Yellowstone and the Serengeti are so obvious. Here is a selection of far more unlikely places to spot wild animals.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
The 1,000 square miles that surround the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant remains one of the most radioactively contaminated areas in the world. That hasn’t stopped a few curious travellers visiting on tours from Kiev, nor the local wildlife population from making a rapid recovery. With the area still largely devoid of humans, it is fair to say that the Exclusion Zone now constitutes a wildlife sanctuary. Elk, wolves, foxes, roe deer and wild boar are abundant, in densities similar to those recorded at (uncontaminated) nature reserves in Belarus, while brown bears have also been spotted.
The Korean DMZ
It isn’t just humourless guards and a sense of impending apocalypse that hangs around near the border between North and South Korea.
Musk deer, Asiatic black bears and even the occasional Amur leopard, inhabit the pristine 2.5-mile-wide ribbon of nature that runs for 160 miles across the peninsula, earning it the tag of “the most dangerous nature reserve in the world”. Cranes are easily spotted; lucky wildlife watchers might catch a glimpse of the Amur goral, a rare species of goat.
Tourists in Seoul can sign up for a tour to the DMZ, including visits to the Joint Security Area, home to the hut where the armistice was signed in 1953, and the Third Infiltration Tunnel, an attempted invasion tunnel discovered Seventies.
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A secret atomic weapons testing site
Orford Ness on England's east coast (Europe's largest shingle spit of land for your next pub quiz), was used as a military base during the Second World War and a secret atomic weapons testing site during the Cold War. Today, however, it’s a nature reserve. The National Trust runs photography and walking tours that focus on both the history and the animals.
An abandoned airport
As Jasper Winn discovered during a visit for Telegraph Travel, Berlin is an unlikely paradise for birders, with Tempelhof Airport, closed in 2008 and now a city park, a good spot for sightings.
“For half a day we hiked around the abandoned runways and scrubby wastelands,” he said. “Now a community park, it was key to the American airlift that broke the 1948-49 Russian blockade, when more than 200,000 flights brought in everything - from food to coal to cars - needed to keep West Berlin running. There were still wings in the air as we walked. Ignoring cyclists, joggers and in-line skaters below, a squadron of crows dog-fought with a juvenile buzzard, while meadow pipits and skylarks sprang high into the blue sky. Higher still there was a honking fanfare from a flock of migrating cranes arrow-heading north.”
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A Yorkshire power station
Drax Power Station is one of a handful in Britain that welcomes visitors. You can power a virtual city using an exercise bike, take a bus tour around its giant cooling towers, and then stroll around a nature reserve with views of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Humberside and home to more than 100 species.
The Big Apple
Unbelievably, New York City has the highest density of nesting peregrine falcons anywhere on the planet. The Urban Birder, David Lindo, explains: “The Big Apple lies along the Atlantic Flyway – one of four major migration routes taken by neotropical birds transiting between Canada and the United States in the north, and Central and South America. Millions of birds can pass through the city during migration times.
“As a result, anything can turn up anywhere. One recent example was the chuck-will’s widow (a member of the nightjar family) that broke off its journey for a few days to perch on a tree branch just a few blocks from Times Square. In Central Park, you can spend a spring day wandering around in the Ramble area and clock 120 species including porthonotary, black-throated green and Wilson’s warbler; the latter are often seen alongside scarlet tanagers, downy woodpeckers and northern cardinals.”
Putney and Walthamstow
The London Wetland Centre, near Putney, attracts resident and migratory ducks, waders like bitterns, redshanks and snipes, and dozens of other bird species, all of which can be observed from hides.
Or else fly north to Walthamstow. Last year saw the opening of Walthamstow Wetlands, Europe’s largest urban wetland reserve, which consists of 13 miles of footpaths and cycle tracks that weave their way around 10 reservoirs and eight islands.
At a glance | Surprising animals you can spot in Britain
In the shadow of a nuclear power station
Nuclear power stations aren’t typically associated with wildlife. Or art. But the headland of Dungeness in Kent, home to two nuclear power stations and one nature reserve, is a little different.
“Classified as Britain’s only desert, due to its dryness and spectacular lack of surface vegetation, it has the bare and windblown appearance of some Wild West border zone: all stones and shacks and the lone whistle of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway loco, drifting across the emptiness,” wrote Christopher Middleton back in 2010. “Explore a little farther, though, and you find people who, in common with their furred and feathered counterparts, have been drawn out here to the wilderness.
“There are artists, fish-smokers, sellers of mystical artefacts and, of course, the employees of the nuclear power plant which, while it can’t be ignored, doesn’t quite dominate in the way you would imagine. Most days you can find birdwatchers on the beach right beside the walls of Dungeness B.”