Fond of animals and nature? We think you’ll love our selection of charities with destinations promising a great day out for groups

The visitor centre, RSPB Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex.

The visitor centre, RSPB Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex.

You don’t have to be a keen naturalist or a birder to enjoy getting close to nature. And who could resist a nuzzle from a friendly donkey or the antics of a cute puppy? The great thing about these days out is that you’ll be helping worthy charities.

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

A group trip to a Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) nature reserve has something to offer all ages, from toddlers to pensioners. Spring is a good time to experience the excitement of wildlife as different creatures emerge – children can spot dragonflies, toads and all manner of ‘mini beasts’ while adults can keep their eyes on the skies for returning birds. Explore scenic reserves and enjoy the beauty of flowers or look for mammal residents while listening to birdsong.

Forward planning is essential, so always contact the reserve you plan to visit well in advance. Here are five RSPB reserves ideal for group visits:


Minsmere

Boasting woodland, wetland and coastal scenery, there’s always plenty to see and hear at RSPB’s Minsmere nature reserve. Home to BBC Springwatch, a visit during spring and summer can offer a wide variety of nature watching. Look out for Avocets and Mediterranean gulls, shy otters, the booming call of bitterns and colourful wild flowers.

Minsmere nature reserve is home to BBC Springwatch.

Minsmere nature reserve is home to BBC Springwatch.

Minsmere safaris are a great way to see parts of the reserve not normally accessible to visitors. Small groups can discover the hidden Minsmere from the comfort of a 4×4 vehicle. The café, surrounded by beautiful scenery, serves up delicious treats.

Minsmere safaris are organised on request and must be booked in advance. Prices are £155 per vehicle (£90 for RSPB members). Call 01728 648281 to discuss availability. Email minsmere@rspb.org.uk www.rspb.org.uk/mismere


Conwy

Situated on the banks of the Conwy estuary in Wales, with magnificent views of Snowdonia and Conwy Castle, this reserve is delightful at any time of year. In spring expect to see cowslips bursting into flower around the coffee shop and peacock butterflies taking nectar from early flowers. In summer young ducks and waders hatch and stoats can be found on the estuary track.

A guided tour is an ideal way for groups to learn more about the reserve and a friendly volunteer wildlife guide will help you discover hidden delights. Guided walks can be organised for a flat-fee of £30 for a group of up to 15 people, £50 for a group of 15 to 30 people. Tel: 01492 584091 email:conwy@rspb.org.uk www.rspb.org.uk/conwy


Loch Leven

Set on the southern shore of the loch in Perth and Kinross in Scotland, RSPB Loch Leven nature reserve offers a great day out. Climb the trail through the woodland to the top of Vane Hill for a spectacular view over the Kinross-shire hills and countryside, or meander along the wetland trail where three hides allow you to get close to nature. You may see geese or swallows, one of Loch Leven’s most visible arrivals and red squirrels too. A spacious café offers stunning views over the loch. Tel: 01577 862355 email lochleven@rspb.org.uk  www.rspb.org.uk/lochleven


Pulborough Brooks

The visitor centre and reserve is open all year and has a variety of wetland, woodland, and heathland. Pulborough Brooks in West Sussex is a haven for a wide range of wildlife. Migrant birds can be found in the scrub and hedgerows in Spring while the woodlands contain bluebells and other flowers. Hedge-lined paths lead to viewing areas and hides where volunteers are often on hand to help point out the wildlife. In the height of summer, butterflies and dragonflies flit around the ponds. A visit to the café and shop is a must. Tel: 01798 875851 email: pulborough.brooks@rspb.org.uk www.rspb.org.uk/pulboroughbrooks


Rainham Marshes

One of very few ancient landscapes remaining in London, these medieval marshes next to the River Thames have been transformed into an important place for nature and a great place for a group visit. Take a walk around this urban oasis and you may see breeding wading birds in spring and summer as well as water voles, damselflies, marsh frogs, grass snakes, and water shrews. Birds of prey and rare birds are regularly seen, as well as red foxes. For the adventurous there are nature-inspired climbing boulders with a variety of ascents and descents. With a shop, café, wildlife garden and children’s play area, there’s something here for everyone.

