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5 easy wildlife escapes from urban life

Sometimes you just need some clean air and a good dose of peace and quiet

If the daily commute is getting you down and you need to stretch your legs properly, then try these wild places as recommended by bestselling author Dominic Couzens in Wild and Free his latest book. He recommends 100 easy wildlife destinations for all the family – they're all free to visit and within easy reach of the nearest big city so you won't pay much to get there.

Southwest England

Dancing Ledge

Where? Durnford Drove, Langton Matravers, Swanage, Dorset BH19 3HG (grid ref SY997783)

Easy escape from Bournemouth, Poole, Weymouth

Tell me more This short stretch of the Jurassic Coast offers you almost everything: marvellous views over the English Channel whatever the weather, lots of wildlife, an adventurous scramble, an unexpected swimming site, some tasty forage and a dose of history.

What to see – nature's seasonal highlights  

Spring: puffin, early spider orchid 
Summer: chalk plants, Lulworth skipper 
Autumn: whinchat, warblers 
Winter: stonechat, black redstart, gulls 
All year: raven, peregrine, shag

East Anglia and the Home Counties

Thatcham Reedbeds

Where? Nature Discovery Centre, Muddy Lane, Lower Way, Thatcham, Berkshire RG19 3FU (grid ref SU506670)

Tell me more This sumptuous site within spitting distance of Newbury is a perfect example of how busy towns and wildlife havens can live cheek by jowl. It’s a terrific place for a very good variety of wildlife with reedbeds, open water, woodland edge, a river and a canal to boost the biodiversity.

Easy escape from Newbury, Reading, Basingtoke

What to see – nature's seasonal highlights  

Spring: Cetti’s warbler, sand martin, little ringed plover
Summer: dragonflies, common meadow rue, moths
Autumn: lapwing, gulls
Winter: wildfowl, kingfisher, water rail
All year: Desmoulin’s whorl snail, great crested grebe, fish


Roundton Hill

Where? Old Church Stoke, Montgomery, Montgomeryshire SY15 6EL (grid ref SO293946)

Tell me more On Roundton Hill, a precious fragment of acid grassland has been preserved, and it hosts many rare and uncommon plants and fungi. This is what brings botanists and flower enthusiasts to this generally unheralded part of the country. Besides plants, you may well see rare birds, bats and polecats too.

Easy escape from Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Oswestry

What to see – nature's seasonal highlights  

Spring: early forget-me-not, rare chickweeds, shepherd's cress 
Summer: linnet, rock stonecrop, bats 
Autumn: violet coral, pink waxcap, black spleenwort 
Winter: mosses, lichens, red fox 
All year: acid grassland, polecat, rabbit

Northwest England

Dunsop Valley

Where? Dunsop Bridge car park, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 3AZ (grid ref SD660501)

Tell me more This is rugged country with a bleak and elemental beauty. The area receives very few visitors, and it can be difficult to see everything, with many private areas and comparatively few public footpaths, but for those who are enjoy wild walking there are fabulous views and rare wildlife to be seen.

Easy escape from Lancaster, Blackburn, Preston

What to see – nature's seasonal highlights  

Spring: wheatear, common sandpiper, lapwing
Summer: hen harrier, tree pipit, wheatear
Autumn: purple heather, skylark, stonechat
Winter: brambling, thrushes
All year: peregrine, short-eared owl, merlin


Falls of Braan

Where? Hermitage car park, Old Military Road, Dunkeld, Perthshire PH8 0HX (grid ref NO012421)

Tell me more The Victorians knew a thing or two about designing curious and beautiful places. The Hermitage at Dunkeld, north of Perth, owned by the National Trust for Scotland, is just such a creation. A visitor here will be immersed in a largely artificial landscape which doesn’t pretend to be wild or untouched; and yet somehow the place just 'works' as a wildlife location.

Easy escape from Perth, Dundee

What to see – nature's seasonal highlights   

Spring: dog's mercury, wood sorrel, wood anemone 
Summer: osprey, grey wagtail, ferns 
Autumn: salmon, black grouse, fungi 
Winter: goldcrest, crossbill, snowdrop 
All year: Douglas fir, red squirrel, pine marten

Discover another 95 locations in Dominic Couzens's Wild and Free from AA Publishing available from all good bookshops and online.

Main image courtesy of Pam Brophy / Thatcham Reedbeds Nature Reserve / CC BY-SA 2.0