England Birds & Gardens: Southwest

12 Days
Prices TBD
Land Tour


  • Acclaimed gardens with varied designs and styles in the green rolling English countryside, and excellent birding in the well-established network of nature reserves and national parks that occur across England.
  • This is a delightful month to be in England; mild and pleasant, fine evenings. The start of the breeding season for birds, and delightful spring & early summer flowers in gardens.


Tour Overview

This unique, double-themed tour combines birding and gardens in a delightful part of the world, southern England, at a very enchanting time of year.

We visit some of the finest gardens in a country where gardening is a way of life – from the Royal horticultural seat at Wisley, to Christopher Lloyd’s Great Dixter, the garden rooms at Sissinghurst as well as Nymans, the Castle gardens at Caerhays, the amazing colours at Compton Acres, the rediscovered gardens of Heligan, and Trebah’s exquisite garden.

We wend our way through the southern coastal counties of England, from Kent through Sussex and Hampshire to Devon and Cornwall. We blend our garden visits with stops at several productive and rewarding nature reserves, RSPBs and National Parks, from Stodmarsh and Dungeness in Kent to Arne, Radipole Lake and Portland Bill in Dorset, and Yarner Woods and Dawlish Warren in Devon and Cornwall.

We will see a fine cross section of England’s birdlife: Bearded Reedlings and Common Shelduck in wetlands, Gray Wagtails and European Dippers along waterways, Eurasian Hobby over heathland, nesting seabirds at Portland Bill, Red-billed Choughs on Cornish cliffs, and Dartford Warbler in furze stands and Woodlarks in newly regenerating forest. A very special and exciting tour led by experts in both gardens and birds!

Dates & Prices


Please note that this tour runs bi-annually, alternating with the England: Birds and Gardens: Southeast tour.

What's Included

Tour Price Includes

  • All accommodation
  • All meals
  • Ground transportation
  • Two EET guides with 5 - 12 participants
  • Park, conservation and entrance fees

Tour Price Does Not Include

  • Flight to and from start/end location
  • Travel Insurance
  • Items of a personal nature


Day 1: Arrival

Our England Birds & Gardens tour begins with dinner at our hotel near Heathrow where our leaders will meet the group to discuss the upcoming trip and the next day’s activities.


Day 2: Wisley RHS and Stodmarsh

In the morning, we visit the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisely. Wisley is reputedly Britain’s premier demonstration garden with 97ha (240 acres) offering a fascinating blend of the beautiful and practical in horticulture that incorporate innovative designs and cultivation techniques. In the trials area, the finest flowers and vegetables are selected from the countless new introductions for the society’s AGM worthiness. Cultivation techniques, such as composting or pleaching, are demonstrated, and a series of model gardens answers the needs of a variety of landscaping conditions.

In the morning, we visit the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisely. Wisley is reputedly Britain’s premier demonstration garden with 97ha (240 acres) offering a fascinating blend of the beautiful and practical in horticulture that incorporate innovative designs, labour saving cultivation techniques and water conservation features.

We will visit the new Trials area where the finest plants are selected from the countless new introductions for the society’s Award of Garden Merit (AGM). The latest development at Wisley is the Hilltop home of gardening science which is surrounded by the Wild Garden, the World Food Garden (a must for vegetable growers) and the Wellbeing garden.

Leaving Wisley, we head to Kent and the fine National Nature Reserve site at Stodmarsh. Stodmarsh in the Stour Valley is managed by Natural England. The reserve grew from marshland caused by coal mining subsidence, creating large reedbeds, lakes, ditches, meadows and wet woodland. Diverse habitats support numerous breeding and migrating birds. Lagoons and reedbeds are important for wildfowl. Mallard, Gadwall and Pochard breed on site most years and other birds present on the reserve include Reed and Sedge Warblers, Great Bittern, and Great Crested Grebe.

Rare plants include the carnivorous greater bladderwort, greater spearwort and bog bean. Night in Kent.

