The idea of rewilding – moving away from current forestry and agricultural techniques and allowing nature to thrive – is gaining ground.
One exciting new project is Wild Ken Hill in north Norfolk, where alongside pioneering regenerative farming and traditional conservation practices, a 400-hectare (1,000-acre) area is being returned to the wild, with the reintroduction of beavers, Exmoor ponies and old farm breeds like red poll cattle and Tamworth pigs. Visitors can already access Wild Ken Hill via public footpaths, but from April (hopefully) there will be a choice of 15 guided tours on offer (from £30), ranging from introductions to rewilding to nature-by-night walks and butterfly-spotting hunts. There are plans to allow camping later this year and for a glampsite to be up and running by 2022 (the Rose and Crown in Snettisham is a good base in the meantime, when restrictions permit).
At Knepp estate in West Sussex – the poster child of the rewilding movement – a series of new “safaris” is being introduced this summer (from £50). Options include the Ecology of Rewilding and an Exmoor ponies safari, which looks at the impact of the animals on the landscape and their symbiotic relationship with cattle. The Victorian walled garden is being rewilded too, and visitors will be able to sign up for garden safaris later in the summer.
Fallow deer have always roamed here, while more recent success stories include the return of storks – Knepp saw the first wild chicks to hatch in the UK for centuries last year. Visitor revenue funds conservation work – and there’s a choice of camping, shepherds’ huts and treehouses for those staying longer (camping from £20 a night, huts from £220 for two nights). “We saw people’s need for nature explode last year, and interest for summer 2021 is already incredible,” says Knepp’s owner, Isabella Tree.
In Devon, Derek Gow, author of Bringing Back the Beaver, is planning wildlife safaris on his land at Upcott Grange, near Lifton (rewildingcoombeshead.co.uk), with three shepherds’ huts due to open in April (safaris £50pp, huts from £120 a night). Storks, beavers and even wildcats (in pens) will be among the wildlife to look out for. There are also plans for weekend or week-long conservation holidays later in the summer, where guests will learn about a range of species in a hands-on way.
Stay, and help restore, Cornwall
Although the National Trust no longer organises its own working holidays, staying in an NT-owned property directly contributes to its conservation work. In 2019, more than 1,600 footpaths were maintained with revenue from 129 country cottages, for example, while contributions from coastal properties helped to maintain 780 miles of coastline.
Holidaymakers looking to immerse themselves in nature while doing something to help can book a stay at two newly available properties in Polzeath, Cornwall. Pentire Farmhouse and the adjacent Pengirt cottage can be booked together or separately, and are part of a major project at Pentire Head to restore the landscape, bring back wildflowers and encourage rare birds.
Working with the tenant farmer, the NT has been developing new habitats and different ways of farming that benefit wildlife (crops are grown without pesticides, for example, and more space has been created for flowers and nesting birds). The skylark population has already increased and the plan is to give visitors as much access as possible, with improved footpaths and facilities. This ancient, restored farmhouse has original fireplaces and flagstone floors, and is in beautiful surroundings with cliff and ocean views and coastal paths on the doorstep.
• Pentire Farmhouse sleeps 8, from £1,009 for two nights; Pengirt sleeps four, from £550 for two nights
Founded by Sir Peter Scott, son of Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Scott, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust creates and protects wetland habitats around the world. There are 10 centres in the UK, from Caerlaverock in Dumfries to Arundel in West Sussex (all are currently closed except for Steart Marshes in Somerset). For those wanting more than a day trip, when allowed, three have overnight accommodation – with rental revenue going back into conservation initiatives.
At the Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire, visitors can stay in Sir Peter’s former home, Bewick’s Lodge. It was here that he founded the charity in 1946 as a centre for science and conservation, and the world’s first wildlife broadcast was transmitted from here in 1953 by the BBC. The house sleeps six in three double rooms and there’s private access to Scott’s personal viewing tower overlooking Rushy Lake; entry to the wetland centre is included, as well as a free tour of Scott House Museum. And depending on the season, private wildlife experiences can also be booked, from a behind-the-scenes wildlife tour to special birdwatching evenings.
• Bewick’s Lodge sleeps six, from £500 for two nights, bewickslodge.co.uk
Whale and dolphin watching, Hebrides
Hebridean Adventures has a new trip that gathers data on cetacean sightings to help with marine research. Guests on the four-night cruise of the Outer Hebrides from Lewis will learn how to identify species of whale and dolphin with the help of an experienced guide. Recordings are then entered into Whale Track, an app developed by the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust. The research is used to build a picture of animal numbers, behaviours and locations, which is used for planning and conservation for future marine protected areas.
The trip takes in the new north-east Lewis protected area, which is known for its Risso’s dolphin population – but minke whales, common dolphins, harbour porpoises and birds, from puffins to eagles, are likely to be spotted along the way, and humpback whales and even orcas may make an appearance.
The MV Monadhliath is a converted fishing boat for up to eight guests and three crew, with raised observation decks. Nights are spent in remote anchorages, and a trip ashore to the Shiant Isles, one of Europe’s most important seabird breeding colonies, is included.
