Animals, Birds, and Wildlife in the Lake District

Sparsely populated, and filled with wild spaces and various landscapes from rocky fell tops to crystal clear lakes, densely packed forests and open moorland, the Lake District is a wildlife, animal, and bird paradise.

Its varied geology and low population rates has meant that many rare species can be found here, and, if you are lucky, you may catch a glimpse during your visit.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel

Perhaps the most iconic of all of the wildlife that has found a sanctuary in the Lake District is the Red Squirrel. Native to the UK, its numbers have reduced significantly since the introduction of its cousin the Grey Squirrel.

Grey Squirrels carry the squirrelpox virus, which whilst harmless to carriers, is deadly to Red Squirrels. In the UK, it’s estimated that the population of Red Squirrels is around 140,000, whilst the Grey Squirrel has an estimated population of 2.5 million.

The Lake District is one of the last remaining places in England where you can see the Red Squirrel with the largest population in England surviving here. Local residents are encouraged to report any sightings of the grey invaders in order to maintain the Red’s population. You may also spot road signs alerting you to the possible presence of Red Squirrels, encouraging you to slow down.

Best Place To See: Red Squirrels are quite elusive, and although there are some populations around towns and villages, you are more likely to see them in the woodlands of the Lake District. In particular, Whinlatter Forest and Dodd Wood have large populations with feeders that tempt the small creatures out into the open.

Red and Roe Deer

Red & Roe Deer

Red & Roe Deer

Shy, yet majestic, a sighting of one of the Lake District’s magnificent deer population is something to be cherished and savoured. The UK’s largest mammal is difficult to spot, often remaining hidden amongst trees.

During the 18th century, Roe Deer became extinct in England, but thanks to programmes of reintroduction and the extinction of their natural predators in the UK (wolves, bears, lynx) their population has seen a resurgence to the point where it now needs to be controlled in order to prevent damage to the habitats in which they dwell.

Red Deer are larger, and tend to be associated with the Highlands of Scotland, but there is a healthy population within the Lake District.

Best Place To See: At Ennerdale Valley a unique wildlife conservation project is taking place, where the habitat is allowed to evolve in a natural manner and human intervention is avoided. Here you have a good chance of spotting either a Red or Roe Deer.

Red Deer can also be found at Grizedale Forest near Windermere and Foulshaw Moss near Witherslack in the south-east of the Lake District. Roe Deer can also be spotted in the woods by the village of Threlkeld outside of Keswick along a disused railway line.

Otters

Otters

Otters

Otters may look cute, but they are widely considered to be the UK’s top predator, masterful at catching a variety of prey including fish and small birds. These semi-aquatic mammals are usually spotted playing in rivers, with their thick fur protecting them from the cold waters.

Thanks to a combination of pesticide use, habitat destruction, and hunting, otters faced near extinction during the last century, but their numbers have steadily increased as waterways have been cleaned up, certain pesticides banned, and conservation projects have been set up.

Best Place To See: Derwent Water near Keswick has a healthy population of otters that can often be seen playing in the rivers that feed the lake. There have been other sightings at rivers around the county, including the River Kent by Kendal.

Herdwick Sheep

Herdwick Sheep

Herdwick Sheep

Although not wild in the truest sense, Herdwick Sheep can be found roaming freely throughout the Cumbrian fells. This iconic breed is native to Cumbria and it’s thought that 99% of the population live in within the county’s borders.

Their distinctive silver coats, often died red for sheep shows, stand out amongst the plethora of sheep breeds found elsewhere in the UK.

Their territorial nature enables Herdwick to be “hefted” to a particular fell. This traditional method of farming means that walls and hedges are not required, as the sheep are taught to stay within the same area, whilst their ability to survive for long periods via foraging alone makes them an ideal animal for the harsh conditions of the Lake District fells.

Best Place To See: The Herdwick sheep are found on farms throughout the fells with large numbers visible around Buttermere, Coniston, Wasdale, and Borrowdale.

 

Other Small Mammals

Shrew

Shrew

The UK is home to a great number of small mammals, and you may very well encounter some of these throughout your stay in the Lake District.

Other small mammals that you may come across in the Lake District include: badgers, foxes, rabbits, hares, mice, voles, and shrews. 

Osprey

Osprey

Osprey

Ospreys are migratory birds that spend most of the year in Africa, returning to the UK in the summer months to breed. These magnificent birds of prey are white underneath and therefore easily mistaken for a large gull.

Ospreys are primarily found in Scotland, but after several years of conservation efforts a pair began to breed at Bassenthwaite in 2001. Since then they have returned every year to breed.

Best Place To See: Dodd Wood has a viewing platform accessible via a steep wooded walk. Alternatively at the Whinlatter Forest Visitor Centre there is live CCTV of the nest.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrin Falcon

Peregrin Falcon

Found around the world, the Peregrine Falcon is the fastest animal there is with a maximum recorded speed of 242 miles per hour. This speed makes them a deadly predator of smaller birds, and they are often seen quickly diving down for a kill. 

These birds often nest on cliff ledges, and, therefore, climbers should be careful about disturbing the breeding grounds.

Best Place To See: It’s estimated that there are around 90 breeding pairs in Cumbria, and their territorial approach to breeding means that they are found spread through the national park.

They are known to breed at Falcon Crag near Derwent Water making it a good place to try and spot them, but the chances are you will see one flying overhead at some point.

Red Kite

Red Kite

Red Kite

Persecuted to near extinction and once regarded as “vermin”, the distinctive Red Kite with its reddish-brown body and black and white wings has been successfully reintroduced to most parts of the UK thanks to conservation efforts.

These birds generally survive on carrion and worms, as well as small mammals such as mice.

Best Place To See: Under a specially licensed programme, 90 Red Kites were introduced to Grizedale Forest over a three year period from 2010.

Since then, there have been hundreds of sightings of the birds around the forest and more recently they have been spotted further afield towards Shap by the M6 and Gosforth on the Cumbrian coast.

 

Other Birds

Kestrel

Kestrel

Kestrels and Buzzards make a regular appearance over the skies of the Lake District. Herons can be spotted along the riverside. The Ring Ouzel is a migratory bird that summers in the UK with frequent sightings in the area, especially around Derwent Water.

Listen out for woodpeckers and cuckoos and during the winter you may be witness to the spectacular sight of a starling swarm or “mumuration.”