RHS Wisley

Day 3: Dungeness Nature Reserve and Great Dixter

Kent hosts several excellent nature reserves, protecting marshland, rich deciduous woodlands, shallow lakes and ponds. This morning we visit Dungeness, one of the oldest nature reserves in England, established in 1929. Wetland areas support breeding Northern Lapwing, Common Redshank, Yellow Wagtail, and birds of prey such as Eurasian Kestrel and Western Marsh Harrier. Waterfowl include Greylag Goose, the ancestral species for domesticated geese. Reedbeds hold Reed and Sedge Warblers and Common Reed Bunting.

Brushy areas echo to the songs of Greater and Lesser Whitethroats, Garden Warbler and Yellowhammer, whilst ponds lure Little Egret, Pied Avocet, Great Crested Grebe and Common Terns. There are several hides here, and from these we should locate Little Grebe, Tufted Duck, Common Pochard, Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel and parties of Barn and Bank Swallows.

The area around the lighthouse is a noted area for Black Redstart and Northern Wheatear, and migrants and overshoots from nearby Europe, and we may be lucky enough to locate a few specialties. We also visit the shingle garden of Derek Jarmin, known for its ecological sensitivity and landscaped with flotsam and jetsam left by tides.

We will also see the shingle garden of Derek Jarman, known for its ecological sensitivity and landscaped with flotsam and jetsam left by tides.

Later in the afternoon, we visit Great Dixter, the family home of the late renowned gardener and author Christopher Lloyd. The garden is planted around the buildings, with the arrangement of colours, forms and texture of the plants so well orchestrated that house and garden appear as a beautiful painting. Now an international school of gardening, expect to see some exotic introductions to the garden! Have your digital camera ready, although you may be too entranced to take pictures! Night in Kent.

Dungeness Nature Reserve

Day 4: Sissinghurst and Nymans (or Leonardslee Garden if reopened)

In the morning, we visit the garden at Sissinghurst Castle. The ‘garden rooms’ style of planting is one of the most described and emulated in the British Isles. It was the joint creation of poet and writer Vita Sackville-West and her diplomat husband Harold Nicholson. Their work transformed the ruins of this Elizabethan mansion into a remarkable must-see garden. The White Garden, the Purple Garden, the Rose Garden, the Nuttery, the Lime Walk, and the new DelosGarden - scent and colours to be personally savoured.

April should see stunning displays of camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas, and Leonardslee Garden has such collections that do just that. Established by Sir Edmund Loder in 1889, the garden remained the foremost UK collection until the family sold up in 2009. We are delighted that this garden has now reopened and the new owners are keen to show off the gardens in their full glory. Please be aware that the garden lies in a valley and some “up hill” walking will be involved. Night in Sussex.

Sissinghurst formal garden

Day 5: The New Forest

We head through Hampshire to the New Forest, an area of pasture, woodland and heaths and noted particularly for breeding raptors. Our main interest is locating the enigmatic Dartford Warbler, as well as Common Redstart, Woodlark, Firecrest, Red Crossbill and hunting Eurasian Hobby. Night in Dorset.

Dartford Warbler

Day 6: Arne & Compton Acres

This morning we visit the RSPB site at Arne, a fine stand of pines and heathland alongside Poole Harbour, and a very rich area for birds, including Dartford Warbler, Black-tailed Godwit, Tree Pipit, Common Shelduck and Little Egret, and we walk the easy trails through the woodland with its huge population of Sika Deer.

Later, we visit the gardens at Compton Acres, landscaped to provide magnificent vistas over Poole Harbour. The Wooded Valleys nurture tender plant species for year round interest. The 10-acre garden includes an Italian and a Japanese Garden. Night in Dorset.

