Best Birdwatching Places in England

Birdwatching is one of the most popular pastimes in England partly due to the country’s diverse range of birdlife.

Whether birdwatching is a relatively new hobby or you have been a keen ornithologist all your life, we have nine amazing spots to suggest for your next birding experience.

Exe Estuary, Devon

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Exe Estuary, Devon

What could be more fun than combining birdwatching with a relaxing boat trip up one of England’s loveliest rivers?

The Exe Estuary in Devon is the place to see one of England’s most beautiful birds – the avocet – in its natural surroundings. Bird watching cruises depart from Starcross and Exmouth and last 3-4 hours.

This black-and-white wader, with its upward curved beak, is the symbol of the RSPB. It is particularly appropriate as it is one of the greatest success stories in bird conservation.

Expect to see curlews, lapwings, ducks, Brent geese and wading birds searching for lugworms on the muddy banks, particularly in winter.

Minsmere, Suffolk

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Minsmere, Suffolk

Minsmere Nature Reserve is the flagship of the RSPB with a wide variety of rare and endangered species flourishing in the woodlands, reed beds, heath and coastal lagoons.

Bring your binoculars (or rent a pair) and enjoy a pleasant walk spotting rare bitterns, bearded tits and colonies of long-legged avocets with their pied plumage.

Minsmere is one of the few known breeding sites of bitterns, which are an endangered species of heron.

Summer is the perfect time to hear nightingales in the woods and spot swallow-like sand martins that are regular summer visitors.

Rutland Water Nature Reserve, Rutland

birdwatching at rutland water

Regularly voted the UK’s best nature reserve, Rutland Water Nature Reserve is a vast 1,000-acre area of wetlands managed by the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust. Two visitor centres (Rutland Water and Lyndon) provide a wealth of information in all seasons.

The Reserve was the first place to attract breeding ospreys in England in over 150 years so expect to see majestic ospreys skimming the lake in summer.

Recent bird sightings include curlews, redshanks, goosanders, white egrets, peregrines, marsh harriers and sparrowhawks along with playful otters in the lagoons. Make use of the hides to see green woodpeckers, marsh tits, bullfinches, treecreepers and long-tailed tits.

Farne Islands, Northumberland

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Exploring colonies of seabirds is an exciting spectacle for keen birdwatchers so head to the coastal seaport of Seahouses and take the short boat trip to the offshore Farne Islands in England’s Northumberland.

The Islands are home to 150,000 pairs of nesting seabirds and are a prime spot for seeing orange-beaked puffins hovering around their burrows, terns, kittiwakes, guillemots and black-headed gulls.

Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, Gloucestershire

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We can’t list the best bird watching places in England without mentioning Slimbridge WWT, the original family-friendly wildlife trust, and arguably still one of the best.

The 100-acre site includes the Holden Tower Hide boasting unrivalled views across the marshes where geese, ducks and Bewick’s swans can be seen in winter. A bright flash of blue indicates the flight of kingfishers that are regularly spotted from the Kingfisher Hide. 

Families will appreciate the captive wildfowl for up-close encounters and the chance to hand-feed the birds with bags of seed from the Grain Desk. Cranes, sandpipers, godwits and ruffs can all be seen at Slimbridge.

RSPB Rainham Marshes, Essex

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Transformed from a former military firing range in 2000, the RSPB has successfully created this haven for birds and wildlife that is within easy reach of London residents.

The Marshes host wading birds in the warmer months, and wildfowl in winter. Birds of prey, peregrines, warblers, swifts and egrets share this designated Site of Special Scientific Interest with more common species such as starlings, woodpeckers, gulls and tits.

For non-birdwatchers, the riverside paths are ideal for cycling, jogging and walking your dog while youngsters can go pond dipping and boulder climbing. 

Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve, Glastonbury

Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve, Glastonbury
Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve, Glastonbury

Shapwick Heath is a less well-known reserve of wildflower meadows, woodland walks and open water.

Located in the heart of the coastal plain known as the Somerset Levels, this ancient landscape is not only beautiful but also has a rich diversity of wildlife.

It is home to 64 different species of nesting birds including great-crested grebes and shy Cetti’s warblers. You may not spot the warblers skulking in the reeds, but you may well hear their bursts of loud song.

This wetlands area is an important feeding ground for common redshanks, Eurasian curlews, Bewick’s swans, teal, widgeon and birds of prey including peregrine falcons and marsh harriers.

The common crane is now a regular sight having been reintroduced in 2010, after 400 years.

New Forest National Park, Hampshire

New Forest
New Forest

Better known for its wild ponies, the New Forest remains one of the largest areas of ancient pastureland, heath and woodland.

The sheer diversity of landscapes in this 71,000 acre park makes it attractive to a broad spectrum of birds, particularly at the Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes Nature Reserve.

Woodland areas attract wood warblers, goshawks, ravens and common buzzards. You may even be lucky enough to spot a rare red kite, great grey shrike or a wheatear. The heathland is also home to various species of lapwing, Dartford warblers, woodlarks and nightjars.

Walthamstow Wetlands, London

Walthamstow Wetlands
Walthamstow Wetlands

The Walthamstow Wetlands is England’s newest area for birdwatching in an urban wetland reserve.

London Wildlife Trust, Thames Water and the Borough of Waltham Forest manage the Heritage Lottery funded project which was opened in 2017. Admission is free.

The area includes 13 miles of footpaths, cycle trails, 8 islands and 10 large reservoirs. It has London’s largest heronry and attracts 180 bird species including large flocks of waterfowl in the migratory season.

Check out the informative Visitor Centre before heading along the trails in search of swifts, kingfishers, grey herons, tufted ducks and little egrets. Dogs are not allowed as their scent may disturb resident wildlife and nesting birds.

So there are just a few of the best birdwatching areas in England.

If you want to get more involved, many of these nature reserves welcome volunteers to help with bird counts, habitat conservation, tours, workshops and hosting events. Volunteering could take your birdwatching interest to a whole new level…