British Travel Journal
Spend your next trip marvelling at the richness of our native flora and fauna – and help to ensure that our spectacular scenery and wildlife are maintained for future generations.
THE BRITISH ISLES contain a huge range of natural habitats, from ancient pine forests, to tiny islands with their own unique ecosystems. An incredible variety of plants and animals make their home here with us – so you don't have to travel far at all to see something new and amazing.
Sadly, many of these ecosystems have been under threat, thanks largely to human activities. However, a handful of small companies are both giving people an opportunity to explore Britain's native wildlife, and working with local conservators to ensure that they preserve existing habitats, and regain some that have been lost.
Taking time out to learn more about the fascinating plants and animals that share our islands is rewarding in itself, but it also means coming home with a renewed enthusiasm for living sustainably, so that we can continue to coexist with so many amazing species.
AUTUMN IN THE CAIRNGORMS
“In autumn the colours of the landscape light up. It's not just the trees, but the moorland grasses too – the whole landscape just glows. The fungi are fascinating and the changing smells of the vegetation bring a particular atmosphere to being in the forests at this time of year. The sounds of the returning geese and the mass movement of thousands of other birds, some journeying many thousands of miles, make you feel really connected to the whole process of seasonal change and that wonderful mystery of migration.”
Spend your next trip marvelling at the richness of our native flora and fauna – and help to ensure that our spectacular scenery and wildlife are
maintained for future generations
Sally Nowell has been guiding trips in the Cairngorms for four years, and has lived in this beautiful part of the Scottish Highlands for 27 years. Each year she shares this magical season with a small group of guests, who are here to catch the first call of the whooper swans returning from their summer breeding grounds, and the frantic feeding of winter thrushes, against the backdrop of huge swathes of vibrant autumn-hued woodland, and breathtaking mountain ranges. The red deer rut is a highlight of the trip – you might hear the sound of stags proclaiming their territory with roars that echo around the glen, or hear the clash of antlers in the steep-sided glacial valleys.
The Cairngorms are also home to some of the largest remaining tracts of ancient Caledonian pine forest, and contain a multitude of wildlife that depends on this unique habitat – the crested tit, Scottish crossbill and red squirrel, to name a few. And the flora is as distinctive as the fauna, with many orchid species to be found in the forest, as well as the rare twinflower.
“I love witnessing the turning of the seasons and the changing of the guard, as our summer visitors gather to leave and the winter visitors arrive,” says Sally. “The deciduous forests change from vibrant green to rich rust reds and the glowing yellow of the aspens. The colours can be outstanding and the autumn light and shade provides a feast for the eyes.”
The Autumn in the Cairngorms trip is available from Speyside Wildlife, who are supporting RSPB Abernethy in their work to extend the Caledonian pine forest, and have also received a Gold Green Tourism Award for their sustainable business practices.
The island of Skomer lies just off the Pembrokeshire coast and covers less than three square kilometres – however, it is home to Atlantic Puffins, as well as the world's largest population of Manx shearwater. “Skomer is a wildlife lover's dream,” says Bret Charman, who has led puffin-watching tours to the island for the past four years. “Our dedicated photography tours are timed to coincide with the peak of the puffin nesting season, when the birds spend more time on land. There is also an endemic species of vole found on the island – this is the only place on the planet it exists. And there are nesting short-eared owls, and countless other seabird species including guillemot, razorbill and fulmar, as well as grey seals.”
It's possible to take a day trip to the island, but to see everything that Skomer has to offer, you need to be one of a handful of people staying the night. The simple accommodation on offer is more than compensated by the riches of the wildlife. This is the only way that you will get to see the Manx shearwater, which return to the island under the cover of darkness to feed and care for their chicks – and create an eerie, but magical cacophony as they arrive.
“To be one of only 16 visitors staying on the island overnight, it feels like you have your own slice of puffin paradise,” says Bret. “By staying overnight you get the best puffin encounters and the best photography opportunities. Nothing beats being surrounded by thousands of puffins on a warm summer's evening. Staying on the island allows you to escape the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, put technology to one side and immerse yourself in the natural world”.
Skomer's Perfect Puffins is run by Wildlife Worldwide, and the island itself is managed by The Wildlife
Trust of South and West Wales, so money from the tours goes back in to the trust's conservation efforts.
You might think of spring or summer as the time to go bird watching, but winter offers unique opportunities – both in terms of the species you might see, and the ease of spotting them. “There's, surprisingly, a lot to see in winter,” says Richard Baines, who runs winter birding and wildlife photography trips in East and North Yorkshire. “Everywhere is much quieter, and less human disturbance means more birds.”
Guests on the trip stay at comfortable Highfield Farm, and from this base explore a huge range of landscapes, from the towering sea cliffs of Flamborough to the wetlands