As Spring approaches and trips become more possible why not consider exploring some of the best nature reserves available in the UK. With sprawling woods, rivers, lakes, hills all filled with a rich diversity of wildlife, you can enjoy some remarkable sites as you spend the day lost in the serenity of nature. Here are a few of the best-kept conservation areas across the UK, a perfect getaway for any group that can appreciate the grand outdoors.
This stunning reserve spreads across 25,000 hectares in Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire. It was taken under the National Trust in 1899, making it the oldest reserve in the scheme’s history. In fact, the National Trust is itself the largest environmental charity in Europe. Wicken Fen is still to this day an ambitious conservation project with its last expansion successfully undertook in 1999. It contains wetlands, wet grasslands, reed beds, marshlands, fen as well as rich biodiversity across its grasslands and woodlands.
You will be sure to find a wide variety of birds and other wildlife but perhaps most special is the introduction of Highland cattle from Scotland and Konik ponies from Eastern Europe. You can see them grazing across the conservation adding to the rich natural diversity and encouraging the growth of more flora and vegetation. Visitors can camp at Wicken Fen and there is also an iconic still-working wind-pump, a sort of windmill used to drain fields of water. If you’re interested you can see how the Fen farmers and workers used to operate by visiting Fen Cottage and Fenman’s Workshop.
Elmley Nature Reserve
Elmley Nature Reserve is a large wetland in Kent. It dries seasonally and receives water exclusively from rainfall. Connected to local farmers it has large livestock of cattle farmed sustainably, which works symbiotically with the conservation of grass and marshes. Each year it breeds and attracts migrating flocks of wildfowl, waders, lapwings, and redshanks, amongst many others creating a rather dazzling display in the skies. As a freshwater habitat, it is filled with salt marsh and mudflats all interconnected around the Swale, which is a sea channel separating it from the mainland meaning Elley Nature Reserve stands practically as an island.
Of course, there are many trails for hikers to explore as well as a two-mile road up to Kingshill farm, drivers are encouraged to go slowly and even stop to spot the wildlife as though on safari. This is not just a nature reserve however, Kingshill farm is a high-end restaurant and there are adorable cabins, cottages, and glamping options across the reserve – making Elmley the only National Nature Reserve in England where visitors can stay overnight. This is an attractive idea for anyone based around London as it is only one hour from the capital.
Creag Meagaidh National Nature Reserve
This immense landscape has been described as of all the highlands in one spectacular place. It is a rugged region filled with mountains, woodlands, rivers, and moorland offering exhilarating excursions, with many trails open to all levels of hikers. Visitors can find flora unique to this region growing in defiance to the extreme weathers across the mountains. These include woolly willow and Highland saxifrage. The land itself is so vast and diverse that it has a self-contained climate as it rises out from Loch Laggan to the summit of Creag Meagaidh.
With different mountains to climb, you can see goldfinches and deer from the river and as you make your way up for incredible views and natural ice formations, you can spot other creatures like mountain hare and black grouse. While there are easier routes to follow as a truly ‘wild’ nature reserve you should definitely plan accordingly with the correct equipment, maps, and guides. If you were to drive south from Inverness the journey would only take an hour and a half and you would see some amazing vistas on the way as you go through Cairngorms National Park. We covered Cairngorms here.
This area is a geological wonder holding 500 million years of history in its unique rock formations. Hikers from all over the world come to to Knockan Cragg as it has some fantastic trails with extraordinary features. There are three key routes you can take that scale on difficulty. The easiest would be the Quarry Trail, which takes about 20 minutes, while The Thrust trail will take you Moine Thrust. It is at Moine Thrust that you can see the metamorphic rocks which puzzled scientists of the Victorian era. The formations were discovered in 1907 and hold hundreds of millions of years worth of geological secrets. Over time it has become instrumental to understanding how the very earth shifted not only in that area but in general.
