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Lake District Wildlife Guide

The Lake District is truly a dynamic environment, loaded with wild spaces. From rugged fell tops to translucent lakes, mystical forests and open moorland; the Lake District is a paradise for the wonderful wildlife who find sanctuary in this beautiful landscape.

With diverse geology and modest population rates in the Lake District, it means plenty of rare species are found here. So, if you're lucky, you may well catch a glimpse of them during your visit.

Here's our guide to our lovely Lake District wildlife!

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrels are without a doubt one of the most iconic (and adored) species in the UK. And fortunately for us, we're lucky enough to see them all year round in our Cumbrian woodlands, with the Lake District being one of the last remaining places in England to see the Red Squirrels.

If you do happen to come across one of these lovable souls, you're likely to see them feasting on hazelnuts, scooting along dry stone walls or racing up and between the trees causing mischief!

A spokesperson for the Cumbria Wildlife Trust said told us "they’re easy to distinguish from the more widespread grey squirrel – reds are smaller, have a reddish-brown fur with tufts of hair on the end of their ears.

Smardale Gill Nature Reserve (near Kirkby Stephen) is a great place to see red squirrels and has been a priority location for red squirrel conservation since 2010.

There are plenty other great places to see red squirrels in Cumbria too; with places such as Wreay Woods Nature Reserve (near Carlisle), Allan Bank or White Moss woods (Grasmere), Skelgyhll Wood (Ambleside), Dodd Wood (Bassenthwaite) and Lanthwaite Wood (Loweswater).

Otter

These carnivorous mammals are excellent swimmers and one of our top predators, feeding mainly on fish, amphibians and crustaceans.

The Cumbria Wildlife Trust says, “In past years the chance of seeing otters in the wild was scarce, but thankfully otters have made something of a come-back. Still rare but widespread, otters can are spotted near rivers and estuaries across Cumbria, and increasingly in urban areas.”

Signs that otters are in the vicinity include tracks on banksides (they have 5 toes) and finding spraints (their droppings), which are dark in colour and contain fish bones and scales.

The Cumbria Wildlife Trust says that the River Kent in Kendal, the River Eden in Carlisle and the River Petteril in the Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Wreay Woods Nature Reserve are the top spots to see otters.

Red Deer

Although normally associated with Scotland, there are also plenty of red deer found in Cumbria. The deer are the largest found in England and can reach a height of 1.2 metres at the shoulder. Males also have strikingly large, branching antlers that increase in size as they get older.

The Cumbrian Wildlife Trusts says, “Encountering a herd of red deer during the autumnal breeding season, known as the ‘rut’, is widely regarded as one of nature’s wildlife spectacles. During this time males bellow and roar to declare territory and compete with other males over females.”

Haweswater, Martindale and Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s own Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve are all great places to see red deer.

Buzzards and Kestrels

One of the most impressive Lake District wildlife sights is seeing Buzzards and Kestrels flying high in the sky over the beautiful Cumbrian countryside.

Beth Pipe, an outdoor writer and owner of the blog Cumbrian Rambler, shares some tips on how you can spot Buzzards and Kestrels.

She says, Cumbria is packed full of fantastic wildlife and all it takes to see it is a little patience and a keen pair of eyes and ears. On most hill walks you should be able to spot buzzards – listen for their pinging call and watch as they soar high along the valleys in search of food.

Kestrels can often be seen too; they tend to hover in one place looking for lunch before descending on their unsuspecting prey.

Osprey

Continuing with the bird theme, during the summer months the woodland around Bassenthwaite Lake, close to Keswick, is home to a pair of breeding ospreys. And according to Cumbrian Rambler blogger, Beth Pipe says the RSPB have set up a hide nearby allowing walkers and visitors to watch ospreys as they swoop along the lake looking for fish to feed their brood.

Once extinct and still rare, ospreys are a conservation success story with the number of breeding pairs now steadily increasing in Scotland, Cumbria, the East Midlands and Wales.

Other great places to see this magnificent bird include Foulshaw Moss Nature Reserve (near Witherslack) and Esthwaite Water near Hawkshead.

Herdwick Sheep

Although not wild in the truest sense, Herdwick Sheep can be found roaming freely throughout the Cumbrian fells. This iconic breed is native to Cumbria and it’s thought that 99% of the population live in within the county’s borders.

Their distinctive silver coats, often died red for sheep shows, stand out amongst the plethora of sheep breeds found elsewhere in the UK.

Their territorial nature enables Herdwick to be “hefted” to a particular fell. This traditional method of farming means that walls and hedges are not required, as the sheep are taught to stay within the same area, whilst their ability to survive for long periods via foraging alone makes them an ideal animal for the harsh conditions of the Lake District fells.

Best Place To See: The Herdwick sheep are found on farms throughout the fells with large numbers visible around Buttermere, Coniston, Wasdale, and Borrowdale.