Five great RSPB birdwatching spots in the UK

Days out, Activity, Nature

Posted by Ed Roberts on 22nd November 2020

Bird watching is a pastime that can be enjoyed by anybody of any age. You can also enjoy it no matter how outgoing you are. The UK has bird life in abundance so you can even set up a bird table in your back garden, hang a few bags of seeds and nuts and see who turns up. At the other end of the scale, there’s the seasoned birdwatcher who will hide out in a bivouac for a month in remotest La Réunion to catch a glimpse of a rare species of eagle.

Bird watching such a huge subject there’s room for everybody from scientists looking for patterns in starling murmurations to the elderly lady next door who leaves crusts out for the sparrows. Birds are all around us, and watching them go about their lives is a growing hobby. The UK has some of most spectacular and diverse habitats in which to see them. The reserves in this guide are regulated and land managed by the RSPB and are also protected Sites of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI).


Here is a selection of great public bird reserves around the country that you can visit to observe our feathered friends all year round. Some of the reserves have a visitor centre and good amenities with a series of events on, whilst others are facilitated to cater to dedicated twitchers. Why not stay at one of our self-catering holiday cottages near one of the UK's bird reserves?

Birdwatching cottages

For our Holidays with more Heart series, we have partnered up with some organisations to raise awareness for conscious travel and to show our commitment to best practice in global environmental matters. We're very proud of our association with the RSPB who protect our birdlife for future generations.

Exminster Marshes and Bowling Green Marsh, Devon

Best times to visit: November – February

This is a great spot for learning birders. There are two large bird reserves, both managed by the RSPB, on opposite banks of the  River Exe Estuary near Exeter – one is Exminster and Powderham Marshes and the other is Bowling Green and Goosemoor Marsh. It is possible to visit both in one day but they are a reasonable drive apart (20 mins / 5.5 miles). Both offer the best habitats for optimal birdwatching. Estuarine locations like these attract waders like avocets, wigeons, cettis and black-tailed godwits, to name a handful. In the summer there’s a foot ferry that links the two reserves, and also a boat tour run by Stuart Line Cruises to help you to see and enjoy more of the stunning scenery of the Exe Estuary. For food and drink, on the Bowling Green Marsh side there’s a nice pub called  The Turf  and an RSPB shop at Darts Farm for info and gifts.

Dungeness Nature Reserve, Kent

Best time of year to visit: Spring

Dungeness is the oldest RSPB reserve in England and it's a unique spot. Set on Europe's largest shingle bank, if it wasn't for the level of annual rainfall, it would be classified as the country's only desert. The headland juts out into the English Channel and is an important way point for migrating birds. With a circular walking trail out across Denge Marsh and around several lakes, you can visit around ten hides dotted around the vast reserve.  The stark and flat landscape is quite beguiling as there is a thriving eco-system here where you can find rare butterflies and colourful wildflowers.  After a visit here head to The Pilot Inn or The Britannia on Dungeness for a cosy and warming spot of lunch!

Arne Nature Reserve, Dorset

Best times to visit: November – March

Harrier - Arne

RSPB Arne is situated at Poole Bay and is a diverse area of open heathland and ancient oak woodlands. A sheer haven for birds, it's also home to all six species of reptile found in the British Isles.  There are several trails around the reserve including Shipstal Beach, which is great for a picnic. You can see seals here on occasion, but also keep a watchful eye out for spoonbills and curlews. With views of the distant ruins of Corfe Castle, take the Coombe Heath Trail for more opportunities to see waders, harriers, osprey and wildfowl in the Middlebere Channel which fills up every winter to give haven to wintering species. 

Minsmere Nature Reserve, nr Southwold, Suffolk

Best times to visit: May – June

The Guardian reported earlier that more species of bird, insect, plant and mammal have been spotted at Minsmere than at any other RSPB reserve. Minsmere is close to the coast so one of the trails runs nearby the beaches of Suffolk. It consists has areas of reed bed, lowland heath, lowland wet grassland, and shingle vegetation. Central to the reserve are four bodies of water called East and West Scrape, and North and South Girde. There are seven bird hides along the network of trails for you to view the visiting and resident bird life. A common yet interesting sight are the Polish Konik horses and Highland cattle. Grazing of animals is prolific throughout Minsmere Reserve to prevent the growth of scrubland and the reed beds. Visitors from far and wide like to visit Minsmere because it is one of a small number of sites within the UK at which great bitterns breed.

Top tips when visiting a nature reserve

  • Keep noise to a minimum. Conversation and noise can startle the birds and wildlife
  • Respect other bird watchers
  • Dogs in the main are not allowed into nature reserves, even at heal or on the lead. However, some allow dogs into the visitor centre. Check details before planning your day
  • Dress as if you are going on a hike, good footwear, avoid bright colours,
  • Take drinking water
  • Turn mobile phone off / silent
  • Take a bird guide, map, binoculars, waterproof pen & notebook, extra socks
  • No flash photography, avoid using a noisy model
  • Be prepared and have fun!

More birdwatching inspiration

We have written some other helpful guides for holidaying birdwatchers.

Stay at a birdwatching holiday cottage

Plan your next birdwatching holiday and stay in one of our great self-catering holiday properties. We have birdwatching cottages all across the UK either on bird reserves or close to one or more. You can often find a telescope at our bird watching cottages so you can train the lens on any passing specimens that happen by. Browse our collection of UK holiday cottages today.

Birdwatching cottages

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.