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Top Wildlife Sites and Iconic Animals to Spot in North Devon

For anyone with a love of British wildlife, North Devon is a destination always capable of producing a delightful surprise or three. Whether it is the abundance of wild coast or acres of unspoiled countryside, you could see anything from a grey seal to a mighty wild stag on your next trip. So where should you head for that special sighting you’ll never forget? Here are five brilliant places to spot wildlife in North Devon:

1. Seals & Puffins on Lundy Island

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With a population of some 200 grey seals, Lundy is a magical place to see these much-loved mammals. Full of character, they can be spotted in many haunts, from their hunting grounds to sunbathing on the rocks at low tide. For the most part, you would be well advised to keep a distance to avoid scaring them. That said, some enthusiasts enjoy direct encounters by diving on the Lundy Coast! They can turn up just about anywhere round the island, but perhaps the surest way to spot them is to embark on a locally run wildlife cruise. A wealth of seabirds, including colourful puffins, are another big draw for visitors. Find out more on our dedicated Lundy Island blog post

2. Salmon & Otters on The River Exe & River LynImage title

These two species have had a tough time of it in the past, but North Devon is one of those leafier, less overdeveloped areas with better recent news. Otters are quite often spotted these days all the way along the Exe. You may well spot signs like spraints or footprints well before the actual animal itself, which is most active early or late in the day.

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Salmon will run up the Exe whenever the river rises and makes travel easier for these majestic migratory fish. Spring and autumn are both good times to spot them, with some decent rainfall increasing your chances greatly. Just about any weir or area of boulders and falls is likely- and if you’re lucky you might see one in mid-leap! There are many locations on the River Exe, but the River Lyn around Lynmouth is also another likely place.

3. Red Deer and Ponies on Exmoor

Few West Country species are more iconic than the majestic red deer. Far bigger than the more common roe deer, this is Britain’s largest surviving land mammal. The males can be especially huge, weighing as much as two grown men (up to 190kg). Unlike a lot of game species we label as British, these are no artificially introduced guests either, having lived on the moor since prehistoric times.

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These creatures are not always easy to spot, although a whole host of walks on the Visit Exmoor site will take you into likely territory; try to find clearings on the edge of wooded areas, well away from car parks and regular footfall from tourists. Perhaps the most reliable way of all is to book a special Exmoor safari session with a local expert. Red Stag Safari offer exactly this service.

Exmoor Ponies are rather more comical and less challenging to find, preferring open moorland to graze. Nor are they especially shy of humans- and younger guests especially adore these cute creatures, which you can often get close to. Not only do they have bags of character, but a tough nature and a knack of surviving even the harshest winters on the moor.

4. Birdwatching on the Taw and Torridge Estuary

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Boasting huge expanses of food-rich sand and mud flats, this famous estuary area is a haven for both migratory birds and the avid twitcher alike! Indeed, many would tell you it’s omne of the best birdwatching locations in North Devon. Take a good wander and pack some decent binoculars and you might spy anything from curlews to spoonbills. Appledore and Westward Ho! are both good places to park and explore the area. For more on these sites and the species to expect year round, click here.

5. Rockpooling in North Devon

For a miniature world of fascinating creatures, don’t overlook North Devon’s many rocky beaches! A great activity for all ages, it is especially brilliant for younger guests with limited patience. All you really need is a sharp pair of eyes and a willingness to get stuck in; although a net is a big help to catch creatures such as prawns and blennies. Do be gentle with them and put both creatures and stones back as you found them! There are a huge number of great locations in North Devon; Woolacombe itself is more associated with golden sand than craggy ground, but Mortenhoe Beach provides especially rocky and inviting territory on any low tide, just a short hop from Woolacombe.

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                                              There's no telling what beasts you might find in a Devon rockpool! (Image: Fishing with the General)

Wildlife Spotting Tips:

-Avoid areas of excessive human activity. Wild creatures are naturally shy and dislike heavy disturbance. Generally speaking, stretch your legs to escape the crowds and find the quiet parts and you have a much better chance.

-Timing can be crucial when wildlife spotting. Some animals are happy in broad daylight, but many others are most active in the early morning and just as it gets dark.

-Proceed carefully to get closer to wild creatures. Avoid bright clothing and excessive noise and you can get much closer.

-Don’t forget your camera! It might weigh extra, but a tripod is also a brilliant investment for the photographer, whether you want to capture the tiny details of a rare insect or get a super-clear image of a roosting bird.

- Don’t forget, no matter how cute animals might look they are wild creatures that demand respect. For the most part we are intruders into their world. Look and take pictures, but avoid touching or feeding animals.

-Do make use of local guides and expert organisations (The National Trust, Devon Wildlife Trust and Visit Exmoor are three great sites to get you started).