The UK's Top 10 Coastal Wildlife Hotspots

There are an exciting variety of creatures great and small dotted around our coastlines and visible from some choice UK sailing spots. We've compiled the top 10 wildlife watching spots on our coasts with everything from dolphins, sharks and whales in the UK, to puffins, butterflies and owls. Don't worry if you don't sail, all these attractions can be enjoyed if you want to make it a walk on the wild side instead.

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1. Lundy Island

Location: North Devon

Wildlife: Puffins, basking sharks, dolphins and a permanent colony of seals.

When: September to November is breeding season for seals but you should stay away from pups during this time

Lundy Island, wildlife
 hotspot Towergate

Lundy Island welcome sailors with their own boats

Attractions: Lundy Island was part of a conservation project to increase puffin numbers by the eradication of 40,000 rats. It’s a site of Special Scientific Interest, a Marine Conservation Zone and a Special Area of Conservation too. Only service vehicles are allowed on the island and there are no street lights either! The incredible scenery is therefore unspoiled and unobstructed by man-made things. So what to do? Well if the view won’t do there’s walking, wildlife watching, diving, climbing, kayaking, snorkelling, fishing, photography, painting and (thanks to the distinct lack of light pollution) fantastic stargazing opportunities. It’s a no take zone so take particular care to leave everything as you find it.

Mooring: Lundy Island welcomes sailing boats for just a £6 landing fee. Find out more


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2. Cardigan Bay

Location: West Wales

Wildlife: Dolphins, porpoises and seals

When: May to November are the best months and early morning, evening and immediately after high tide. There is a New Quay Dolphin Monitoring Group. Try Winston Evans Boat Trips where the skipper will slow down when dolphins etc. are spotted.

Coastal paths for seal spotting at Cardigan Bay

Coastal paths aplenty and helpful signs to point you in the right direction

Attractions: Coastal paths and hikes, the harbour at New Quay offer RYA training qualifications as well as taster sailing sessions. Mwnt Beach Cardigan Bay is a must-see with some inspiring coastal walks to take in. In fact there are many beautiful beaches to explore along the impressive 60 mile coastline.

Moorings: Available on the Teifi estuary and the harbour at New Quay


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3. Bressay and Noss Shetland Islands

Location: Scottish coast

Wildlife: Dolphins, sharks, whales, otters and eagles (probably some Shetland ponies too)

When: Minke and humpback whales can be seen from May to September, just visit the southern tip of Shetland for a good view. If it’s bottlenose dolphins you’re after, head to the east coast between July and September.

Noss Island dolphins for sailing and wildlife Towergate

Head to the Shetland Islands to find dolphins in the UK

Attractions: The Shetland Islands website gives a fantastic endorsement for bird watching in the area- ‘Noss is one of the most spectacular wildlife sights in Europe. The first sight of Noss always sticks in visitors' memories, even if they've no previous interest in birds.' If you’re not sure where to start, The Mull Wildlife Experience offer a guided safari to spot otters and eagles. Alternatively there are group holidays available, led by wildlife experts with a full-day of whale-watching! You can take a cruise to see minke whales and basking sharks too. There is also several incredible examples of light house dotted around the area including a particularly beautiful example on Bressay Island.

Moorings: Bressay Island Yacht Club.


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4. The Causeway Coast

Location: Northern Ireland

Wildlife: Bird life includes ravens, peregrine falcons, fulmars, common scoters, sand pipers, night-jars, garden warblers, herons and great crested grebes, sand martins, basking sharks, Atlantic grey seals and harbour porpoises sometimes seen from coast. And it's a paradise for wild flowers too.

When: Rare to see basking sharks but they have been known to swim right into Portrush Harbour. The views, birds and wild flowers are best enjoyed in the spring/summer months but that's not to say the landscape isn't pretty incredible in the winter too.

Northern Irish Coast wildlife hotspot Towergate

Stunning views of Northern Ireland's coast

Attractions: You can’t fail to be impressed by the shape of the coastline here. The rock formations on display are over 60 million years old and formed from chalk and lava. There are also an array of wild flowers to get plant lovers' excited. A combination of igneous and sedimentary geology has caused the evolution of some completely unique flora. Portrush is not only the most accessible harbour on the coast but is a beautiful and busy town ideal for a day out. Bushmills distillery, Portrush yacht club, golf course and Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge should all be on your to-do list. The best place for bird spotting is Rathlin Island which houses Northern Ireland’s largest sea bird colony.

