You don’t have to spend the earth, or travel to its farthest corners, to fulfil your craving for nature – there’s plenty of wonderful wildlife to discover just on your doorstep, right here in the U.K. Here’s my selection of some of Britain’s most iconic and well-loved species, as well as a couple of ‘wild-cards’ that perhaps you didn’t know could be found so close to home…
A real star among British birds, the robin has dominated the Christmas card scene for decades now. Tits just don’t get a look-in. Some say that the association between robins and Christmas comes from the fact that, in Victorian times, postmen wore vivid red waistcoats as part of their uniform, and were nicknamed ‘Robins’. Since it was these guys that delivered Christmas cards during the festive season, the bird on the card came to represent the ‘postie’ that delivered it, and the association between robins and Christmas was born. Or maybe it’s just because they look fabulous on a snowy background, who can say?
Atlantic Grey Seals
The UK hosts nearly half of the world’s entire grey seal population – astonishing, but true! Of these 124,000 or so, around 5,000 live in the waters around southwest Wales, and approximately 60 pups are born there each year. Why not pay them a visit?
Like many British teenagers, common dormice (or Hazel dormice) spend up to 75% of their lives asleep. When the food runs out and the weather turns a little too nippy, these little chaps hit the hay, only to emerge when spring has sprung. Even then, however, if the conditions aren’t quite right, dormice go into torpor, curling up for yet another nap!
Harry Styles himself would be jealous of that fringe. This ruggedly handsome, wavy-locked breed is one of the world’s oldest, and is incredibly hardy – Highland cows rarely get diseases, can live off scrubby bushes without needing well-maintained pastures, and don’t get stressed out by harsh conditions. Which is lucky, because a lot of them live in Scotland…
This pretty little owl is quite the head-turner. Unlike Tawny owls, they never hoot, but rather make strange screeching and hissing noises. Barn owls’ ears are slightly wonky, with one positioned higher up on the head than the other, helping them to more accurately pin-point where sounds are coming from. Tiny mammals of the U.K. – beware!
Whilst you might not be able to swim with dolphins in UK waters (mainly because it would be bloomin’ freezing), you can certainly catch a glimpse of these wonderfully intelligent creatures without forking out on a flight to Florida! Semi-resident populations of bottlenose dolphins can be found in Morray Firth in Scotland as well as Wales’ stunning Cardigan Bay.
They might look pretty similar to your common household moggy, but these Scots are no wee pussycats… As recently as the 1950s, these fearsome felines were thought to be man-killers! Agile, powerful and incredibly impressive, these prowling creatures are nicknamed ‘Highland Tigers’, and are Britain’s last remaining large wild predator.
If you didn’t know, baby hedgehogs are called ‘hoglets’, which is just, well, adorable. Hoglets! A hedgehog’s diet includes a lot of ‘pests’, earning them the reputation of ‘friend to gardeners’. Why not give something back to your spiny pals by leaving out tinned dog or cat food for them, or by making them a little hedgehog home in your garden? Find out more at: http://www.rspca.org.uk/adviceandwelfare/wildlife/inthewild/gardenhedgehogs
A native species, roe deer have been around in Britain for as long as 10,000 years. They’ve been through a lot in this time, having been hunted to extinction in England during the late 18th century. However, after several introductions, and an increase in forestation, they are back in abundance. During breeding season, the ‘battle of the bucks’ commences, with fights between males sometimes resulting in serious injury or even death.
One of Britain’s rarest species, there are probably only around 1,000 Bechstein’s bats left in the U.K. They can be found in woodland areas of south Wales and southern England, often choosing to roost in old woodpecker holes. Help them out by putting up a ‘bat-box’ in your garden – pick a tree that gets some sunshine during the day, but that’s also near to other trees or hedges. And remember: never disturb a bat, it’s actually forbidden by U.K. law!
The long-term future of this native species hangs in the balance – the introduction of the North American grey squirrel has brought with it a virus that proves deadly to red squirrels, leading to the disappearance of the red type from many parts of Britain. Learn how you can help ensure their survival by visiting http://rsst.org.uk/.
This incredibly rare breed is also Britain’s oldest, having roamed the high moorlands of south west Britain since ancient times. Pure bred Exmoors are a hardy bunch, surviving in the wild all year round without needing extra food or shelter.
From dappled Gloucester Old Spots and ginger Tamworths to flop-eared British Lops, Britain has a fine selection of native pig breeds. Although they have a reputation as filthy fellas, pigs are actually among the cleanest animals. They just love to wallow. And I respect them for that.
These athletic, playful and loyal bundles of canine joy are often considered the most intelligent of all dog breeds. Sometimes when I look at my own I find this hard to believe, but then he’s probably not a pure breed. Sorry Indie. Border Collies take their name from the region in which they were developed – the border between England and Scotland, where farmers needed clever companions to help herd sheep in the hilly boundary lands.
Prepare yourself for a healthy dose of cuteness… Did you know that sea otters hold hands with their family members whilst they’re asleep to make sure they don’t drift apart? Now that’s clever. And cute. In equal measure.
So there we have it – the very best of British wildlife. Now go forth and meet these wonderful creatures for yourself! I’ll leave you with this adorable video of an otter displaying his very best magic trick, and another that proves that they definitely do hold hands!