Birding Site Guide
Finding flights to or from the UK is easy as the country is densely populated and well provisioned with airports, both international and domestic. Heathrow, London is the world’s busiest airport by a long way. Flights outside the UK are often linked by a stop off in Europe, unless from one of the major UK airports such as London, Heathrow. Heathrow is the world’s busiest airport and it is possible to get flights to anywhere from here. To book flights use a travel agent or go on the internet: see BSG Selected Links for www.operators
Access to your money is simple with banks in every high street and virtually all with 24hr international ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines). Credit and debit cards are accepted everywhere and all garage chain fuel stations accept them.
Places to stay are similarly well catered for, and there are many cheap options. However cheap is relative with Britain being high on the list of ten most expensive countries in the world to live in. It also needs to be remembered that the pound (£) is the world’s strongest currency so £20 a night seems fine till you realize this is about €30 or US$40. Trying to find accommodation cheaper than £20 is realistic though, especially if camping (something only really suitable for warmer months of May to September) or by using hostels and Hostelling International hostels; sometimes still referred to as Youth Hostels but people of all ages and backgrounds stay, particularly travelling business people. Hostels can typically cost £10 a night with breakfast, and it is even cheaper for members. To join; sign up when you arrive.
An alternative to hostels is the universal bed & breakfast (B & B), which are basically peoples’ homes with spare bedrooms let as hotel rooms. They do vary enormously on quality and price, but the cheapest can more than compare with hostels on both these points. The breakfast is invariably full English, that is; bacon, eggs, toast and tea with often additional items such as grilled tomato. There is usually the alternative of breakfast cereals.
Communications are abundant by phones or internet. Though internet cafes are not that common; as private PCs are more favoured. The easiest place to find free internet is at the local library. The postal service is good when not on strike.
Travelling around Britain during your stay often presents the biggest expense and therefore difficulty. The transport network is excellent and extensive but even public transport is very expensive, as are hire cars. The only cheap way to travel is in a group. Hitchhiking is not very common and can be unreliable.
Between birding you will need to eat, again this is not cheap but there is a huge variety and price range. For the cheapest food, try truck stop cafes which are on every main route, these are not to be confused with motorway service stations which are generally very expensive. Trucker’s cafes are often in lay-bys or generally a little way just off the main road, the latter being especially true with motorways, where it may be required to drive off the motorway for a mile or so to reach them. In urban areas there are always working peoples’ cafe which serve a nearly universal menu of simple food at reasonable prices. They are often near the main street or town centre or on a side street nearby. Also worth a try are any of the large supermarkets cafes/restaurants as these do good food at reasonable prices too. Failing these, even on the open road there are often lay-bys with mobile vans serving similar fried food, tea and coffee, though these places are very variable in both prices and quality. Most larger bird reserves have good facilities and besides hides, toilets and shops often have cafes, which may not be cheap but at least the money goes to a good cause.
Birding/wildlife equipment can be found in any town (optics, cameras, stationary, field guides, camping equipment etc) and in any bookshop there should be at least one of the bewildering range of field guides available. Birding/wildlife companies and guides can be found by travel agents, or in a phone book or on the internet, or it is possible to arrange to meet a birding pal (see BSG Selected Links for website of this name to arrange to meet someone). Many reserves have wardens who will be happy to assist you in any way they can, but may not be able to personally show people around as they need to watch the shop. However regular locals will be more than happy to show you around their ‘local patch’, and will not expect payment.
The weather in Britain is famously and rightly held to be unpredictable, come prepared for anything!
The best time of year to visit for birding is spring and autumn, as this is when migration is underway. Britain is in a unique position for migrants just look at the map, and this explains its huge (for temperate regions) bird list of 600 species. In total Britain has 88,000 recorded non-microscopic species, which includes species found in territorial waters. However most times of year have something to offer, and the wintering geese flocks are a sight worth seeing. Late summer is probably the worst time to try and see species, as the foliage is dense, adult birds have stopped singing and young birds are still hiding.
There are literally hundreds of reserves and natural or more accurately semi-natural protected areas, but many of the ones run by charities charge per visit. If making more than a few visits it is far cheaper to join the organisation in question to get free entry. Look at BSG for sites and try the major charities listed in BSGs Selected Links for a full list of their reserves. There are tens of thousands of miles of public rights of way (un-surfaced highways not for use by motorists) crisscrossing all the country and where birding is often done. In much of the uplands of England above 500m on non-arable land in open areas there is open access for all on foot, and in Scotland this applies everywhere.