Moorings: Portrush Harbour


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5. Flamborough

Location: Yorkshire

Wildlife: Gannets, clown faced puffins, crescendo, peregrine falcons, kittiwakes, shags, guillemots, razorbills and fulmars

When: Between July and September

Flamborough, Yorkshire Towergate wildlife hotspots

Boats at Flamborough on the coast of Yorkshire

Attractions: Visit Malham Tarn England’s highest fresh water lake. There are RSPB telescopes set up so you can see peregrine falcons dart around. It’s actually linked to the Giant's Causeway, William Wordsworth suggested it was created by the same giant. Malham is just part of the Yorkshire Dales, other sites include: The Seabird Spectacular in Flamborough and Bempton in the East of Yorkshire. Described as one of the UK’s most awe inspiring natural spectacles, the event can be viewed from land or at sea. In the heart of the Yorkshire Dales you can enter races through Yorkshire Dales SC. The height of the reservoir here makes for perfect winds for racing. If you’re more into paddling than sailing you can head to the River Wye or the River Dart from October to March for canoeing and kayaking.

Moorings: There are loads around Yorkshire but Hull Marina is good - or there are private jetties available at Flamborough Pontoon


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6. North Berwick

Location: Scotland

Wildlife: Puffins and seals

When: Puffins are best in May but are viewable all year round and seals April-September

Puffins, Puffin Fest North Berwick, Towergate

Puffins at North Berwick and Puffin Fest

Attractions: Boat trips to the Isle of May National mean the largest seal colony on the east coast is easily visible, just arrange through The Scottish Seabird Centre. They also boast a virtual wildlife watching hub so even when the islands become inaccessible from March to October, you’ll still be able to see seals and their pups. If seals are your thing there are also 'seafaris' and a seabird cruise you can find out more about at the centre. In May, Puffin Fest is a massive draw for visitors to North Berwick. The ten day extravaganza includes activities such as puffin-spotting cruises, expert talks, guided walks, creative workshops and much more. On top of all this, you can head to the Discovery Centre. Here you can make the most of their interactive puffin cameras ensuring a good view of these beautiful birds can zoom in on the action.

Moorings: North Berwick Harbour


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7. Stackpole Quay

Towergate boat insurance sea hare, wildlife sailing spots

Sea Hare

Location: South Wales

Wildlife: Velvet swimming crabs, sea hares, prawns and inland there are beautifully tranquil and wildlife rich lily ponds with otters.

When: Summer

Attractions: Some of the best wildlife can be seen underneath the surface of Stackpole making it the ideal place for a spot of snorkelling. The National Trust run wildlife walks around the lily ponds and coast, they offer ‘energetic coasteering’ sessions too.

Moorings: Milford Haven Marina


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8. St Brides Bay

Location: West Wales

Wildlife: Large population of gannets, dolphins, porpoises, whales, seals and shearwaters

When: April-September

Towergate boat insurance, sailing spots

Marloe Beach

Attractions: Just round the corner from Stackpole, St Brides Bay could be built-in to the same trip! Grassholm Island has an abundance of gannets, the fourth largest colony in the world in fact. With 80,000 birds on the island, it looks as though island it’s topped with a layer of white icing (but can be rather smelly). Nolton Stables run horse riding activities through the countryside and along the beach as well as water zorbing and sedge way sessions.

Moorings: Isle of Skye Yachts


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9. Berry Head National Nature Reserve

Location: South Devon

Wildlife: Sunfish, alpine swifts, orchids and 25 species of butterfly

When: July and August for Sunfish, spring - summer for orchids and butterflies

Towergate boat insurance, sailing wildlife hotspots

Sunfish in an aquarium

Attractions: Torquay itself is just a short distance from the harbour and is well worth a visit. Berry Head is a National Nature Reserve is an internationally-acclaimed heritage site which boasts dog friendly costal walks with forts, rare plants and Britain’s highest and smallest lighthouse. Particularly interesting to see are Sunfish, the heaviest boned fish in the world, they’re huge and can be spotted from above the water but can only truly be appreciated from below!

Moorings: Brixham Harbour


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10. The Isle of Skye

Location: North Scotland

Wildlife: Pine martins, sea eagles, Atlantic salmon, seals, whales, dolphins, otter, red deer and golden eagles

When: April-October

Towergate boat insurance, sailing wildlife spots

Sea Eagle, introduced to Scotland from Norway

Attractions: the Isle of Skye Highland Games are a fantastic spectacle, you’ll find these in full swing in August. There are not one but two castles to visit, both with gardens and grounds to peruse as well as an abundance of walks with views which will truly take your breath away. You can enquire about the best spots for watching sea life depending on when you visit the island. Interestingly, the sea eagle was introduced to the Isle of Rum (just south of Skye) in 1975 from Norway so they’re are definitely worth while looking out for!

Moorings: Isle of Skye Yachts

Towergate boat insurance, sailing spots

The Isle of Skye has beautiful sailing spots to visit

Map reference: Wildlife Spots by Boat J

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About the author

Adam Summersby is a respected leader with 11 years’ varied experience in niche personal and commercial lines insurance, including caravan, site operators and excess reimbursement, with proficiency in leadership, sales and account management.