Trip to the UK first week of February

We are planning a short trip to the UK in two weeks. After visiting my sister-in-law in London, we have about 5 days left to explore the country by car. Maybe some of you can give us tips for this trip?

Many of the mammals that can be seen in the UK are also (easily) seen in Belgium, our home. The goodies (otter, marine mammals, wildcat, pine marten, mountain hare…) seem to be largely confined to Scotland. Unfortunately, as we have only 5 days to spend, it’s quite far to drive up and down there. Also, we have no snow tires, and we would like to avoid winter weather conditions if possible.

Right now we’re thinking of trying to see some of the introduced deer species (muntjac, Chinese water deer) which are absent or difficult to spot in Belgium. We’ll probably spend some time around Bedfordshore as this seems to be a good location for deer species. We’re a bit reluctant on visiting deer parks (for example because we fear that the animals in these parks are not wild at all. Is this indeed the case? The deer around here are fed in the winter (and probably also during other seasons) and they seem to have limited dispersal options, but they roam freely, so we consider them wild. Is the situation in the deer parks more or less similar, or are these deer truly “caged”. And even if larger species are to be considered semi-wild, how about the smaller species? Maybe they are wilder but just benefit from the protection that the park offers them?

Other mammals that we’d like to see are for example water vole and shrew (possible in wintertime?), pine marten and otter (any good locations more to the south of the country?), badger (we have them in Belgium too, but if we could see them from up close it would be worth a detour!) or any other interesting wildlife (for example owls, starling flocks, …).

Any tips would be highly appreciated and if someone wants to join: you’re welcome!

Thanks a lot in advance!

Tim and Stefanie


  • Mike Richardson

    Hi Tim and Stefanie

    You don’t need to visit any deer parks as all non-native deer are easy to see in wild conditions within a couple of hours drive of London. I live in Yorkshire (NE England) so I’ll leave it to the Southerners to provide you with up to date site information for Muntjac and CW Deer in the Bedfordshire area.

    Pine Martens can only be seen in Scotland but Badgers, Water Vole, Otter and shrews should all be possible around London in winter. Rainham Marshes RSPB (London/Essex) is a great site for the vole (also owls and raptors).

    Hopefully some mammal watchers based in South East England will be able to provide some up-to-date site info (I know several that read this forum). If no help is forthcoming I’ll be happy to do some research on where best to see your targets.

  • Stephen Shelley

    In my experience, the best place for truly wild Chinese water deer is at Woodwalton Fen nature reserve in Cambridgeshire. They are the most regularly seen mammals there and on a typical morning visit I have seen half a dozen individuals. They tend to stick to the more open areas – particularly fields on the outskirts of the reserve (particularly at dusk from February-April). Muntjac deer are pretty widespread and abundant, but there is apparently a very high population at the neighbouring Holme Fen reserve.

    The best place in my experience for both water voles and water shrews in Cambridgeshire is actually in the city itself, a Coe Fen. There is a ditch flowing off the River Cam adjacent to the public footpath heading north from the A1134 where I have seen both species in broad daylight. These sightings were all made in March, so I’m not sure how much difference the time of year will make.

    I hope some of this is helpful and if you want any more information I will be happy to do some more research.

  • Farnborough John

    Woodwalton Fen is certainly a great place for Chinese Water Deer. For Muntjac and Fallow Deer Fowlmere RSPB reserve (Cambridgeshire) is excellent. Fowlmere also holds small mammals: Water Shrew is possible along the small stream and at the pond dipping areas and Common and Pygmy Shrews both occur and can be seen with some effort and patience; Bank Voles are common. Otters are seen from time to time, often from the hides. Stoats and Weasels can be encountered around the reserve and Brown Hares and Rabbits in the open fields and hedges. Foxes are present but country foxes are shyer than urban ones – you may do better for those actually in London.

    The tracks at platforms of the London Underground are likely places to see House Mice (NB NO PHOTOGRAPHY – and don’t linger through numbers of trains going through or you may have an encounter with security.) Waterloo, Tottenham Court Road and Liverpool Street are all likely Underground stations to try.

    If you want to see Badgers I have several local setts in North-east Hampshire, but it would be night viewing. Locally we also have Yellow-necked and Wood Mice – near the Badger setts – again Bank Voles are common. Roe Deer are also locally common.

    Good luck with your trip!

