A walk in the park – how to find wildlife havens all around you

By Mel Bramner

One of the things that many of us treasure about our holidays is the easy access to the glorious outdoors.  Whether we are in a hot tub staring up at the stars, sitting around a campfire, stepping out of our cottage on to the moor or strolling on a beach.  What if we could find a slice of wild on our doorstep?  Somewhere we could disappear to and recharge our wilderness batteries?

Even in the countryside though, you can’t just step into the nearest wood for a picnic.  Many people who live in urban areas assume that if you live in the countryside you have access to wilderness whenever you like.  However, this is not necessarily true.  While the flora and fauna may be much closer and you could have owls nesting in the tree at the bottom of your garden or wake up to find a deer nibbling your lawn, actually finding wild places to roam is pretty tricky.

In Scotland the “Right to roam” was enshrined in law in 2005 and you have the right to access most land away from peoples’ homes.  In England and Wales things are a bit more restricted.  Aside from public rights of way (footpaths or bridleways) there is no right of access to most countryside.  Heading out onto the fields, meadows, riverbanks and woodlands around you may seem like the natural thing to do, especially if the gates are open or there is no fence and many farmers or landowners won’t be too bothered about your presence for a picnic, a quiet walk or to pick a few blackberries.  However, it is technically trespassing, and the landowner does have the right to use reasonable force to get you to leave.

To find the wild spaces, you sometimes have to dig a bit deeper. 

Look in your own back yard

A quiet moment in your own garden can take you to another world if you are mindful.  Listen to the lazy buzz of a very busy bee.  Focus on the brilliant colours and micro textures of a single flower.  Marvel at the dew drops glistening on a silky spider web on a cool morning or watch a spider busy weaving.

Wildlife pockets in public spaces

It may seem an odd place to go to find wildlife, but cemeteries are absolute meccas for wildlife.  Use the public footpath network to enjoy wildlife around you.  While the right to access here relies on you being in transit, you can certainly still enjoy the countryside while moving through it.

Find the Access Land

Mountains and moorlands, heaths, commons and some coastal land can be freely accessed for recreation.  Not all access land is in upland areas though.   Landowners may designate their land as Access Land and land managed by the Wildlife Trusts or the Forestry Commission is often registered.  Go to Openaccess.naturalengland.org.uk where you can type in your locality and it comes up with a map of the area.  Areas of yellow on the map indicate where you have freedom of access.

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