While we often associate wildlife with the countryside, a surprising number of species can be found in cities and towns. Whilst you may be familiar with your local urban foxes, pigeons and grey squirrels, if you know where to look, you’ll be able to see rarer species and impressive wildlife spectacles too.


Starling roost: Aberystwyth, Brighton & Hove

Starling murmuration in Aberystwyth, Wales
Starling murmuration in Aberystwyth. © Keith Morris/Getty

On winter evenings thousands of starlings perform photogenic aerobatics above the piers in these coastal cities, before they land on the ironwork to roost. Unlike most starling roosts, viewers on the piers can look down on the birds jostling for position on the girders below.

Discover more tips on where to see roosting and murmurating starlings.

English elm: Brighton & Hove

Full-size English elms are a scarce sight since Dutch elm disease in the 1960s. But Brighton offers a sanctuary to thousands of elms, including the ‘Preston Twins’ in Preston Park, said to be the oldest in Europe.

Purple hairstreak butterfly: Norwich, Newport and London

A female purple hairstreak butterfly with its wings open.
A female purple hairstreak butterfly with its wings open. © Ger Bosma/Getty

On the wing from June to August, this small yet exquisite species is potentially one of our most abundant butterflies yet is seldom seen due to its love for the canopy of oak trees. Urban green spaces suit it, with records from Mousehold Heath, Norwich; St Julian’s Park, Newport; and Wanstead Flats, Trent Park, Hampstead and Battersea in London.

Red grouse: Bradford

A male red grouse amongst heather.
A male red grouse amongst heather. © Laura Galbraith/Getty

A short bus ride north of the city centre, on the outskirts of Shipley, lies Baildon Moor. This relatively small expanse of heather and rough grassland, managed by Bradford Metropolitan District Council, is home to Britain’s only urban grouse as well as nesting skylarks, snipe, curlew and lapwing.

‘Fossorial’ water voles: Glasgow

In parts of Europe, water voles lead a mole-like existence far from water. In Britain, this ‘fossorial’ behaviour is thought to be confined to Scotland and is rare in urban areas. Meadows and verges of Glasgow’s Cardowan Bog near the M8 motorway provide an unlikely refuge for these fascinating burrowing rodents.

Fen raft spider: Swansea

A fen raft spider with its caterpillar prey.
A fen raft spider with its caterpillar prey. © Sandra Standbridge/Getty

Between Swansea and Neath, hemmed in by industry, housing estates and railway embankments, a former copper works is now a small wetland reserve called Red Jacket Fen. Together with nearby Pant-y-Sais Fen, this is a stronghold for the nationally rare fen raft spider. One of Britain’s largest arachnids, it thrives in the alkaline pools and ditches here.


Sarah McPhersonFeatures editor, BBC Wildlife Magazine