Sometimes even the most pastoral landscapes can reveal some of nature’s wildest secrets. Case in point: the refined Cotswolds Hills in England. Amidst tidy country homes and winding lanes, grand country estates and traditional pubs, the serene natural beauty of the region unveils a quieter sort of adventure than we might expect in, say, Iceland or the Arctic. Far from the urban jungle, we find English mammals and animals native to Great Britain, from Muntjac deer to badgers, hedgehogs to peregrine falcons.
So what can you expect from a wildlife perspective when vacationing in rural England? Your wanderings will take you along scenic footpaths through Britain’s largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, through the ancient habitats of English animals. Your focus will be on pristine wildlife and conservation efforts in the country’s largest designated National Landscape. Along hedgerows and trout-filled streams, beech forest and wildflower meadows, you’ll find yourself face to face with kingfishers, tufted ducks, roe deer, foxes, greater horseshoe bats and more.
Although this is an admittedly more genteel way to experience wildlife than on an African safari, for example, the picture-postcard villages, delightful inns and exuberant gardens make for memorable moments in their own right. Plus, when you travel in the Cotswolds, you’ll have opportunity for exclusive castle and estate tours (think Highgrove House, the royal estate of the Prince of Wales), picnic lunches along hidden byways and pints at local pubs that date back centuries.
Notice, too, the Cotswolds region’s inspiring commitment to nature, wildlife and conservation. The people living and farming in this area have been doing so for 6,000 years and their love for their land is apparent. While the British wildlife may be subtle, it’s dearly protected by the locals.
What Wildlife Will I See in the Cotswolds?
This is but a small subset of the British forest animals you might encounter while touring the Cotswolds:
You’ll find these playful, expert foragers just about everywhere you wander in the Cotswolds. They rule the woodlands, often living where their large clans before them have lived for generations. Look for their well-trodden paths through the undergrowth of the forest. They’re quite distinctive as far as United Kingdom animals go, with their recognizable black and white-striped face, gray fur and short furry tail.
Adaptable, sly and a born survivor, foxes are at the top of the woodland food chain. Look for these russet-red creatures with their pointed ears and bushy tail – they’re smaller than you might think, around 11 to 17 pounds typically. The rural foxes are warier of humans than urban dwellers and they’re crepuscular (active around dawn or dusk), so you’re more likely to see them during woodland walks at those times.
Great Horseshoe Bats
If you’re out and about looking for foxes at dawn or dusk, keep an eye out for the rare and highly agile greater horseshoe bat, the longest-lived bat in the United Kingdom. One of the region’s largest bats, they’re golden-brown with round wings, small black eyes and leaf-shaped pointed ears.
Who can resist these cute, iconic mammals that actually spend most of their lives asleep? Look for them along hedgerows and woodland edges, which these little Tiggy-Winkles (if you know your Beatrix Potter) seek out for food and shelter.
Deer (Roe, Red and Muntjac)
Among the most common animals in England, these deer species all so nimble you may only catch a fleeting glimpse as they bound through the trees or across a meadow. The roe deer is the most ubiquitous – look for its distinguishable white rump. The roe actually appear different depending on the time of year – with bright reddish-brown fur in the summer, fading to duller brown in the winter. Both sexes have the recognizable white rear as well as a white chin. The bucks have small antlers with up to three points, which are shed and regrown annually.
Where Will I See Wildlife in the Cotswolds?
Your British wildlife guide will likely focus on the following regions in the Cotswolds.
One of the prettiest walking destinations in the Cotswolds, the Windrush Valley is home to the ruins of a 15th-century manor house along the River Windrush and the hamlets of Widford, Swinbrook and Asthall. Birders, especially, will enjoy exploring pastures full of grazing sheep and bucolic meadows brimming with wildflowers, where various bird species will dip and soar on the breeze. Look for the ring-necked duck, great egret and grey plover.
The hidden valley of Chedworth is a boon for wildlife enthusiasts. Numerous wildlife species inhabit the hedgerows – you may even spot a raptor or pheasant. Amongst the stands of poplar, chestnut, rowan and whitebeam trees, look for voles, pine martens, hazel dormice and fallow deer.
This idyllic vale is populated by deer, foxes, badgers, hedgehogs and more, who make their home in an area that was the heart of England’s wool industry in the Middle Ages. Follow narrow country roads to Coaley Peak and the Cotswolds Escarpment to Woodchester Estate. On this former Tudor deer hunting ground, look for muntjac and roe deer, kingfisher, herons, mandarin ducks and tufted ducks. This is also an excellent spot to spy greater horseshoe bats at sunset.
The Slaughters and Cotswolds Falconry Center
Take time to learn about more than 130 birds of prey of 60 different species at the Falconry Center, including wildlife native to the Cotswolds like sparrowhawks, common kestrels, red kites, peregrine falcons and more.
As you go about seeking the most common wildlife in England, don’t overlook the farm animals of the Cotswolds. While not “wild,” these important creatures are a lifeline to the local agricultural lifestyle and getting to know them is the perfect intersection for nature-loving foodies. Farm-to-table fare is simply a fact of life, and less a culinary trend, here in the Cotswolds. At a local farm, take the time to learn about the cultivation of the surrounding land and meet the livestock that roams freely, including rare breeds of sheep, Gloucester and Aberdeen Angus beer, turkeys, geese and chickens. Then, take a seat to enjoy the farm’s bounty, from salad greens and herbs to famous Single Gloucester Cheese to rare, farmed venison.
Think wildlife adventures must take you as far away as Churchill for polar bears or Kenya for zebras? Think again. The pastoral Cotswolds of England will surprise you with their plethora of unfettered wildlife in the United Kingdom’s most pristine natural settings.