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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

How to go on safari in the UK & find the big 5


This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. How about going on safari and looking for the Big 5. I've offered a few choices below (six!) plus some places you might find them. But you could create your own Big 5 list... Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).


Safari lodges for glamping on the Isle of Wight at Node's Point. The Isle of Wight
is a good place to see red squirrels and seals. (c) Park Resorts
If you ever imagine a safari in South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana or Namibia you'll know that soon you will be looking for the "Big Five" by day. By night you'll be back at your tent sipping sundowners discussing the ones that got away, or planning the next day's sightseeing. The original Big 5 list was for big game hunters armed with a rifle not a camera. The popularity of big game hunting has meant that grand old homes in the UK invariably have some forgotten ancestors' big game trophies attached to the wall. Strange to hang a decapitated animal hung on the wall for generations.

I also puzzle about why those five choices.

Lions make sense, so does an elephant, leopard and rhinoceros but how come a buffalo is on the list? Surely a buffalo is just a big sort of cow?

Of course hunting the big five has changed. It's mostly done with binoculars and a camera. If you spot them all you have boasting rights, for ever. But you don't need to trek around the world to try and find impressive, elusive animals.

In Scotland people reckon the big five to spot are red squirrel, red deer (stag), grey seal, otter and golden eagle.

My own Big 5 list is reasonably tough to complete - but not only do you get to look for interesting British wildlife, you also start to think about healthy habitats as you visit beautiful places in the UK.

Here's some help below to get you spotting the British Big 5. Please let me know what you've seen, and where to find them.

On the hunt for hedgehogs along a Yorkshire lane Nell finds a huge puff ball mushroom.
HEDGEHOG (our lion)

  • Critically endangered
  • Squashed hedgehogs on the road indicates a population boom, and bust

Spotting a hedgehog is harder if you live in a town or city as they tend to be lined with solid fencing. But at St Tiggywinkles in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire you can see recovering hedgehogs and listen to hedgehog talks the whole year round.

Hedgehogs hibernate when it gets colder - so in the autumn be sure to leave undisturbed cosy piles of leaves where a hedgehog could warmly over-winter.

My friend Hugh Warwick is Britain's hedgehog expert. He wants us to rip out garden walls and other solid fencing and to pay far more attention to these utterly cute beasties, pointing out that they do good stuff for us too by eating up garden pests (so there's no need to use chemicals). His first book was called A Prickly Affair, and one of the next was Hedgehog. Have a look at his website, and if you meet him, insist on seeing his hedgehog tattoo.

SEALS (our elephant)
  • grey seals have a double chin
  • harbour seals look as if their head has been flattened (if you are looking at them head on)

There used to be an old bloke selling fish at Eyemouth, a fishing town just on the Scottish/English border. Tourists would buy a fish and then dunk it into the harbour where it was eaten by a spectacularly lucky, rather chubby seal.

In Norfolk at Blakeney Point you can take a boat trip to see a colony of seals. Several companies run these trips, leaving from Morston Quay.

There's also a small population of harbour seals in the Eastern Solent which can be spotted between Southampton and the Isle of Wight (see the report here).

It is a joy to see living seals - like all wildlife, look well but don't touch.

A safari tent at Node's Point holiday resort on the Isle of Wight.
You could structure your holiday around a Big 5 animal hunt on the
island - it's got seals and red squirrels, plus beautiful woods and beaches. (c) Park Resorts
RED SQUIRRELS (our leopard)

  • grey squirrels are non-native and seem to be everywhere (foresters and some gardeners find them very annoying)
  • red squirrels are native and rare

Our dog really dislikes grey squirrels
(this is his 'I've seen a squirrel face', now I will bark)
which may be why our family Big 5  list
is still missing a red squirrel.
I love the way grey squirrels chirrup, jump from tree to tree and are still crazy enough to be hand fed by people in city parks. But red squirrels are rather different, almost mythical creatures that revel in their secret hidey-holes. The best way to spot a red squirrel is to find a place where there aren't any grey squirrels - like the Isle of Wight. The National Trust woodland of oak and beech trees at Borthwood Copse has a red squirrel hide

A few years ago my family spent a day looking for red squirrels at Cragside, the huge Victorian pile in Northumberland. The estate is vast but there are meant to be lots of red squirrels here, even when it's raining.

