Wildlife at Borrowdale and Derwent Water

Red squirrell on a branch, Borrowdale, Lake District

Borrowdale is a special place that provides many varied habitats for a whole range of wildlife that you can look out for whether you're walking the fells, strolling the lakeshore, or bird-watching in the valley bottom.

Did you know?

  • Borrowdale is one of the most wooded valleys in the Lake District

  • we manage around 500 hectares of protected Atlantic Oak wood

  • we have incredibly rare lichens and mosses in the valley's woodland

  • over recent years otters have returned to the valley

  • Peregrine Falcons nest at Falcon Crag

  • Vendace, ice age relic fish, survive only here and in Bassenthwaite

  • Borrowdale is the 'front line' of defence for red squirrels

Nature's highlights in winter and spring

Owls have their breeding season when snow is still falling.  Around February half term if you go for a walk in Great Wood you can hear tawny owls hooting to each other in their quest to find a mate – the female calls “tu-wit” and the male replies “tu-woo”. While there is freshly fallen snow on the ground, look out for the tracks of wild red deer, rabbits and even otters.

Great Wood, Keswick, Derwentwater, Cumbria
An owl in Great Wood, Keswick, Derwentwater, Cumbria
Great Wood, Keswick, Derwentwater, Cumbria

Remember to keep your ears open as well as your eyes and enjoy the soundtrack of winter in the mountains with the song of the raven which is much deeper and more musical than the crow.

Spring returns to the valley

As winter turns to spring it sometimes seems like every puddle, is teeming with frogspawn. Even high up on the fells at places like Dock Tarn which is 400m above sea level, frogspawn and tadpoles can be found.

Spring puddles teeming with life
Frogspawn, Lake District, Cumbria
Spring puddles teeming with life

You don’t have to head up to the fells though for a quirky wildlife win - just a short walk out of Keswick town at dusk and you will be rewarded with a frog chorus in the heart of Ings Wood. We are currently fundraising for a boardwalk to protect this internationally significant wet woodland habitat.

Visit in March and you’ll hear the distinctive high-pitched cry of Peregrine Falcons echoing off the crags as they call to their mates. Did you know that Peregrines form monogamous pairs that bond for many mating seasons?  Look up and you might catch a glimpse of their distinctive ‘hunched shoulder’ silhouette against the sky.

Listen out for peregrines as you explore the valley
Line drawing of a peregrine falcon
Listen out for peregrines as you explore the valley

There’s nowhere quite like the spring woodlands of Borrowdale with scents, sights, tastes and sounds to be absorbed.  Breathe deep breaths of the fresh new vegetation or the pungent tang of wild garlic, taste the peppery freshness of wild sorrel on your tongue and listen out for the echoing call of the cuckoo which arrives back in the valley on the 3rd week in April each year.

" If you’re Borrowdale born and bred you’ll know the cuckoo as a ‘Gowk’ which is also used colloquially as an insult!"
- A local Gowk

And of course there will be carpets of white wood anemones, wood sorrel and wild garlic before the leaves are out on the trees.

Drifts of white wood anemones
Wood anemones in Borrowdale
Drifts of white wood anemones

Other nature notes

Ancient woodland

Borrowdale is dominated by ancient woodlands that cling to the steep and craggy fellsides. These are the Atlantic Oakwoods, the temperate rain forests that once cloaked much of the Western Seaboard of Europe, and as with other rain forests its wildlife is secretive and unobserved.


Soaring above you, you might hear buzzards and peregrine falcons. The raven is relatively common throughout the valley and during the summer months the striking pied flycatcher takes up residence in the forest. Roe Deer are often seen in the woodlands and the larger Red Deer can be found on the high fells above the tree line.


Look down to the forest floor, up to the fell tops, across the ancient pastures to discover an incredible diversity of plants, particularly ferns, and a dazzling array of mosses and liverworts. The Borrowdale valley has a nationally significant collection of outstanding rare lichens and a rich variety of fungi in the autumn.

Lichen survey, Thorneythwaite
Lichen survey, Thorneythwaite
Lichen survey, Thorneythwaite


Red squirrels have inhabited Cumbria for the past 6,000 years. Today, their grey cousins are pushing them close to extinction, but there is a population in the valley that we are fighting hard to protect.

A red squirrel at Allan Bank in Grasmere Cumbria

Keep red squirrels alive in the Lakes

Against the odds native reds still survive in the Lake District. But they are under constant threat from the non-native grey squirrels that carry a deadly virus. We work with local squirrel groups to protect reds in our woodlands. But we need your help to do more.