The sea birds of Skomer
Skomer, off the Pembrokeshire coast, is less than 3sq km in size and yet home to almost 40,000 curious puffins, plus half of the world’s Manx shearwaters, from April to July. Seen at episode one’s conclusion as well as in episode five’s focus on the ocean, the bumpy Welsh island additionally hosts porpoises, seals and endemic voles.
How to see them: A basic, 16-bed bunkhouse opens on Skomer from April to October (from £85pp a night self-catering, welshwildlife.org). Boat safaris from Martin’s Haven, landing on Skomer from £30pp, pembrokeshire-islands.co.uk
Studland’s rock stars
The first episode of Wild Isles celebrates the British Isles’ diverse geology. According to the Edinburgh Geological Society, Scotland’s rocks alone have formed over billions of years, which is reflected in the scenic diversity we see today, from Highlands to Lowlands, lochs to islands. North Yorkshire’s limestone pavements and the basalt Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim feature in Wild Isles, but especially photogenic are the three sea-sculpted chalk pillars beside which Sir David introduces the series: Old Harry Rocks in Dorset’s Studland Bay.
Lords-and-ladies in the woods
Also known as cuckoo pint, this plant – found around woodland and shady parts of the UK – employs an unusual pollination strategy in April and May, as its male flowers heat up before emitting a faecal scent. Enraptured flies enter, only to become trapped and pollen-showered. Once freed, they transfer the fine powder to female flowers.
How to see them: ‘Wild Isles’ filmed lords-and-ladies for episode two outside Bristol, where plenty can be found in Leigh Woods (parking from £2, nationaltrust.org.uk). Stay across the Clifton Suspension Bridge at Hotel du Vin’s Avon Gorge outpost, doubles from £144 B&B, hotelduvin.com
Scotland’s red rarities
Our native red squirrels now rely on protected areas, including several around the Cairngorms in central Scotland, where Wild Isles also profiles courting hen harriers and black grouse. The latter bird’s collective, flamboyant “lek” mating displays tend to be witnessed on spring mornings.
How to see them: Wild Discovery, which assisted with filming, operates small-group wildlife tours. Its six-night Cairngorms & Coast trip costs £1,545pp full board, including transport and activities, commencing on 6 May, wild-discovery.com
Shetlands’ killer views
Weighing up to 10 tons, orcas – aka killer whales – put in appearances off coastlines around Britain. They only breed in the northerly Shetland Islands, however, which is where Wild Isles presents a pod deploying a new, silent strategy to stalk seals.
How to see them Beginning on 15 August, the guided, small-group Wild Shetland holiday aims to deliver sightings of orcas — plus otter and storm petrel. Seven nights’ full board from £1,855pp, including all transport and excursions, shetlandnature.net
Somerset’s shape-shifting skies
The incredible spectacle of starling murmurations involve up to a million birds swirling and swooping in unison. You can witness its at twilight in winter around Britain (check starlingsintheuk.co.uk), but most memorably on the soggy Somerset Levels below tower-topped Glastonbury Tor.
How to see them: RSPB Ham Wall, a mixed habitat formed from ex-peat workings, provides a starling hotline (free, rspb.org.uk). The nearby Mount Pleasant B&B has a bird-busy garden; doubles from £105 B&B, mountpleasantbnb.com
Prey tell on Islay
Wild Isles shows our largest bird of prey, the white-tailed eagle, learning to hunt an entirely new quarry in barnacle geese. These eagles had become extinct in Britain in the early 20th century due to extensive habitat change and illegal hunting, but after a phased reintroduction over the course of several decades, about a dozen now over-winter on whisky-making Islay, the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides.
How to see them: You’ll need to undertake very patient vigils at two hides at Loch Gruinart (free, rspb.org.uk). The waterfront Anchorage B&B isn’t far and has doubles from £60, theanchorage.squarespace.com
Wild horses in Cambridgeshire
Magnificent wild konik ponies have been reintroduced to Cambridgeshire’s fens to improve the wetland’s biodiversity. But the males that Wild Isles viewers will see have a more pressing concern: seeing off rivals to secure female partners.
