Tourists may not associate Britain with thrilling animal encounters, but it turns out there is one area of the UK in particular where you can get up close and personal with amazing creatures – Pembrokeshire in Wales.
Here BBC presenter Lizzie Daly has pinpointed the locations where you may catch a glimpse of blue sharks, basking sharks, porbeagle sharks, minke whales and pelagic seabirds. Plus the TV star has discovered the best places for seeing all sorts of other wonderful creatures such as giant spider crabs, seals and puffins.
The 24-year-old spent most of the summer leading unique ‘Wild Ocean’ expeditions in the area, giving her a unique insight into a landscape that attracts some 1.1million holidaymakers each year. Lizzie, from Cardiff, says there’s no better place in the UK to dive into a rich and diverse marine environment. Scroll down for her ultimate animal spotting guide.
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Whales and sharks – the Celtic Sea Shelf
Adventurer: Lizzie had some thrilling animal encounters during her tour of the stunning Pembrokeshire coast
Jaw-dropping: Tourists have a chance of seeing a basking shark (above) in the deep Welsh waters of the Celtic Shelf. This one was spotted off the coast of Scotland
Fierce: ‘This year I’ve been told by anglers that the size of the sharks they find are increasing,’ wrote Lizzie. Pictured above is a blue shark, which can be seen off the coast of Wales. This one was spotted near South Africa
Chance encounter: Minke whales (stock image) are also among the extreme wildlife that can be spotted in Pembrokeshire
The porbeagle shark (stock image). Another amazing creature you can see on a Welsh break
Lizzie said: ‘If you want to see some of the more extreme wildlife Pembrokeshire has to offer, then you’ll need to go on a slightly longer boat trip. If you venture around 20 miles off the coast you’ll hit the Celtic Shelf, where the water gets much deeper.
‘And it’s here where you’ve got a chance of seeing blue shark, basking shark, porbeagle shark, minke whale and pelagic seabirds like fulmars, storm petrels and skuas. You’ll also get “mega pods” of dolphins in fantastic numbers. A company called Dale Sailing do offshore trips. Are there great white sharks in UK waters? It’s hard to know. Anecdotally you hear stories of sightings of great white sharks from local fisherman but one hasn’t been documented yet.
‘I find the whole conversation about sharks in our waters very interesting but we should be focusing on the amazing diversity of shark species we already have in our waters – blues, makos, threshers and porbeagles. This year I’ve been told by anglers that the size of the sharks they find are increasing. Food for thought, for sure… but there’s no reason to think our waters are anymore dangerous than they were before.’
Swimming with giant spider crabs – Musselwick beach
Brave: Lizzie came up close and personal with a giant spider crab when she went diving at Musselwick beach, near Marloes
Glorious: Marloes Sands (above) boasts a beautiful beach but Lizzie warned visitors that it gets cut off at high tide
Lizzie said: ‘This place gets cut off at high tide and you have to walk down a small path for ten minutes to get there. But it’s lovely and secluded. And it’s where you can also go swimming with spider crabs, in scenes just like you might have seen on the TV series Blue Planet.
‘These creatures gather by the hundreds, or even thousands, and some species of spider crab have been known to grow to some 12ft across in some countries. Meanwhile nearby Marloes Sands boasts a big, beautiful beach. While swimming with spider crabs you are also surrounded by moon and comb jellyfish blooms.’
Seals and sea kayaking – Watwick Bay
‘You can hire kayaks (or paddle boards if you’re feeling brave), from nearby Dale, roughly two miles to the north. It’ll take you around an hour to paddle from Dale to Watwick Bay (above), depending on conditions, but it’s well worth it,’ said Lizzie
‘You can only get to Watwick Bay either by a really long coastal path, or by sea. And if you want to get to this secluded bay in style, you need to sea kayak there, no doubt bumping into a few seals along the way.
‘You can hire kayaks (or paddle boards if you’re feeling brave), from nearby Dale, roughly two miles to the north. It’ll take you around an hour to paddle from Dale to Watwick Bay, depending on conditions, but it’s well worth it.’
Puffin heaven – Skomer Island
Feathered friends: A huge colony of puffins can be found on Skomer Island, which you can get to via a boat from Neyland
Lizzie said: ‘I think there’s something for everyone on Skomer – it’s just an amazing place, whether you’re into wildlife or just fancy a walk with a difference. There’s a huge colony of puffins on Skomer, which is one of the reasons why so many people go there.
‘Meanwhile you may also spot raptors like osprey flying over head or the peregrine falcon that nests on the island. You get to Skomer via a boat trip from Neyland (www.pembrokeshire-islands.co.uk). And there’s a particular place on the island, called The Wick, where you can sit and watch the puffin emerging from their burrows just a few feet away from you. It’s magical.’
Gannet spotting – Grassholm Island
Impressive: Grassholm Island (above) boasts the third largest colony of northern gannets in the world
Top tip: Lizzie reminded tourists that gannets (pictured above) leave Grassholm Island at the end of September
Lizzie said: ‘Grassholm Island boasts the third largest colony of northern gannets in the world. And it’s one of my favourite places. You can’t land, as it’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), but you can organise kayak trips around the island, which is out of this world. You will see it, you will hear it and you will definitely smell it. It’s a fully immersive experience.
‘But remember – the gannets leave at the end of September, so you’ve only got a few more weeks to enjoy them before next year.’
Dolphins – St Annes Headland
Keep your eyes peeled: Lucky tourists may see pods of common dolphin from the cliff-tops of St Annes Head (stock image)
‘I love off-road running, and the coastal paths around Pembrokeshire are a dream. The trails around St Annes Head are particularly attractive,’ said Lizzie (above)
Surfer chick: The wildlife presenter (above) donned a wetsuit and headed out into the open waters at West Dale beach to catch some waves
Lizzie said: ‘I love off-road running, and the coastal paths around Pembrokeshire are a dream. The trails around St Annes Head are particularly attractive. You’ll go from beach level to the cliff tops and my favourite route takes in around five miles.
‘They’re fairly demanding jaunts but, if you’re really lucky, you may see pods of common dolphin from the cliff-tops, too.’