in grassland areas, while in the newly established woodland, birdlife, such as redstarts, blackcaps and spotted flycatchers, are all in residence.
The area has become noted for its wild orchids, including food, salmon, spotted and fragrant orchids.
Where to stay: Chapel House C&MC CL Site is a short drive away from the nature reserve, while a 20-minute journey will bring you to the historic city of Chester.
11 Oxford Island NNR, Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland
Another majestic place to view birdlife, Lough Neagh is the largest lake (by area) in the British Isles and is rich in freshwater fish. It is also home to eels that swim more than 4000 miles to breed in the Sargasso Sea, in the North Atlantic – one of nature’s most remarkable migrations.
Over 100,000 wintering wildfowl will arrive at this beautiful lake from across the northern hemisphere, including the very distinctive whooper swan, which flies from Iceland to feed here in the winter.
Visitors are spoiled for choice, with boat trips, marinas and watersports centres all available. There are also excellent walks through the mixed conifer forests, such as Randalstown and Tardree.
Where to stay: Ballyronan Marina and Caravan Park is on the western shores of Lough Neagh.
12 Smardale Gill, Cumbria
The grasslands around the Smardale Gill viaduct are one of only two sites in England that are home to the Scotch Argus butterfly.
There’s an interesting contrast between the industrial architecture you can see here, and the natural grassland, which is packed with invertebrates, orchids and primroses.
Birdlife is also prolific on the reserve, with green woodpeckers, sparrow hawks and ravens joined in summer by restarts and pied flycatchers. If you’re lucky, you’ll also spot red squirrels and roe deer.
Where to stay: Pennine View Caravan Park is a brief drive away, and a mile from the centre of the historic market town of Kirkby Stephen.
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