This week we have a special guest post by Christine from www.afamilydayout.co.uk, which is a great blog filled with information about UK attractions, events, walks and cycle rides, all for families. You can follow what’s happening on A Family Day Out on Twitter @afamilyday and G+ .
Introducing your children to the natural world is one of the most important gifts you can give them. The UK has some great wildlife watching opportunities so why not grab a pair of binoculars and take a look at the suggestions below to get your family started.
1 Pond life
Pond dipping is a great way to explore the underwater world. Water beetles, pond snails and water boatmen are present in most ponds and at some times of the year you’ll also be able to find frog spawn or watch dragonflies flitting around. The best way is to look out for organised pond dipping sessions at your local nature reserve as they’ll have the right kit and will be able to help with identification.
Ask a child to name their favourite bird and a fair proportion will say the puffin. Its multi-coloured beak and comical walk certainly make it one of mine. Puffins can be seen on and around Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire and the Farne Islands, Northumberland during the early summer months. If you’re in Scotland, do not miss a trip to the Treshnish Isles near Mull. It’s a truly magical location where you can lay on the cliffs and watch puffins close-up. Getting there is an experience too, travel sickness tablets are recommended for the boat trip!
The osprey is a spectacular fish eating bird of prey. Previously hunted to extinction in the UK they have subsequently returned to our shores, migrating here from Africa each spring. Video cameras at the Loch Garten Osprey Centre in the Cairngorms provide close up views of nesting osprey during summer months. You can also see them from viewpoints in Dodd Wood, near Keswick where volunteers with telescopes can point out a nesting pair near Bassenthwaite Lake.
4 Red squirrels
Grey squirrels are present in just about every park. On the other hand, the cute tufty ears of red squirrels are much rarer and only found in a few spots around the UK. These include Brownsea Island, Dorset and Kielder Forest, Northumberland. We’ve also seen them close up at both of the osprey viewing points mentioned above.
Perhaps not the most exotic of birds, but responsible for a stunning wildlife spectacle. During autumn and winter, just before sunset, check out the skies above you. If you’re lucky you’ll see a starling murmuration, a huge flock of birds swooping and swirling almost as if in time to music. I live in a town and frequently see this, but other well known places include the Somerset levels, Brighton Pier and Gretna Green.
6 Rock pools
Rock pools are a fantastic place to discover sea life. They’re like mini aquariums with different varieties of seaweed, fish, sea anemones and molluscs to look at. Visit at low tide and take a small bucket to put your finds in one at a time. Some top spots for rock pooling are Kimmeridge Bay, Dorset and Porth y Pwll in North Wales.
7 New Forest ponies
Not strictly wild as the ponies have owners, but they do roam free across the New Forest. They’re a recognised breed of pony, and have inhabited the area for around 2000 years. The ponies are pretty easy to spot throughout the forest and you’d be very unlucky not to see them if visiting. Sadly some do get killed on the roads each year, so drive slowly and keep a watchful eye out!
Woodland floors are usually teaming with mini beasts. Using a trowel, carefully move aside the top layer of fallen leaves and you’ll probably spot woodlice, ants, spiders and perhaps centipedes. The Nature Detectives website (www.naturedetectives.org.uk) has great identification sheets to help you work out what you’ve found, and some top tips for bug hunting.
9 Garden birds
It’s amazing what you can see in your own back garden. Our small garden attracts starlings, sparrows, robins and finches as well as rarer visitors such as a blackcap, white throat and sparrow hawk. We provide bird food and a water dish, and also leave berries and seed heads on plants. The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch (www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch) takes place each January, why not join in and see what you can spot?
Grey and common seals are found along many of our coastlines. You can take a summer boat trip to visit the seals basking at Blakeney Point in Norfolk. There are around 500 seals in the colony, and they often swim inquisitively around the boats. Alternatively, if you’re in Pembrokeshire in early autumn you may be lucky to spot seal pups from some of the cliff paths. Be careful not to get too close to the edges though!
I hope these suggestions encourage you to get out with your family and start spotting the wonderful nature on our doorstep!