A few things foreigners should know, we drive on the left, we are taught to use the metric system throughout, except for English miles (which are a little longer than American miles) though imperial measures are sometimes used. Our grid coordinates are given easting’s first, unlike North Americans who give Northings first. People from the southern hemisphere should note we read our grid coordinates to the east and north of the lines unlike southerners who read south and west and we mostly use a national grid on maps rather than international grid coordinates, and these can be confusing especially if you do not know easting’s come first. Instructions on Britain’s and Ireland’s national grid system are given on the maps. We call 'gas' or gasoline petrol. When eating out service is always include, though tipping is widespread if everything was good, the amount can be anything but 10% is frequent.
For general non-country specific information please go to this page on BSG.
WORLDWIDE LINKS: TRAVEL ADVICE, VOLUNTEERING & ACCOMMODATION
COUNTRY SPECIFIC LINKS GENERAL INFO GOVERNMENTAL
CIA United Kingdom facts
UK Counties Map
Natural England The government body for England.
Countryside Council for Wales
Northern Ireland Environment Agency
Scottish Natural Heritage
Britain's National Parks Information on all 14 national parks and the one proposed new one.
Natural History Museum UK
DEFRA; Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
British Red Data Books
Joint Nature Conservation Committee
Countryside Access Find out from the government where the public have free access in England.
NGOs & GENERAL WILDLIFE INFO
Wildlife Extra Wildlife news site.
Friends of the Earth UK
The National Trust Europe’s largest joint conservation and heritage NGO. Why do other countries not copy them?
National Trust for Scotland
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
Friends of Conservation
Royal Geographical Society
Great British: Wildlife
British Naturalists’ Association
British Association of Nature Conservationists
Field Studies Council
Deanbirders Deanbirders are a group of birders in the Forest of Dean area. The group has some less able members and the website focuses on places and activities for the less mobile. As well as birding activities the group keeps comprehensive records and runs schemes promoting bird boxes and feeding stations.
BIRD MAD Fantastic photos of many British birds.
Swillington Ings Bird Group
Birds of Britain For lists of bird clubs and societies nation wide.
Bird Forum Good all round site, chat to other birders.
Birding World magazine
British Birds Rarities Committee The Rare Men of rare birds in Britain.
Dutch Birding Well not quite Britain, but they are just as fanatical about their birds, and close enough to be have the same general birds and falls. If birds are happening there then it could be Britain tomorrow.
Scottish Ornithological Club
Atricilla Images Tristan’s photos, blog and bird pages. Saves me doing photos and writing up a blog of our birding exploits in Cumbria and beyond!
UK400 Club Not just for birders who have seen over 400 species in Britain.
British Ornithological Union
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds The largest bird conservation body in Europe.
British Trust for Ornithology Provides much of the research information on birds used by many different NGOs and government bodies. Includes various recording schemes for the public to take part in such as British Trust for Ornithology Breeding Bird Survey
Indian Birdman An Indian bird guide who worked in Kenya but lives in Britain and birds Walthamstow Reservoir.
The Mammal Society
The Bat Conservation Trust
The Bats of Britain
British Bat Recognition Table
Scottish Wildcat Association
National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (UK)
The British Herpetological Society
Reptiles and Amphibians of the UK
FISHES & AQUATIC
British Marine Life Study Society
Marine Conservation Society
Pond Life Identification Key
Fishing Society Where to go fishing in the UK and much more.
Bumble Bee Conservation Trust
Beetle recording site
Wild Guide UK All about British insects.
Royal Entomological Society
British Dragonfly Society
British Arachnological Society
Association of British Fungus Groups
British Fungi Database of Britain and Ireland
Roger’s Mushrooms Famous author Roger Philips’ site on fungi.
British Mycological Society
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew
Botanical Society of the British Isles Checklist of British Plants (Stace 2007) Comprehensive British & Irish list, contains all species subspecies and variations.
Natural History Museum Checklist of British Plants (Stace 1997) Full species only British & Irish List
British Bryological Society
British Lichen Society
GARDEN WILDLIFE & DISABLED BIRDERS
Space For Nature A garden biodiversity forum
English Country Garden
Hostelling International Hostelling International is the brand name of more than 90 Youth Hostel Associations in over 80 countries, operating 4,000+ hostels.
Youth Hostel Association A charity providing cheap accommodation for all.
Hostel UK The biggest selection of hostels in the UK.
Backpackers UK Everything you need to know about backpacking in the UK.
Island Holidays Is a small UK company based in Perth, Scotland specializing in natural history (mainly birding) tours around the world.