How to see them: Search around Wicken Fen nature reserve (£9, nationaltrust.org.uk). In nearby Newmarket, the upmarket Bedford Lodge has three-acre gardens, doubles from £136 B&B, bedfordlodgehotel.co.uk
Make a beeline for Dorset
Sir David begins episode three in a Dorset hay meadow, while one of the series’ loveliest shots, involving a mason bee carrying a twig (or is that riding a broomstick?), occurred in fields nearby. The insect emerges between March and August and is named for its tendency to use masonry products in the construction of their nests, usually in cracks and cavities.
How to see them: North-west of Dorchester, Kingcombe Meadows nature reserve pairs a pesticide-free farm with flowery pastures (free, dorsetwildlifetrust.org.uk). Close by is Colesmoor Farm and its woodland glamping hut, from £55 self-catering, farmstay.co.uk
Kerry’s red deer rut
Oww-ooo-er – audible for at least 6,000 years during autumn in mountainous Killarney National Park, Co Kerry, that spine-tingling bellow means only one thing: it’s rutting season for red deer stags. With females in season, males must earn supremacy. Posturing often suffices. But not always…
How to see them: The park is in south-western Ireland (free, nationalparks.ie). Mucrkoss Park Hotel (muckrosspark.com), on the edge of the park, has doubles from £203 and organises guided walks to see the stags during autumn – a common area for herds is on the edge of its grounds
Swoop into Surrey
Small, speedy falcons capable of amazing aerial swoops visit England and parts of Wales between April and October. Dragonflies constitute a favourite dinner, with warm midsummer days the prime time to witness the insect hunt. September is when you might see juveniles learning to hunt.
How to see them: Wild Isles crews spent four years in Surrey. Try visiting Thursley National Nature Reserve, whose rare heathland and boardwalk-crossed peat bogs appeal to both predator and prey (free; surreyhills.org). Bel & The Dragon is a charismatic country inn at Churt, within walking distance of Thursley and Frensham Ponds, with doubles from £125 B&B, belandthedragon-churt.co.uk
Damselflies in Somerset
Aquatic damselflies feature in episode four’s focus on freshwater – specifically, beautiful blue or green-banded demoiselles, with butterfly-like wings that only fly in sunshine and mate in an elegant wheel pattern.
How to see them: A stretch of Somerset’s River Isle, east of Taunton, was the shooting location for episode four. Waterside walking paths along its more sluggish northern section, around the twee village of Isle Brewers, are your best bet. Serving dinners, Brewers Cottage B&B is a minute’s walk away, doubles from £110 B&B, bedandbreakfastatbrewerscottage.com
Be dammed near Deal
Prone to erecting dams that slow running water and enable numerous other species, beavers – Europe’s largest rodent – are gradually being reintroduced to Britain following extinction in the 16th century, mainly due to hunting.
How to see them: Beavers have been back at Ham Fen, outside Deal in Kent, since 2001. This reserve is closed to the public save for occasional guided morning walks; the next is on 7 May (£35, kentwildlifetrust.org.uk). A mile south is the Crown Inn at Finglesham and its spacious new-build lodge rooms, from £110 room only, crowninnatfinglesham.co.uk
Padstow’s return visitors
Although only recently returned to Cornwall’s waters, endangered bluefin tuna have lately been spied in summer and autumn with increasing frequency. If you’re really lucky, you’ll see them leaping and pack-hunting panicked shoals, as Wild Isles enthrallingly does.
How to see them: Appearances are possible during three-hour sea safaris, with dolphins and puffins very likely (£55, padstowsealifesafaris.co.uk). They depart from Padstow harbour, in walking distance from the period Cyntwell boutique B&B, doubles from £95, cyntwell.co.uk
Wade into North Norfolk
Hungry peregrine falcons have been thrillingly captured dive-bombing knots, a species of sandpiper, at RSPB Snettisham, in North Norfolk. Not that it’s easy: the waders migrate here in 10,000-strong hordes, with such dense numbers, making it hard for their predators to identify a single target.
How to see them: Flying in vast flocks at sunset, knots begin arriving in The Wash in late summer (free, rspb.org.uk). A little inland, the red-brick country house Mount Amelia has spacious bedrooms, doubles from £100 B&B, mountamelia.com