From killer whales to hunting eagles: where to see the spectacular sights of the Wild Isles | UK public holidays

JThe enormous mass of Bass Rock sits in the Firth of Forth, three miles offshore from the idyllic town of North Berwick on the east coast of Scotland. Viewed from the mainland, the island looks like a huge stone scone with a powerful bite taken from one side. A dusting of flour appears to coat the landmass and dust the sky above.

But as our boat slowly heads towards the island, these splashes become clearer and we see the breathtaking sight that brought us here: the largest colony of gannets in the world.

“In a normal year, Bass Rock would be home to 75,000 breeding pairs, or 150,000 birds,” says Susan Davies, chief executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre. “It is of global importance.”

The birds are huddled together on the rugged rock. They circle over steep cliffs, looking for cod or herring. When they spot one, the birds twist from a height of 30 meters, folding their wings behind them and entering the water at 60 mph.

Gannet with many others in rocky background
One of the thousands of gannets on Bass Rock. Photography: Nature Picture Library/BBC/Silverback Films

Around 10% of the world’s gannets live on Bass Rock, and although it is well known, few people even in Edinburgh (30 minutes from North Berwick) realize its importance. Perhaps that will change after it appears in Wild Isles, the new series narrated by David Attenborough aimed at reminding us of the global importance of nature (albeit severely impoverished) in the British Isles.

“We are custodians of over 50% of the world’s common bluebells and 85% of the world’s chalk streams,” says series producer Hilary Jeffkins. “But despite this, we are still one of the least biodiverse countries in the world. It is therefore important to protect and restore the wildlife that we have.

The Guardian was told on Friday that the BBC had decided not to air an episode of the series over fears its themes of nature destruction risked a backlash from conservative politicians and the right-wing press. The row erupted just two days before the first episode of the highly anticipated series aired on BBC One.

Here are some of the spectacular species and scenery that will be featured in Sunday’s first episode.

Gannets, Bass Rock, Firth of Forth

At the height of summer, there are two gannet nests per square meter at Bass Rock – although experts are unsure how many will return in 2023 after last year’s bird flu outbreak. “The gannets are the largest seabirds we have. [in Britain]says Davies. “They have a wingspan of more than two meters. It’s spectacular when they fold their wings and dive. The Scottish Seabird Center runs boat trips from North Berwick to the rock, which is also home to a 19th-century lighthouse and a ruined castle that once housed Jacobite prisoners.

Puffins, Farne Islands, Northumberland

puffin with open beak
Photography: Alex Board/BBC/Silverback Films

The Farne Islands sea stacks are home to up to 55,000 pairs of puffins, which are easy to identify during breeding season by their brightly colored beaks and matching legs. The best time to visit is from April to the end of July, while baby seals can be seen from October to mid-December.

In Wild Isles, we watch puffins do battle with greedy gulls trying to steal their hard-earned sand lance. It is becoming increasingly difficult for puffins to catch these tiny eels as the combination of overfishing and the climate crisis push the eels further north. The segment is followed by a clip of Attenborough up close with puffins on Skomer Island, a mile off the Pembrokeshire coast, which is also a great site for spotting puffins, Manx shearwaters and Moreover.

Orcas, Shetland

Orca family at sea
Photography: BBC/Silverback Films

Wild Isles opens with a stunning sequence of crashing waves around the island of Muckle Flugga, one of the most northerly points in the British Isles. The lighthouse pictured was actually designed by Robert Louis Stevenson’s father and uncle, Thomas and David Stevenson, in 1854.

In the first episode, the orcas are captured communicating and then silently sneaking up on an unsuspecting seal. Killer whales reliably arrive in Shetland every spring to feed, but naturally you can’t guarantee a sighting. The Wild Isles crew filmed this footage over three years, with 250 local people helping them track the orca along the coastline.

“This is the largest marine predator in the world that breeds in our waters,” says producer and director Nicholas Gates. “There is no more powerful or more feared creature in the oceans.”

Ancient Oaks, Oxfordshire

Attenborough’s narration points out that only 13% of Britain as a whole is covered in trees, one of the lowest proportions in Europe – but England has more ancient oaks than the rest of the world. united Europe. Three-quarters of these ancient oaks are over 500 years old, with the oldest being a 1050-year-old tree in the grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.

White-tailed eagles, Islay

A white-tailed eagle.
Photography: Jesse Wilkinson/BBC/Silverback Films

The remarkable Wild Isles footage shows two white-tailed eagles, a species reintroduced to Scotland as recently as the 1980s, chasing a barnacle goose through the air. These geese travel to Islay, off the west coast of Scotland, every summer to munch on the grass.

“This behavior is very, very new,” Gates says. “We have recovered this species and now we see these lost behaviors returning as well. It is a conservation success story.

The white-tailed eagles were filmed at RSPB Loch Gruinart on Islay, although the further north isle of Mull is better known for its white-tailed eagles. There is a regular ferry from Kennacraig to Islay, which is also home to world-class whiskey distilleries including Lagavulin and Laphroaig.

Kingfishers: Rivers Stour, Avon and Frome

Attenborough describes Britain’s crystal chalk streams as “one of the rarest habitats on Earth”. There are around 200 around the world, most of which pass through the south of England. Beneath the surface live various breeds of salmon and trout, as well as minnows, the favorite snack of kingfishers. These electric blue and orange birds fly fast, up to 25 mph, above the surface of rivers. Their long beaks – a third of their body length – allow kingfishers to enter the water silently, without alerting their prey – a design borrowed to silence the Japanese bullet train. The Rivers Stour, Avon and Frome are found in the Wild Isles, but kingfishers are widespread in Britain.

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