Four European wildlife hotspots

You don’t need to travel to the ends of the Earth for a wildlife encounter. Here are our European highlights. 

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BBC Wildlife Magazine travel supplement, March 2014.

Outer Hebrides, Scotland

The end of the world, as it turns out, is rather a lively place. With 3,000km of nothing but ocean between here and Canada, swells roar across the North Atlantic to pound the western coasts of the Outer Hebrides – truly Britain on the edge. Yet the string of islands off Scotland’s north-west coast is anything but barren.

In spring, the corncrake’s onomatopoeic call rings out from the machair on the Uists and Barra, while otters brave that seething surf to fish in the lochs and coastal waters. You can sniff them out around Great Bernera or Berneray as the tide rolls in.

White-tailed eagles soar above the Uists and killer whales patrol offshore waters. And the islands’ miles of soft-sand strands are lapped by waters of a turquoise that can put the Aegean to shame.

With half-a-dozen ports served by regular ferries, the Western Isles are eminently accessible, too.

 

Bear watching, Finland

Russia has notoriously stringent border controls. Brown bears, though, don’t follow the rules. They amble across into eastern Finland at will, ursine intruders topping up that country’s population of more than 1,000 bears.

Need proof? Then spend a long summer’s night or two in a log hide in this sub-Arctic region, watching a feeding station for the arrival of hungry bruins.

The luckiest wildlife watchers visiting the region might also be treated to a glimpse of wolverines, pine martens, wolves, lynx, reindeer or goshawks, while a walking or canoeing foray could yield flying squirrels or beavers.

 

Volunteering with sea turtles, Greece

For charisma, just add water. That’s how it is with sea turtles: so cumbersome and lumbering on land, but under the waves they are transformed into smooth-swimming charmers with a demeanour of serene wisdom that lends them the air of an aquatic Buddha. And the Endangered green and loggerhead turtles of the Mediterranean need help.

Conservation initiatives protect turtles, their nests and the tiny hatchlings that emerge from the sand on the beaches of Crete, Cyprus, the Ionian Islands and the Peloponnese. Join a project and your work will directly contribute to the conservation effort.

Conducting nest surveys and marking nest sites can deliver vital information about the health of local populations, while time spent protecting eggs from predators, tagging adult females and helping injured individuals gives you a chance to see the turtles up close.

 

Lynx tracking, Spain

Until very recently, the scent of lynx has been the whiff of despair.

A decade ago, the entire population of the Iberian lynx had plummeted to 100 or fewer. Today, though the species is still Critically Endangered, the twin populations in Andalucía’s Doñana National Park and Sierra de Andújar Natural Park are nudging 300, with a combined captive-breeding and rabbit-repopulation programme yielding amazing results.

Lynx are specialist rabbit hunters that struggle to adapt to different diets, so this part of the conservation project has been vital.

Combing the cork-oak forests and scrub of the Sierra Morena might just reward you with a sighting.

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