However we couldn't find them and the website says if you are in the hide near the formal gardens and do see a red squirrel please tell the staff - so I guess it's pretty unusual.


Nell (left) isn't as keen on cows as her sister, Lola, or Dad.
POSH COWS (our buffalo)


  • Worldwide there are 800 breeds of cattle
  • Most dairy cows in the UK are Holstein-Friesian crosses
  • Native cows suit particular areas best - Aberdeen Angus (Scotland), Dexter (SW Ireland), Jersey, Guernsey

Talking to cows at an ice cream parlour
and tea shop in Yorkshire.
The Dinefwr white cattle have been at Dinefwr Castle, Wales for more than 1,000 years. With their long horns they look very different to the sweet-faced Jersey cows who are so good at creating cream - and they inspired novelist Eva Ibbotstone's wonderful children's story The Beasts of Clawstone Castle.

Visiting a farm that's set up for visitors is a great way for young children to see cows up close. Try seeing how many cow breeds you can identify if you are driving through farmland, or on a train.

Stumps arranged to encourage stag beetles to breed.
This is in a London park near Arsenal tube.
STAG BEETLES (our rhinoceros)

  • The vegan king of the mini-beast world (and able to fly, just)
  • People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) is asking the public to join their national great stag hunt, see how here.

In the south of England, especially in cities you can find stag beetles - as long as there is standing, rotting wood (stumps or piles) where they can oh-so-slowly metamorphosise from larvae into stag beetle and emerge above ground to look for a mate. I've spotted them in Brockwell Park, Lambeth. They may be living very close to you, so long as you aren't a compulsively tidy gardener. Allowing things to rot, and having wood and leaf piles helps wildlife so much. Ask your local nature park if they have a stag beetle site and if you do see one, take a photo on your mobile and send it the PTES.

Read a cute encounter with stag beetles here  and an informative one here

WOODPECKERS (our eagle)

  • All answer to the name Woody.
  • Boasting rights if you find a greater spotted woodpecker's feather (black, white & red).

Here the rat-tat-tat or the wah-wah-wah-wah cry in a wood and you need to look towards the sounds until you spot your woodpecker. There seem to be many more green woodpeckers, perhaps because these are often seen feeding on the ground where they will be looking for ants. Here's an ID guide to the three native woodpeckers.


WHERE TO STAY on a British Big 5 trip
Traditionally safari goers stay in a very posh tent - in the UK this is now known as glamping. And it's fantastic. Look around on the web to find places that offer glamping.  Of course you can still camp with a tent, but as Lola, now 17, explains, we don't camp much any more:

"When I was seven years old my parents took me on a camping holiday in the Lake District. That was camping with a C not a glamping trip. Whilst we had a very good time, every morning when we woke up it seemed as if the lake we were camping beside had got a little closer. And it had - we eventually had to abandon our tent! That's why I'd like to go glamping in the Isle of Wight - no lakes creeping into your tent, running water and comfortable beds without rocks under your sleeping bag. In fact it is the only way I'd consent to go on safari again!" Lola, 17

SPONSORED: Lola and Nicola were guests of Park Resorts on a day trip to see the new glamping facilities at their holiday resorts on the Isle of Wight:
  • The Isle of Wight can be reached in about two hours from Waterloo station, then take an Wight Link ferry at Portsmouth to Ryde (with its long sandy beach) or Fishbourne. http://www.wightlink.co.uk/iow/
  • Park Resorts has 48 UK holiday parks including the Lake District, three on the Isle of Wight and also along the Essex and Norfolk coasts. www.park-resorts.com

Over to you
Do share your family's big 5 adventures - and also any suggestions on where to find the animals, and where to stay. Thank you.


1 comment:

Fon said...

Great guide for family trip or guide to do with kids. Very impressive and informative article. Thanks Nicola.