Tel: 01708 899840 email: rainham.marshes@rspb.org.uk www.rspb.org.uk/rainhammarshes


Wildlife & Wetlands Trust

Wildlife & Wetlands Trust owns 3,000 hectares of the best wildlife-watching land in the UK. It has nine sites across the country including Slimbridge on the Severn Estuary, referred to as the birthplace of modern conservation. Each one has been created to provide habitats for a huge range of wildlife in ponds, hedgerows and marshes. The Wetland Centres have been designed to enable visitors to get close to the wildlife in a comfortable manner — some hides even have heating and sofas while rare species preen and feed just a few feet away.

Slimbridge is the wetland that inspired Sir Peter Scott to found World Wildlife Trust in 1946. Here, among other things, visitors can get close to otters and meet flamingos. Groups are positively welcomed with pre-bookable guided tours that can be specially tailored to members’ specific interests. Groups must pre-book their visits — 12 or more can get entry fees discounted by 15%. Group organisers get a free familiarisation trip and free entry on the day of their group’s visit; coach parking and entry for the coach driver is also free. Group catering packages and other benefits are also available.

There’s a group booking form on the website or call 01453 or email groups.slimbridge@wwt.org.uk  www.wwt.org.uk


Donkey Sanctuaries

Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary

Donkey fans will also enjoy a trip to the Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary at Wroxall, near Ventnor. Here you will find around 90 donkeys and 25 horses accommodated on 60 acres of countryside. The sanctuary is open to visitors all year round, 10am to 4.30pm. and admission is free.

The Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary is open all year round

The Isle of Wight Donkey Sanctuary is open all year round

The Sanctuary takes a pride in the welcome they offer to groups. They tailor-make tours, with an individual guide chosen for specific groups, information leaflets and more. There is a café and a gift shop, plus ample parking for coaches. Why not combine your visit with one of the events held throughout the year (see the website). For more information call 01983 852693 or email info@iowdonkeysanctuary.org www.iowdonkeysanctuary.org.uk


The Donkey Sanctuary

The Donkey Sanctuary’s campaign to improve animal welfare standards in tourism have been recognised with a Silver award in the Best Animal Welfare Initiative category at the World Responsible Tourism Awards 2015 recently. Founded in 1969 in Sidmouth, Devon, and this is where its headquarters remain. This is where 500 of the 5,800 donkeys in the charity’s care are looked after. Donkeys are friendly creatures and enjoy meeting visitors. You can meet the adoption donkeys and listen in on the special Meet the Groom sessions which run each day which will give you the chance to hear stories about the donkeys and find out about their characters.

Donkeys are friendly creatures who like to meet visitors

Donkeys are friendly creatures who like to meet visitors

Facilities include a restaurant, picnic areas, a nature centre and walking trails. Guided tours are available and groups and coaches must pre-book their visit. The Donkey Sanctuary is open all year round, 9am to dusk, and admission is free.

For more information call 01395 578222 or see the website www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk


Guide Dogs for the Blind

Expect to fall in love with young lively pups at the Guide Dogs for the Blind Breeding Centre near Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. Group visitors are divided up into smaller groups with two guides for each group of ten people who will take you on a tour of the centre accompanied by an adult dog (who will lap up all the fuss!)

Though visitors are not permitted to handle the Guide Dog puppies, they can be seen at close quarters

Though visitors are not permitted to handle the Guide Dog puppies, they can be seen at close quarters

It is not possible for visitors to handle the six-week-old pups as the organisation has to be careful about protecting them from infection, however, you’ll see them playing together or having socialization sessions.

Tours also include an interactive element which allows visitors to get a sense of what it is like to lose sight, including a sensory sight-less tunnel. You can even have a go at fitting a harness on a model dog while blindfolded to get an idea of what it must be like to be a guide dog owner.

Refreshments are provided and the average visit comes to a close after around two hours with a visit to the gift shop. There is no charge for visits. The organization asks that coach operators make a donation on behalf of their tours and of course, donations are welcomed.

The centre is open to visitors on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons. It is easily accessible from the M40 and there is parking for coaches.

Call 0845 3727432 or visit the website www.guidedogs.org.uk/nbc-tours
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