Elmley nature reserve, Kent
Conservation comes first at the UK’s only family-owned and -managed national nature reserve. Elmley’s 1,335 hectares (3,300 acres) of freshwater grazing marsh, salt marsh, hay meadows and newly planted woodland on the Isle of Sheppey allow birdlife to thrive. Sightings of marsh harriers, short-eared owls and merlins are commonplace, but the success story is ground-nesting birds: 463 lapwings fledged at Elmley last year, which is 400 more than the next most successful reserve. Elmley’s owners are also on a mission to make wildlife open to all. Visitors can stay at one of six comfortable huts with mesmerising wetland views. Most guests are won over when they spot hares, butterflies and dragonflies on the two-mile drive from the nearest public road.
• Huts for two from £105 a night, lower rates for longer stays,elmleynaturereserve.co.uk
A disused slate quarry on the north Cornish coast is where to find this innovative back-to-nature experience. Cornish for “hideout”, Kudhva offersshelters designed to get visitors close to the wild: tree tents, eight-legged angular treehouses sleeping two, and a Danish cabin for six are scattered across the 45-acre site. Sustainability is a priority: showers are solar-powered and communal areas are built from reused materials. Kudvha was once a nature reserve and still contains diverse habitats, including a willow wood and a 12-metre waterfall. Owner Louise Middleton uses profits to gently manage the land, ensuring that low-lying plants thrive for the sake of birds and butterflies.
• Cabin for two nights from £210, kudhva.com
Willow Cottage, Crom, County Fermanagh
The National Trust’s Crom Estate is its most significant property in Northern Ireland. Here, ancient oak woodland meets the meandering Upper Lough Erne, which stretches towards the ruins of Crom Castle and a pair of gnarled Irish yews. The landscape attracts rare species, including pine martens, otters and red squirrels, and all eight Northern Irish species of bat. Seven converted farm cottages on the banks of the lough are ideal for switching off: wildlife and silence take centre stage once daytrippers have returned home. Canoes, woodland trails, cycling tracks and an accessible bird hide make nature easy to come by for all ages and abilities.
• Cottage for three from £342 for three nights, nationaltrust.org.uk
Comrie Croft, Perthshire
This eco-tourism business in the village of Comrie, an hour from Glasgow, hopes to provide a sustainable future for local people and nature. Owner Andrew Donaldson’s approach is warm and fuss-free: from mountain biking trails to converted farmhouses, the experience revolves around the great outdoors. Besides making the countryside more accessible via paths and shuttle services (to encourage visitors to leave their cars at home), Comrie Croft has set aside a 50-acre wilderness and planted more than 100,000 native trees. This has helped welcome back ospreys, barn owls and roe deer. Comrie is eco-minded, too: a permaculture vegetable garden supplies the shop, and there’s a 10% discount for those who come car-free.
• Camping pitches from £5pp pn, Nordic kata tipis, sleeping six from £99 a night, comriecroft.com
Battlesteads Hotel and Restaurant, Northumberland
A few miles outside Northumberland national park in the pretty village of Wark, this pub with rooms is one of the UK’s most-proactive eco hotels. Battlesteads has more sustainable clout than time to shout about it. It has bee-friendly hedgerows, a pesticide-free garden, a wildlife meadow and built-in bird and bat boxes to support biodiversity. Twenty-eight species of bird, including willow warbler and bullfinches, and eight species of bee have been identified in the garden. An on-site dark sky observatory allows guests to explore the bigger picture.
• Doubles from £100 B&B, battlesteads.com
Old Lands, Monmouthshire
Sam and Clare Bosanquet have poured all their creative and conservation might into this nature retreat in Monmouthshire. Converted stable blocks are furnished with local fabrics and upcycled furniture from the estate’s attics. The honesty shop sells the walled garden’s “no dig” (an eco-growing method) produce, and the nature room is packed with curiosities and information. Sam is an ecologist and wildlife enthusiast: his nature walks enlighten guests about freshwater swan mussels, where to find otter spraints, and a variety of fungus and lichens. Proceeds from the accommodation and honesty shop help to keep the estate thriving.
• Cottage for four from £390 a week, old-lands.co.uk
Victoria Inn, Holkham Estate, Norfolk
With sands stretching to the sea in one direction and dunes in the other, Holkham is an iconic beach. It’s part of the 10,000-hectare Holkham Estate, where farming and game-keeping have rubbed along with conservation efforts for years. The Victoria Inn’s elegant rooms are moments from the beach and Holkham nature reserve. Field to Fork tours educate visitors about the history of the land and trails lead to wildlife encounters, including the UK’s only spoonbill colony. The estate continues to build on its environmental credentials: most recently, a head conservationist is exploring ways to strengthen ecosystems, and the new Lookout visitor centre is on a mission to cut plastic use.
• Doubles from £140 B&B, holkham.co.uk
Oak Tree Cottage, Pembrokeshire
Nicknamed the cwtch, Welsh for cubbyhole or cuddle, this two-bedroom cottage in the Teifi Marshes nature reserve is as compact as it is remote. Its white-washed stone walls disappear into the surrounding green thicket and at night, the air fills with the sounds of frogs and barn owls. Alongside otters and red deer, water buffalo are a more surprising sight. Buffalo are the chosen grazers to keep the marshes healthy. The reserve has a willow maze and adventure playground, and anyone can take to the trails on foot or bike. It’s owned and managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales and all profits go towards conservation.
• Cottage for four from £405 a week, fbmholidays.co.uk
Birdsong Barn, East Sussex
Phil and Maria Newton have converted this 18th-century barn into a spacious two-bedroom holiday home to allow visitors to enjoy a slice of their private nature reserve. The 142-hectare reserve has been added to over the years, mostly thanks to Phil’s passion for the River Brede’s rare species. The woods and wetlands are home to 30 butterfly species and more than 120 species of birds: endangered lapwings dart overhead throughout the year. Phil is happy to give tours of the reserve, introducing the Shetland cattle, Konik ponies and Bagot goats which are thought to be Britain’s oldest breed.
• Barn for four from £935 a week, originalcottages.co.uk
Catchpenny Safari Lodges, Fife
Inspired by African safaris, Alex and Tara Nairn have created a back-to-the-wild experience in the East Neuk of Fife on Scotland’s east coast. Catchpenny is a site of special scientific interest, and Alex and Tara work with the RSPB, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, and the Fife Coastal and Countryside Trust to promote populations of red list birds, including corn buntings, grey partridges, and puffins. The fully equipped safari tents are moments from the Fife Coastal Path; guests are lulled to sleep by the waves; and a lucky few spot pods of dolphins from their sheltered deck. From nearby Anstruther, there are ferries to the puffin colony on the Isle of May and roe deer, hares and badgers can be spotted inland.
• Six-person tent from £94 a night, canopyandstars.co.uk