If you’re thinking about heading out this weekend and want to visit somewhere new, find a beautiful nature reserve near you and spend an afternoon birdwatching. The UK is home to some amazing nature reserves and often winter is the best time to visit as birds fly in from all over the world to over winter here. We've listed some of our favourites, and highlighted a few species to look out for, below.

Take part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

If you're not travelling far, you can still enjoy some bird life action as the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch takes place this weekend. Whether you’re a total novice or seasoned twitcher, choose an hour between the 27th and 29th January to count how many birds land in your garden, on your balcony or out about in your local park. Send your numbers in to the RSPB online and your hour of birdwatching could prove vital to their conservation work.

Birds on a bird table

Six of our favourite nature reserves in the UK for winter birdwatching

Elmley Nature Reserve, Isle of Sheppey in Kent

Once agricultural land, Elmley Nature Reserve is now home to more than just sheep and cows. The marshland is a haven for birds and it’s common to see short and long-eared owls perched in the surrounding scrub. In winter, you can watch deceits of lapwings flock in and out, and spot curlews, oystercatchers and snipe feeding in the mud. Take your time up the drive. You might see boxing hares or a marsh harrier. Warm up post walk in the Cowshed Café.

Day tickets from £6. You can book a tour for from £20.

RSPB Ynis Hir, West Wales

With spectacular scenery of Snowdonia and the Cambrian mountains, Ynis Hir is a special place to visit at any time of year. In winter, a small flock of white-fronted geese move in. Around high tide, head for the Saltings of Ynys Feurig hides to see wintering widgeon, lapwings, and teal ducks. It’s not uncommon to see hen harriers and merlins chase the smaller birds.

Entry is £6 for adults

RSPB Hayle Estuary, Cornwall

A mix of tidal pools, estuary and marsh, Hayle Estuary is the UK’s most south westerly reserve and it’s loved by wetland birds. Winter is the best time to visit as teals and widgeons like to feed on the mudflats. It’s also one of the top places in Britain to spot a vagrant ring-billed gull from North America. Look out for little egrets – their white colouring is easy to spot – oystercatchers and curlews.

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Free to visit

Cley and Salthouse Marshes, Norfolk

Nestled in the middle of the Norfolk coastline, the Cley and Salthouse Marshes attract wintering snow buntings, which like to feed amongst the shingle. The marshes have six bird hides, so there are plenty of places to birdwatch unseen. Other common sightings include marsh harrier, wigeon, pintail, brent goose and bittern.

Entry is free. Parking from £3.

Tay Reedbeds, Perthshire

Reed beds are busy wildlife habitats and Tay Reedbed in Perthshire is the UK’s largest site. Once used for commercial thatch production, the reeds have now been left in the hands of the RSPB. Greylag, Canada and pink-footed geese use the River Tey as somewhere to rest on their migration. Look up to spot them flying over the beds – although you’re likely to hear them before you see them! The Tay is also home to bearded tits who like to fly low in flocks over the reeds.

Free to visit

Avalon Marshes, Somerset

Starling murmuration’s wow birdwatchers every winter. Huge clouds of them come together just before dusk and create mesmerising fluid shapes in the sky. You’ll find them either at Shapwick Heath or Ham Wall. To be sure of spotting them, you can ring the starling hotline – click the link below to find the number – and get the most up-to-date information. Get there early to find a place to park and enjoy all the other birds wintering in the marshes.

Entry is free but you’ll have to pay for parking.


Alys HurnFreelance writer