  • markhows

    For Muntjac and Chinese water deer go to Woodwalton Fen, I also have a good site for water voles near Cambridge and I will (weather permitting) be able to do some longworth trapping (let me know species of interest). If you are about at a weekend I can probably show you these sites / species


  • mattinidaho

    I am not a UK resident or expert like the above commenters, so take this for what it’s worth. But I did see Chinese water deer and muntjac outside the deer park at Woburn — in meadows around the village. The water deer were easy to spot, the muntjac was a couple of quick looks near the cathedral. But both sightings were outside the park.

    We saw a water vole in the river at Salisbury, but I think we were very lucky.

  • vdinets

    If you don’t have time to get far from London, try Windsor Forest. Early in the morning you can see muntjacs, tufted and roe deer, harvest mice, and field voles if you walk away from the more “civilized” parts and look for clearings deeper in the woods. At night there are wood mice and probably other stuff.

    • SLahaye

      What would be a good strategy to see harvest mouse? We’ve got some here as well, but so far we’ve only been able to find empty nests…

      • vdinets

        There is no easy way, although sometimes you just stumble at them crossing roads or patches of low grass. The best way is to find an active nest (I used to know a guy who trained his dog to do this) and watch it. On quiet mornings with dew or frost on the grass, the grass around an active nest would often stand out as the dew or the frost would be shaken off. You can also hear these mice moving around if the weather has been dry for a few days, especially in the cold time of the year when they climb less and move on the ground more. If the night has been very cold and/or wet, you can sometimes see them as they sit on grass stems warming up in the first rays of the sun. But I have to admit, I’ve seen less than ten in my lifetime despite having spent many hours looking, and half of these ten were found accidentally.

      • vdinets

        Speaking of harvest mice, note that splitting of M. erythrotis (Sichuan to N Vietnam) has been recently shown to be well-substantiated. This species is very common in rice fields and bamboo patches around Chongquin (or at least it was in 2006).

  • John Wright

    Try Arne RSPB reserve in Dorset for Sika Deer. In fact the woods, fields and heaths in that whole area (Purbeck) are good for them.

  • Sarah Young

    Hi Steffi and Tim,

    Another good place for both water voles and Chinese water deer is Suffolk/Norfolk. I’ve seen water voles easily at minsmere RSPB reserve in Suffolk (they are often in the pond with the bridge over it, not far from the entrance, sometimes sitting on the struts of the bridge). Minsmere is also a good place for otters, muntjac and red deer. Horsey gap in nearby Norfolk is around a 90 minute drive from minsmere and is good for Chinese water deer, as is Stubb Mill on the Norfolk broads. At Stubb Mill there is a raised bank looking over a water meadow – if you stand here in late afternoon you have a excellent chance of seeing Chinese water deer especially in winter. Stubb mill is near Hickling village – park at the wildlife trust visitor centre and walk back down Stubb road until you see an abandoned mill. You will probably see a few bird watchers standing on the bank, as this is also a good spot to see cranes come in at dusk (at least it used to be – I haven’t been there in a while). Just driving around this general area should yield Chinese water deer pretty easily. Muntjac are common all over east anglia so you should see them without too much effort.

    If you’re interested in general wildlife displays rather than just mammals (sorry Jon!) then it would be worth going to Holkam beach at dusk in Norfolk to watch the pinkfoot geese come in. There are sometimes hundreds of them, and it’s really spectacular. They should still be there in February. You could combine this with some seal watching at nearby blakeney point (which is also a good spot for brown hare) and I’ve heard water voles can be seen in the ditch in front of the wildlife trust reserve at Cley, although I haven’t seen them there myself.

    Have a great trip!


  • Sarah Young

    PS. Minsmere also has cool starling murmerations in winter and is a good place to see bittern

    • Phil Davison

      Hi, I was at Stubb Mill last weekend and can confirm that it is still a great place to see both Chinese Water Deer (three showing in the fields late pm) and Cranes (the main flock waited until it was almost completely dark before flying in, so it’s worth hanging around). From there, it’s only a few miles to Horsey Gap which has a large Grey Seal colony in autumn/winter (and always a few offshore throughout the year).
      Good luck with your trip!
      Phil Davison

      • Phil Davison

        Another place locally where you might be lucky with Otters is Strumpshaw Fen near Norwich (also good for Chinese Water Deer). There are daily sightings at both Minsmere and Strumpshaw, it’s just a question of being lucky enough to be in the right hide at the right time (Island Mere or Bittern Hides at Minsmere, Reception or Fen Hides at Strumpshaw). Both RSPB reserves have recent sightings websites which might be useful.

  • Stefanie

    Thank you all so much for your tips!
    We had a great trip in the UK and we now also managed to finish our trip report.
    You can find the report here:
    and probably soon on too.


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