Bees feeding on globe thistle in urban environment, Glasgow, Scotland

Urban and suburban

It's not just humans who live in towns and cities. Even in the middle of the 'concrete jungles', wildlife lives alongside us.

What makes this habitat different?

You don't need to go far - just look out of the window... or when you're next out shopping or at the bus stop, take a minute to stand still and look skywards. Nature's all around you!

Urban parks and gardens are great for wildlife - they're our cities' 'green lungs'. Even cemeteries and churchyards, with their old trees and quiet corners, make great homes for wildlife.

There's something to see year-round, and it's literally up your street. Migrant birds can turn up anywhere, even in cities: those starlings on your bird feeder might have come from Russia, or the ducks on your local boating lake might be from Finland.

What lives there?

There's more to urban areas than grubby pigeons. All kinds of birds use our villages, towns and cities, from humble house sparrows to mighty peregrine falcons. To a peregrine, a city high-rise is just like a cliff; ideal for nesting on.

Take a stroll in your local park and you'll probably see woodpeckers, tits, finches and maybe a kestrel or sparrowhawk.

If there's a lake or river you're likely to see grey herons, coots and moorhens or, if you're lucky, the electric blue streak of a kingfisher.

Dig a pond in your garden, even in a town, and you'll attract dragonflies and frogs.

In spring, watch out for young foxes in your garden or the park. Butterflies turn up in gardens or on a window box and dragonflies zoom around, even away from water. 

Everyone's heard of urban foxes and hedgehogs, but what about water voles? They like slow-flowing water, even in grotty-looking city drainage channels if they can find somewhere safe to breed and feed. Listen out for a 'plop' as they dive into the water.

Over the past few years, otters have started popping up in city lakes and rivers - they're making a comeback now our water's cleaner.

Dig a pond in your garden, even in a town, and you'll attract dragonflies and frogs. It's like going on safari in your own backyard.

Why is it in trouble?

Loss of food

The number of the house sparrow, starling and song thrush has gone down by more than half over the last 25 years. While some of this is because of changes in farming practices, in the cities and towns scientists think a loss of insect food could also be to blame. This means we need to make sure our gardens are full of insects for these birds to eat. 

Unknown reasons

In 2007 the house sparrow, song thrush and starling were added as priority species to the UK Biodiversity Action Plan list. This means these once common birds are now species to worry about. Scientists are still finding out some of the reasons why this has happened. 

See it for yourself!

If you live in a town or a city urban wildlife is all around you, but you can also get up close and personal with urban nature at one of our reserves!

Our urban reserves provide the opportunity to escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and get close to nature. You might be surprised how much wildlife you can see in, or close to, some of our major towns and cities.

Urban reserves

To find out more, pick a marker from the map or zoom in.
    • Belfast's Window on Wildlife

      Belfast's Window on Wildlife

      Nestled in the heart of the Belfast Harbour Estate, Belfast Window on Wildlife is home to birds and wildlife from all over the world, and you can get up close and personal with them from the comfort of the visitor centre.

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    • Adur Estuary

      Adur Estuary

      The small reserve is composed of saltmarsh and mudflats that afford a good feeding and roosting site for waders and wildfowl. The reserve has no facilities as such, but it can be viewed from surrounding footpaths and Coronation Green.

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    • Bolton Ings

      Bolton Ings

      Recently acquired by the RSPB, this site represents an exciting opportunity to experience the wildlife of reedbed and wetland habitats.

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    • Gypsy Marsh

      Gypsy Marsh

      Explore this lowland heath and fen with beautiful wildflowers including orchids, and birds like yellowhammers and reed buntings, and dingy skipper butterflies.

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    • Hayle Estuary

      Hayle Estuary

      In cold winters, as many as 18,000 birds have been seen here, because this most south westerly estuary in the UK never freezes. During spring and autumn, it is an ideal place to see migrant wading birds, gulls and terns.

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    • Lodmoor


      The large reedbed, open water, saltmarsh, wet grassland and bushes attract many different birds. Bearded tits and Cetti's warblers can be seen all year and autumn migration can be spectacular.

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    • Matford and Mutton Marsh

      Matford and Mutton Marsh

      A small, relatively new site halfway between Exeter and Exminster - just three miles from the city centre. It's one of our Exe Estuary reserves.

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    • Middleton Lakes

      Middleton Lakes

      Nestled in the beautiful Tame valley, just south of Tamworth on the Staffordshire/Warwickshire border, Middleton Lakes is our latest nature reserve to open to the public.

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    • Newport Wetlands

      Newport Wetlands

      This nature reserve offers a haven for wildlife on the edge of the city, but is a great place for people too with our visitor centre, a cafe, shop and children's play area.

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    • Radipole Lake

      Radipole Lake

      A nature reserve in central Weymouth sounds unlikely, but once you are on the footpath amongst the reeds and lagoons you could be far away in the countryside.

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    • Rainham Marshes

      Rainham Marshes

      We acquired Rainham Marshes in 2000 and set about transforming it into a great place for nature and people. You can expect to see breeding wading birds in spring and summer, and large flocks of wild ducks in winter.

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    • Fairhaven Lake Visitor Centre

      Fairhaven Lake Visitor Centre

      Come to our visitor centre on the edge of Fairhaven Lake. It's the gateway to the north side of the Ribble Estuary - the most important single river estuary in the UK - which attracts over 270,000 birds each year.

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    • Rye Meads

      Rye Meads

      For a great family trip, visit this delightful wetland reserve beside the River Lee. Rye Meads is a favourite with walkers, birdwatchers and photographers too.

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    • Saltholme


      Come and explore our huge wetland and all its wildlife, but don't forget to make time for our brilliant café - just follow your nose for freshly-brewed coffee, gooey cakes and mouthwatering meals.

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    • Sandwell Valley

      Sandwell Valley

      You can escape for an hour or two at this oasis for wildlife, less than five miles from the centre of Birmingham.

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    • South Essex Wildlife Garden

      South Essex Wildlife Garden

      The Wildlife Garden and Visitor Centre are located within Basildon District Council's Wat Tyler Country Park and are the gateway to our South Essex reserves.

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    • West Canvey Marsh

      West Canvey Marsh

      This is the largest single area of green space on Canvey Island. This wonderful wetland reserve includes nearly two miles (3 km) of new nature trails, three viewing points, a picnic area and children's adventure area.

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    • Wombwell Ings

      Wombwell Ings

      Lapwings, redshanks and snipe come to breed at this wet grassland haven. You might also see waders dropping in on their migration, or ducks and geese on the open water.

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    Top tips for a visit

    These tips will help you to make the most of your visit:

    • These reserves can be very popular – visit early in the day for the best chance of seeing more timid wildlife
    • Bring the family - our urban reserves have something for everyone and are the perfect day out
    • Some of the animals and birds at our urban reserves are used to people and can be very obliging