Top 10 British Birding Sites


Lists are all the rage these days, especially those to tick before you die, so here’s my contribution. But with a difference: not for me the plain old best but, as a rabid lister, the locations to deliver the most varied bag of species. The concomitant geographic spread should also make this Top 10 truly British.

Close to Pokerbird WHQ, Somerset’s
Chew Valley Lake holds many freshwater species as well as the prospect of birds, chiefly herons, that are colonising from the continent. It’s especially good for small numbers, but a wide variety, of autumn migrants.

Over the Severn Estuary pine plantations in the Forest of Dean provide the setting for the next stop. It is not so much a location as an area, round Parkend and New Fancy View, that holds the highlights of both hawfinches and displaying goshawks. Nearby RSPB Nagshead completes a trio of spots within a two-kilometre circle.

Further north and inland, where Wales excels, Lake Vrynwy, only 60 miles west of the Black Country, is a breeding ground for many of our passerines. Away from its encircling deciduous woodlands, roads also lead up to the moors and their specialist birds.

Actually in the Midlands and easy off junction 5 of the M5 is the little Worcestershire Wildlife Trust reserve of Upton Warren. Its species list belies its small size as a mixture of salt and fresh water pools attract waders and seabirds as far inland as you can see them.

Even London gets in on the act with its excellent Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) reserve at Barnes Elms. In terms of adding to the species, it really only supplies a couple of invaders – rose-ringed parakeet and Egyptian goose. But its proximity to such a mass of population alone makes it worthy of the Top 10.

The least controversial site is RSPB Titchwell on the North Norfolk coast, where just one day’s visit can yield more than 50 species. Its scrapes and lagoons hold a first-rate selection of waders year round to add to species offshore.

The RSPB reserve at Bempton on the Yorkshire cliffs, provides a maternity ward for Britain’s important seabirds. The spring and summer months really see the colonies come alive although a visit any time of the year is good for the surrounding farmland.

Another WWT reserve at Martin Mere fills the northwest England gap, apart from being a fine day out and not just for waterbirds. The site holds a small colony of tree sparrows and the neighbouring farmland has corn buntings.

Scotland offers unique Caledonian pinewoods, home to capercaillie, crested tit and Scottish crossbill. Few places are better to see them than Abernethy, which is primarily famous for its ospreys. Yet another RSPB site at Loch of Strathbeg, coupled with nearby Rattray Head, promises Scottish coastal watching. Here are Britain’s more northerly pelagic birds and waterfowl, especially in the winter.

10 sites and the possibility of 200 species by my calculations. That’s why I call them Top.

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