FARMING & WILDLIFE
Farmsubsidy Information on farm subsidies
Send your link in to be included on this list or Selected Links.
Britain is part of the British Isles. The British Isles are Britain and Ireland and all associated islands, Britain constitute the contiguous mainland of England, Scotland and Wales. These 3 provinces along with various islands such as the Isle of Wight, Anglesey, Scillies, Shetland and Orkneys form the country of Great Britain. Along with Northern Ireland this is known collectively as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (at one time all of Ireland). The Isle of Man never joined the Union (though it is a crown dependency as are the Channel Isles) and it has its own parliament and flag; its flag is not incorporated in the Union Jack, as most of the others are.
The British Isles is a small densely populated group of island (61 million people in 24 million ha, hint to get km2 divide by 100) of se lowlands of sedimentary origin and n and w uplands of igneous and metamorphic rock, some of immense age. It is a mineral rich country and much of the deposits have been exploited in one way or another and it has large areas of fertile soils, most of which is farmed, with also much given over to cities, infrastructure and recreation.
Native biota is restricted by climate and isolation from mainland Europe and larger mammals are much reduced with no large carnivores left. However Britain does have a larger list of species than might be imagined due to its important position in respect of migratory species particularly of birds, insects and also bats. It also has an unusually mild climate for such a high latitude country, due to the rising of warm tropical ocean currents off the west coast known as the Gulf Stream. This allows many species of insects and plants usually found much further south to flourish, at least in the s. It is far milder than comparative latitudes on mainland Europe, especially inland areas where temperatures drop quicker and remain lower in winter.
Virtually all environments are man-altered, except for some precipitous sea cliffs. Primary vegetation cover is nearly as rare, with upland tundra areas and the Caledonian forests of Scotland being closest, and tiny fragments of woodland and coast elsewhere. Areas of native cover primary or otherwise is very small. Most is completely stripped away for the aforesaid uses. Much of the cherished upland moors are manmade too, quite a lot of the natural cover of oak and ash forest here had been cleared away before the Romans came and the pace accelerated there after. Regenerative or recreated native cover is common in small parcels. Fortunately Britain has a veritable army of conservationists, the 2 biggest conservation NGOs in Europe both originating here (National Trust and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and very few globally threatened species and no endemic birds (go on then keep your Scottish Crossbill tick!). The wildlife here is also well habituated to human presence and to surviving in marginal habitats such as hedgerows, waterways, highways verges and the coast. Being a nation of gardeners helps substantially too, and the bulk of some of our commoner species are now found in urban environments rather than the general countryside.
Having few truly rare species is not to say we should not conserve our own, we cannot preach to others if we do not. Also changes such as global climate change, pollution etc can quickly throw the balance of a once common species to something quite rare. The detailed research techniques developed in Britain, initially to monitor our ‘common’ species by groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, British Trust for Ornithology, RSPB, BirdLife International and English Nature (Natural England) among others are perhaps the best in the world and all have been spread, copied or emulated around the world.
Britain is also a very rich country (one of the G7 richest in the world) but being heavily overpopulated it can no longer accommodate some species, most of the population would like back, except in heavily managed semi-wild populations. These include the world’s heaviest flying bird; the Great Bustard, Beaver and perhaps Wolf as well. Even if successful the amount of money these projects cost runs into many millions; how much more economic it would have been to safeguard the remaining wild populations, will we ever learn? My local patch was bought by English Nature for £18,000,000 (including restoration costs) and this purchased around 3,900ha. I am pleased the place is now a national nature reserve but I cannot help thinking this money would have been better spent on conservation abroad, where the same amount of money in many countries could buy 100,000ha of primary habitat with many globally threatened species. Laguna Blanca (Paraguay, 29,000ha see site write-up) with 14 species of Global Conservation Concern could be purchased forever for only £1,000,000, and many other important sites such as in Bahia, Brazil could still be purchased with the leftovers.
Farming, especially upland farming in Britain is hardly profitable without the EU subsidies and EU internal free trade. Some of this land could be reverted back to nature and more imports bought from overseas. Well, there are advantages to our system, we know where our food has come from, we know people and animals are treated fairly (or at least to minimum EU standards), and that chemical use is regulated, and because we are rich we can also use our buying power to influence production by buying organic, environmentally responsibly produced and GM (genetically modified) free. There is also the other advantage eluded to earlier, the fact that here less biodiversity is at risk than many places abroad, particularly in the tropics. Buying the cheapest products is often not the best option for the environment or on moral grounds, it is however getting easier to source certificated organic and fair trade products from overseas.