Wildlife watching from a canoe

Canadian canoes on Pont Pill in the Fowey estuary, Cornwall

Paddling in a canoe or kayak is a great way to get closer to wildlife. Here are some simple guidelines to make the most of the experience.

Group size and noise

Be mindful of how threatening a group of paddlers and any associated noise could appear to wildlife. Paradoxically, a solo paddler can also be incredibly quiet, but make sure you don’t surprise wildlife by suddenly appearing.

Take binoculars or a camera

Binoculars will let you observe animal behaviour from a distance that is less likely to disturb. Waterproof dry bags for cameras, binoculars and smartphones are invaluable.

Keep a minimum distance

Give seabird nesting sites and seal haul-outs (locations on land where seals come ashore to rest) a really wide berth (200m) – you can still enjoy them at a distance with binoculars. Birds are particularly sensitive during the nesting period from 1 March to 31 July. Remember that some wildlife such as basking sharks is legally protected.
Constantly assess the wildlife you’re observing. If you see they’re disturbed move away. Please also remember that certain nationally and internationally rare and important conservation sites are protected.

Move on

Watch wildlife for a few minutes and then move on so animals and birds can carry on as normal. Choose a clear course to give wildlife space and help them predict your movements. It can be very easy to push wildlife along a narrow channel, so stop and change your route if you get into this situation.

Being watched

Some animals may choose to watch you and close encounters like this can be very special. Make sure you behave in a predictable way, keep your distance, move on and leave escape routes for both wildlife and yourself. Try not to split a group of animals or get between a mother and her young.

Getting in and out

When launching use slipways, quays, pontoons and platforms where possible and avoid ’seal launching’ or dragging boats which are damaging to riverbanks, vegetation, foreshore and sea beds. It’s always nice to stop, stretch your legs and have a break, but don’t land near gathered birds or seals – you could disturb their feeding and resting time.

Share your info

Report your wildlife sightings to the relevant Wildlife Trust or the Marine Conservation Society. These reports improve understanding and inform management and protection of wildlife and habitat for the future. Report sick or injured animals to the RSPCA or sick or injured marine animals to the British Divers Marine Life Rescue.