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18 June 2014
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Activities | Rambling

Wildlife wonders

Sand lizard

Wilderness areas provide very good habitats for wildlife.

Take a few tips from the Hands on Nature team as we get close to wildlife with four activities that you can do near your home. Or why not find out about new wildlife locations!

Camouflage in action - Sand Lizard

Here are four different activities that you can try out for yourselves throughout the year in Britain's rambling areas:

Ullswater's wild treasures

LakeDown on the valley bottom near Ullswater there is some great nature to explore.

If you fancy spotting large birds of prey, then you head a few miles south to Haweswater.

This beautiful reservoir was created in the 1930s to provide water for Manchester, but today it is home to a very special bird, the Golden Eagle.

Golden Eagle spotting

* It's easiest to spot the Golden Eagle when in flight against the sky. These birds love riding the thermals so the best time to spot them is not early morning but later in the day when the air has warmed up.

* The best place for spotting the Golden Eagle at Haweswater in the Lake District is the RSPB observatory just south of the reservoir. It's a 30 minute walk.

* Stay in a fixed location when watching the Golden Eagle to ensure that the bird is not disturbed.

* Binoculars and telescopes are great for getting a close-up view of the Golden Eagle. Look out for him on rocky perches and sitting on trees before swooping down on the valley's thermals.

Small mammals and Otters

OtterThe Lake District is also a good place for Otter and small mammal watching.

* To get a glimpse of an Otter you'll need to be up early or be around at dusk.

* Look out for tell-tale signs such as spraints or Otter toilets.

* Otter poo has a distinctive musky smell.

* For small mammals such as Mice and Voles, you can set a humane animal trap and study these creatures when you catch them:

- do your homework first - some animals like shrews need a special licence;

- find a likely place with evidence of animal activity - look for nibbled hazelnuts and droppings;

- set your trap in a suitable place, baiting it with raisins and nuts;

- cover it with grass, leave it and return twice a day to check it;

- always put the animal back where you found it;

- for more information, check the Mammal Society's tips on humane animal trapping on their website Mammal Society.

Dorset Heaths' reptile kingdom

Smooth snakeDorset Heaths boast all six species of reptiles found in the United Kingdom - Adders, Grass Snakes, Common Lizards, Slow Worms, Smooth Snakes and Sand Lizards.

It's a great place for looking for snakes but you'll need to be patient:

Top tips

* Early morning is a good time to spot reptiles when they like to bask in the sun.

* Slowly creep around if you're looking for reptiles - walk carefully as they will pick up your vibrations. Be patient.

* Sand lizards or 'little dragons' can be devils to find. April is the best time to see Sand Lizards, when the males are getting ready to mate, turning a fabulous bejewelled green colour in the process.

* Sand Snakes spend most of their time undercover - they like to hide under tin or hidden spots to avoid their predators.

* Don't pick up Smooth Snakes - they are an endangered species and a special licence is needed to handle them. If you pick up a Slow Worm. put it back where you found it.

SnakeSpotting the difference:

Grass Snakes - Britain's largest reptile at over 1 metre in length. Characterised by its green skin and yellow collar. Its eyes have a round pupil with a yellow background.

The Adder - Britain's only poisonous snake. Characterised by the zig-zag pattern on its back and eyes with a vertical pupil and orange background.

Sand Snakes - Brown spots in a regular pattern on its back. Its eyes have a round pupil with a brown background.

Watch the reptile spotting film.



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