• From 14-18 June, £1,060pp all-inclusive, with 15% going towards the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust (100% money-back guarantee for any valid Covid-related reason), hebrideanadventures.co.uk
Ancient woodland, Warwickshire
Wolford Wood in rural south Warwickshire, on the edge of the Cotswolds, is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) open to day visitors (when restrictions allow), as well as those wishing to stay longer. There are 60 hectares of ancient woodland and 20 hectares of pasture and wildflower meadows to explore – and bespoke volunteer stays can be arranged, with activities from helping with active management of the woodland (cutting back brush, woodland clearance) to auditing flora and fauna (such as fungi or moths). Guided walks (due to resume in spring) include moth-watching and forest bathing, and all guest revenue goes back into woodland management. Facilities are being expanded and enhanced this year. Guests can stay in Woodman’s Cabin, in its own spinney: built from upcycled and salvaged materials, it has an outdoor kitchen and shower.
• Sleeps six from £150 a night, camping from £15pp, wolfordwood.com
Nature reserve, Dorset
Formerly the site of RAF Warmwell, Silverlake is a modern country estate and nature reserve near Dorchester. The 200 hectares of mixed habitat – composed of lakes, heathland and woodland – is home to a wide range of wildlife. This year the 145th bird species, a short-eared owl, was spotted on site, while otters, dormice, Dartmoor ponies and Sika deer may also be seen – and guests can explore on foot, in a kayak or canoe, or on guided nature walks.
Silverlake is part of Habitat Escapes, which also has an estate in the Cotswolds, and the group has its own ecologist, who oversees conservation initiatives including breeding programmes for bees, wasps and nightjars.
Accommodation is in a choice of 25 holiday rentals designed with the wildlife and landscape in mind (and accredited by Building with Nature, the UK’s first benchmark for green infrastructure). Among the options is Wakeling Island 10, a brand-new, five-bedroom, open-plan property with living eco-roof and lake views.
• Sleeps 10, from £538 a night, habitatescapes.com
Lessons in DIY biodiversity, Powys
The Centre for Alternative Technology, a sustainability charity in Machynlleth, south of Snowdonia national park, isn’t taking residential volunteers until September, but when restrictions allow visitors will be able to go for the day or stay overnight, and sign up for a choice of courses. These include new “experience days”, such as Gardening for Nature, which includes helping out on the site (available from May).
Guests will discover how the centre was transformed from a barren quarry into a nature-rich haven, and learn how to help nature thrive at their own homes, with sessions on everything from composting to what to grow to encourage wildlife and biodiversity.
The family-oriented Nature Detectives day involves wildlife monitoring, with pond dipping, bug hunts and camera traps, which all contribute to CAT’s biodiversity work. There’s a lot to explore on site, from working examples of renewable energy to sustainably managed woodlands and experimental green buildings. Accommodation is in the sustainable Wise building, which has 24 bedrooms with views of Snowdonia.
• Doubles from £80, or eco-cabins for groups for large groups, cat.org.uk
Bison tracking, Romania
The European Safari Company, the tour operator arm of Rewilding Europe, offers nature-based holidays that allow guests to learn about and contribute to conservation projects in Europe, and support a range of rewilding initiatives and eco-businesses. The company has several new experiences for 2021, with small group departures on set dates as well as tailormade trips.
It recently added rewilding retreats, including a private five-day trip to Romania tracking bison on foot in the southern Carpathians, with a private guide (from €1,995pp, based on a group of four including meals and accommodation; three-day group trips from €325pp).
There’s also a four-day trip to Bulgaria’s Rhodope mountains, with kayaking on lakes, hiking and birdwatching (species such as the griffon vulture and black stork may be spotted). Available from April, from €340, depending on group size.
Sustainable fishing trips, Croatia
On Lastovo, a remote Croatian island, tour operator Intrepid is working with the WWF to develop tourism that helps preserve the island’s natural resources and identity, while benefiting the local community. Overfishing is a problem in the area, with fishing families struggling to earn a living. As part of its new Croatia Retreat: Lastovo Island trip, guests spend a day at sea learning about sustainable fishing and helping with the catch – the revenue allows fishing families to take less fish and helps preserve the ecosystem. As local fisherwoman Helena Lešić says: “A crisis makes you more creative. That is how the idea of fishing tourism started.”
• From £750pp for five days, first departure 5 June, customers can cancel or amend trip without any fee at least 21 days before departure, intrepidtravel.com
Marine cleaning, Portugal
Responsible Travel has a choice of rejuvenating trips that help the natural world, from an electric bike cycling holiday in Devon, which helps finance a long-term conservation project, to a turtle monitoring programme in Greece.
One of the favourites is a marine conservation holiday in Portugal, where guests can learn how to scuba dive, too. As well as finding out about the ecosystem and identification of fish species, participants collect rubbish from the sea and learn how to sort and record it, contributing to a report on the state of the ocean (816kg of rubbish was collected in 2019).
Divers of all levels, from complete beginners to experienced, can sign up, with itineraries and activities tailored to different levels.
• A week from £961, based in a sustainable Lisbon hostel with meals, dive lessons and certification, with flexible rebooking and free cancellation, responsibletravel.com
Bear tracking, Greece
European brown bears are an endangered species, but in the Pindos mountains in the north of mainland Greece, visitors can track them through one of the world’s deepest gorges and get involved in conservation work on a five-night trip with Much Better Adventures.
The trip is run with local wildlife charity Callisto, which is working to protect bears and their habitat. Guests visit field research stations and learn radio-tracking methods, as well as visiting a sanctuary for orphaned and rescued bears. The cost of the trip includes a €50pp contribution to Callisto.
• First departure 3 May, from £783pp, free date changes/refunds if trip cancelled up to 31 days before departure, muchbetteradventures.com