Wales is an untamed place, of staggering wild beauty. Much of Wales is remote, without urbanisation. It’s one of the last true wildlife havens in the United Kingdom.
What also makes Wales special is its broad range of species rich habitats; from rugged coasts, to gentle farmlands, to windswept moors and heaths, flower flushed grasslands precipitous mountains, peaty bogs, ancient woods, and of course, the deep blue sea.
Such varied landscapes and environments mean Wales is home to some rare animals—found in few places elsewhere in the UK.
Here are some wonderful Welsh beasts and where to find them. In no order.
Otters in the Brecon Beacons
Water badgers, sort of. Mustelidae, which includes otters, is the family responsible for badgers, pine martens, polecats, and wolverines.
Otters our one of our favourite creatures, and Wales is stronghold for them. In fact, until recently otters were extinct across much of England—but retained thriving populations in Wales and in Devon.
One of the best places to see otters in Wales is in the Brecon Beacons National Park, where they can be found in almost every waterway.
The Red Squirrel: Squirrel Nutkin
When you picture a squirrel do you picture a red one or a grey one? Many of us, having loved Beatrix Potter think of Squirrel Nutkin, a red squirrel.
They’re prettier than grey squirrels, that’s for sure. Once, they were abundant in the UK, but now are only found in a handful of places.
Unfortunately, the invasion of grey squirrels native to America, came with the squirrel-pox virus. This proved deadly to red squirrels.
But all is not lost. Here in Wales we have at least three populations of red squirrels—on Anglesey, in Clocaenog Forest, and in Mid-Wales.
Brown Hares: Nature’s Welterweights
“Mad as a March hare”.
Hares are elusive, energetic, feral, free, and freakishly fast. Now you see one, now it’s gone. Unlike rabbits, hares have a mysteriousness to them and a way of eluding human contact making them ripe for folklore.
Creatures glimpsed at the far edges of silent fields as the last light fades.
We can’t guarantee you’ll see one, but in Wales you’ll be in with a chance if you’re in the Vale of Glamorgan or Pembrokeshire. Hares like traditional, open farmlands.
If you want to see any boxing it’ll have to be early spring, as the idiom suggests.
Ravens: Birds of the Macabre
Ravens looks like large crows to the untrained eye. Most famously we associate them with Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name, depicting a narrator’s morose mental state whilst conversing with a talking raven in his chambers.
Beyond gothic and romantic literature, ravens are fascinating birds with an intelligence rivalling chimpanzees and dolphins. Perhaps even better at solving problems than a four-year old. They’ve been observed making play toys for themselves, using sticks, pinecones, golf balls, rocks.
These captivating birds can be found in the mountainous regions of Wales, with the best place to start looking being Snowdonia.
Trivia question: “why is a raven like a writing desk?”.
Jesus Spiders: Arachnid Messiahs
Raft, or Jesus spiders are the second largest spider in the UK. With their legs extended they almost cover the palm of an adult hand.
This isn’t what makes them remarkable though. Their talent (as you might have guessed) is biblical. They can walk on water.
Using aquatic vibrations, sensed via their legs, raft spiders are formidable hunters (at least of freshwater invertebrates).
Whilst it’s hard to say where in Wales you might see one, if you want to see one, make sure to check around the edges of ponds and swamps. Raft spiders are extremely rare, and once thought only to exist in the East of England. However, in recent years they have been photographed in Wales.
Exciting times for Welsh entomologists.
Orcas are not whales at all, but a type of dolphin. Granted an extremely large type of dolphin. The larger orcas can reach 30ft in length and weigh six tonnes. They are also apex predators, making them quite terrifying.
They can tackle great white sharks and leopard seals…
Yet, in the wild there have been no documented cases of orcas harming humans. It’s only when we take away their freedom for the sake of entertainment the problems start. This is because, like dolphins (and perhaps more so) orcas are self-aware, sociable, even empathic, and highly intelligent.
As humans, we can only measure their intelligence by our own standards. But it’s thought that orcas could, in their own way, equal us for intelligence—perhaps even surpass us in some ways.
Orcas are super rare in the UK. Possibly the only place to spot them, outside of the far north of Scotland is North Wales, their black fins breaching the cold waters of the Irish Sea.
The Holly Blue Butterfly
This strikingly blue butterfly is both rare and common. Some years you’ll be lucky to see them and others, they flutter in abundance.
What makes them unique, beyond their unblemished blueness is their early arrival. Holly blues can be seen in meadows, gardens, and churchyards before any other butterflies.
You’re likely to be in with a better chance of seeing one if there’s a good amount of holly and ivy, which is where they like to lay their eggs.
Wales has many churchyards and reams of holly and ivy, so since the 70s numbers of holly blue butterflies have increased by almost 50%.
Escape to the Heart of Wales
If you’re keen to embark upon a Welsh wildlife holiday, where better to base yourself than amongst the supremely pretty hills of Mid Wales?
Equidistance from the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia.
Our country house hotel on the banks of the River Irfon is a complete retreat, with magical grounds, luxury spa treatments, and superior dining.