Wildlife to spot on the South West Coast this winter

By the wind Sailors on South Milton Sands

With so many different landscapes and habitats across the National Trust in the South West, you can find an equally diverse range of wildlife. In January and February wildlife can be a little harder to see on the coast; here's our guide to the top three things to look out for.

1. By the wind sailors

By the wind sailors (Velella velella) spend their lives bobbing on the surface of the ocean, tentacles hanging underneath them, hoping to catch some unsuspecting plankton. The little sail on top is literally just that, and they use it to catch the wind, skimming across the water like a sailing ship.

This unusual method of travel can work against them however, as it leaves them to the mercy of the winds, and although they prefer warmer seas they can often be found stranded by the thousands on beaches all over the world.

There have been strandings right around the South West Coast, including Woolacombe in North Devon, Sennen and Chapel Porth in Cornwall and on South Milton Sands in South Devon.

Fun fact: Each newly born group of by the wind sailors will have a mix of left or right curving sails to make sure that they don't all blow in the same direction.


2. Grey heron

Explore our amazing spaces and places on your doorstep
A heron flying
Explore our amazing spaces and places on your doorstep

It’s not often you catch any more than a glimpse of a heron taking off in flight, or soaring overhead with its pterodactyl-like silhouette. However this is the time of year when herons return to their colonial nesting sites to breed, and they can be seen together in great numbers, nests usually in tall trees.

Once the chicks are born these groups of normally quiet birds create a cacophony of noise, with chicks calling for food, adults harsh croaking ‘songs’ and even bill snapping and rattling.

You can find these magnificent, striking birds on Brownsea Island, where there are often events to help you discover and spot the resident birds on the Island, at Arlington Court, on the Lake Walk, and along the Dart Estuary, where you can also make use of the Mansands bird hide.

Fun fact: Although generally associated with nabbing a fish supper from the garden pond, herons mostly eat coarse fish like perch, amphibians, eels and even small birds and rodents.


3. Ravens

A raven in the process of making its familiar 'Cronk cronk'
A raven in full voice on the Isle of Wight
A raven in the process of making its familiar 'Cronk cronk'

The raven has long been a popular subject of mythology, art and superstition, but it was also heavily persecuted by Gamekeepers and farmers as a ‘pest’ in the past, and as such most flocks moved to safer nesting sites in more rugged locations.

You can find raven breeding areas along the breathtaking Avon Gorge, the length of the North Cornish Coast at beautiful spots like Henna Cliff, or even visit Corfe Castle’s very own resident ravens complete with their own legend.

Fun fact: This mischievous and intelligent corvid has been known to solve eight- step puzzles, create make shift sleds to play in the snow, and have even learned to speak, so despite a group of ravens being known as an ‘unkindness’ you can be sure of an entertaining display from these social birds.

Have you spotted any of these creatures? Let us know where and share your pictures with us on Facebook or Twitter – we’d love to see them.

Family walking dogs

Which places are open and what you need to know before you visit 

We've started to open some gardens and parks in England and Northern Ireland. To limit numbers and keep everyone safe, you can only visit by booking tickets in advance. A lot of places are now fully booked up to 14 June, but we release new tickets every Friday, and we’re also opening more gardens and parks every week. More than 200 coastal and countryside car parks are also open. All houses remain closed at the moment, and all places in Wales remain closed in line with Welsh government advice. Read this article to find out what's open and what to expect from your visit.