There is a Rock Room at the beginning of the trail with excellent displays and information on the subject. If you’re comfortable with your fitness you can go even further to the Crag Top Trail, it will take you to the top of the Crag and back down for views that will take your breath away. There are also several art installations to be discovered along these trails ranging from poetry to gigantic rock sculptures. You can also find kestrels, eagles, ravens as well as ancient fossils on display. Always plan ahead and dress in proper hiking equipment if you choose to visit.
Perhaps it’s cheating to put Snowdonia as it’s more of a region containing several nature reserves. However, it would be wrong not to include this iconic section of Wales as it contains so much beauty with more activities than you know what to do with. Snowden Mountain is the highest peak in Wales that reaches an altitude so high climbers can see Ireland from the top. The Llanberis Path would be your easiest way to the summit, and while it is long (around 6 hours there and back) it is gradual, in fact it was originally a pony path, and if you book ahead you can still ride one up.
There are many other interesting routes to take such as the Miners Track, which was a path used to carry copper in 1832, where you can still see remnants of the mining work today. You can also start in the quaint village of Beddgelert and make your way up the Rhyd Ddu Path. Be sure to plan accordingly and keep an eye out for Welsh Mountain Goats, Polecats, and Stoats! If you don’t want to reach the summit there are plenty more cycle routes, beach walks, fishing, and flat trails to explore in Snowdonia including the Coastal Circular walks that offer 18 different routes.
Three Cliffs Bay
Three Cliffs Bay, Swansea, is worth mentioning not only because it is a beautifully preserved section of cliffs and beaches but it also offers incredible resorts, camping, and golfing on top of the natural wildlife and flora. It’s considered possibly the most beautiful bay in Britain with a wide mouth and the Three Cliff Rocks on its eastern shore, which is a natural rock arch.
At low tide, you can walk comfortably and explore the geological wonders. The area also has unique flora including the county flower of Swansea, yellow whitlow grass, as well as ravens and chough. There are countless sand dunes, salt marsh, tidal pools, and limestone cliffs to marvel at. If you are at a very good level the bay also offers quality surfing and if you’re lucky you may even spot a seal! In terms of accommodation, there is the Three Cliffs Bay Holiday Park, which offers anything from RV parking to unique clamping tents giving you absolute comfort whilst still being immersed in the beautiful surroundings.
Located near Belfast this stunning area has a host of meadows, flora and local wildlife while also offering views of the city in the distance. In summer the area literally comes alive particularly with its brightly coloured grassland and signature orchids. You will also see in its rushes many different types of birds, fungi and in the right months thousands upon thousands of butterflies and moths of various types such as small heath and marsh pug.
In this beautiful hilly area, you’re likely to see meadow pipit, skylark, cuckoo, grasshopper warbler, and many more bird species, so as you can imagine Slievenacloy is almost like a fairytale. As a delicate ecosystem, the area is grazed with Irish moiled cattle from early summer to mid-winter making for an adorable bit of wildlife watching. Perhaps smaller than others on this list at 125 hectares, it makes up for it with its biodiversity and dream-like hills. Plus, its proximity to Belfast makes an excellent day trip and entry is free!
Murlough National Nature Reserve
This is a beautiful reserve the combines beaches, grassland, and forests. It offers pleasing pathway walks through the forest and epic strolls along the beach to Dundrum Bay with the Mourne mountains framing it all in the distance. Visitors can enjoy all of it with safe and excellently maintained pathways all networked together spotting a diverse amount of butterfly species and flora found throughout the forest and grassland. There is a self-guided tour available at the visitors’ centre while volunteers are usually around year-round to guide people too.
Once you’re at the beach you can even see remnants of human habitation dating back to the Bronze Age and Neolithic era. For real excursionists take the coastal and mountain paths all the way to Sieve Donard, the highest mountain in Northern Ireland. There is also some interesting historical sites to see such as the Bloody Bridge and an old smugglers route that goes deep into the mountains. Just opposite the Isle of Man this incredible area is less than an hour south of Belfast and well-worth the visit.
We hope you get to experience as many of these areas as you can. With SIXT branches across the UK including London, Inverness, and Belfast we make getting there a breeze with top quality cars at affordable rates, both short-term and long-term.