7 wildlife hotspots in South East England
The best places to visit for a memorable experience with nature by Wild Guide author Lucy Grewcock.
1 Ponies, New Forest, Hampshire
This indigenous breed has roamed freely for more than 2000 years, thanks to local rights over common pastures. Today, there are around 3000 ponies in total and, twice a year (summer and autumn) they are rounded up in 'drifts' for worming, grooming and veterinary checks. To prevent the population getting out of control, young colts are removed before they can breed, and stallions are only released between April and July.
© Vicky WJ
2 Starlings, Brighton, Sussex
On winter evenings, flocks of up to 40,000 starlings surge and soar around Brighton’s burnt-out West Pier, where they eventually come to roost. Gathering together for warmth, this wildlife murmuration is one of the best in Britain and is a spectacle that truly takes your breath away as they swoop through the sky in unison, forming long flowing ribbons and pulsating swirls.
© Ian Capper
3 Grey seals, Blakeney Point, Norfolk
England’s largest breeding site for grey seals is the four-mile sand and shingle spit at Blakeney Point in North Norfolk. Protected since 1976, the safe conditions here are ideal for both grey and common seals, which are found year-round. This winter, a record number of almost 2,500 grey seal pups were born. Join an organised boat trip from Morston or Blakeney Quay, visiting between April and October for the peak viewing season.
© Wilf Buck
4 Rutting deer, Richmond Park, London
October is the month of the fallow deer rut, when red stags and fallow bucks bellow through the trees at dusk and lock antlers for the right to mate. Richmond Park in London is one of the best places to see them – more than 600 red and fallow deer have roamed this Royal parkland since 1529 and put on a reliable show each autumn. The New Forest is also an excellent place to find them.
© Vicky WJ
5 Roosting rooks, Buckenham, Norfolk
A phenomenon that was noted in the Domesday Book, up to 80,000 rooks blacken the skies above the Norfolk village of Buckenham on wintery evenings between October and March. Coming in to roost just after sunset, clear skies and full moons give the best views, and the sound of the rooks can be heard for miles around. The small brick shelter near Buckenham station is a good place to watch from.
© Glyn Baker
6 Glow-worms, Stow Maries, Essex
Beetles rather than ‘worms’, female glow worms emit a yellow-green glow to their male counterparts on summer evenings. Within the UK, these magical insects favour the chalky soils and grasslands of southern England, with the small reserve of Stow Maries Halt in Essex a reliable place to see them. Westleton Heath in Suffolk and the Pegsdon Hills on the Beds/Herts border are also good spots. Overcast evenings in June and July create the best conditions.
© Donald Macauley
7 Grey herons – Titchmarsh, Nene Valley
Instantly recognisable by their long necks and dagger-like beaks, these tall birds return to the same spot each February to breed. The ‘heronry’ lake near Titchmarsh in the Nene Valley is one such hotspot in the southeast. Here, you can spy on them year-round from wooden bird hides, canoe past as they fish in the river, or visit in February to hear their loud mating calls.
Find out more about Wild Guide by Lucy Grewcock, Daniel Start and Elsa Hammond (£15.99, Wild Things Publishing), which reveals hidden corners, simple adventures and magical pockets of nature in southern and eastern England.