Compton Acres

Day 7: Lodmoor, Radipole Lake, Portland Bill & Dawlish Warren

This morning we visit the RSPB’s excellent wildlife sites at Lodmoor, Radipole Lake and Portland Bill. Radipole Lake is renowned for its breeding populations of Bearded Reedlings and Cetti’s Warblers, which we will certainly hear, and with luck see clearly. Portland Bill is a peninsula jutting out into the English Channel, and is a prime location for migrants and for passing seabirds; it also has nesting Common Murres, Razorbills, Northern Fulmars and Peregrines. We then drive across Dorset and part of Devon to Dawlish in time for a walk out along Dawlish Warren for shorebirds such as plovers, godwits and Whimbrel, perhaps with fly-by Brent Goose and Common Scoter. Night in Devon.

Radipole Lake

Day 8: Dartmoor

Today we visit the RSPB site at Yarner Woods on Dartmoor, an area of riparian woodland and heathland that supports Lesser and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Stonechat and a good variety of other species including Gray Wagtail, Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher. We also drive onto the heather-covered upland moorland of Dartmoor, where Eurasian Curlew, Common Buzzard, Whinchat and Northern Wheatear nest. Night in Cornwall.

Northern Wheatear

Day 9: Lost Gardens of Heligan and Caerhay’s Castle Gardens

Considered to be Europe’s largest garden restoration project, the Lost Gardens of Heligan are fascinating because of their “lost and found” saga. “Rediscovered” in 1990 after 70 years of total neglect, the record producer Tim Smit and a group of enthusiasts set about reawakening the historic garden. Prior to the First World war the estate employed 40 full time gardeners, and now, thanks to the popularity of the garden, there is an active “young gardener apprentice” scheme in operation. Tim Smit was so inspired by this project he went on to be the moving force behind the Eden Project. The fruit and vegetable garden claims to have the only remaining Victorian pineapple pit in use and the walks through the woodlands and farm fields are pleasant and often filled with birds.

Caerhay’s Castle gardens house the national collection of magnolias which we may catch in full bloom still in late April. It is also a showcase of spring bulbs, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, accessible along woodland trails. A detour to a fast running stream should net us Eurasian Dipper. Night in Cornwall.

Heligan gardens

Day 10: Trebah and the Lizard

Today we visit Trebah. Listed as one of the great gardens of Cornwall, Trebah is a subtropical paradise framed against stunning coastal landscape.

Its colours in spring are painted by ancient rhododendrons, camellias, bulbs in woods and meadows, primulas around streams, and groves of azaleas. Trebah’s champion trees include a Japanese maple, Woolly tree fern, Chilean tepa, and the magnificent pink tulip flowered magnolia. The uphill and downhill walk leads us through an intriguing landscape of tree rhododendrons, a bamboo maze, and Gunnera canopies to a sandy coastal beach with dramatic World War 2 connections.

Later in the day we visit the Lizard, the most southerly peninsula in England, to search for the very few Red-billed Choughs that now nest in England. Night in Cornwall.


Day 11: Hestercombe, birding sites and return to London

We may visit birding sites today for species that we have not found so far.

On our return to London, we stop at the garden at Hestercombe House. The garden contains three gardens in one: a Georgian landscape garden with a grand cascade, numerous classical landscape ornaments and ponds, a newly restored Victorian shrubbery and an Edwardian garden designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens with plantings as originally drawn up by Gertrude Jekyll – what a fabulous finale for our tour!


Day 12: Departure

Our England Birds & Gardens tour ends today. You can transfer to the airport for flights home anytime today.

What to Expect

Driving distances on our England Birds & Gardens tour will usually be short, with a couple of longish drives as we travel east – west. Walking will be mostly relatively easy and leisurely, with moderate walks at Yarner Woods, The Lizard and Portland Bill. Comfortable walking shoes will be fine. The weather should be mild and pleasant, but it can be cool and windy, and we can expect rain at some time during the tour so an umbrella or waterproof clothing is recommended. The excellent system of nature reserves in England should ensure a good list of species of birds and other wildlife, and we make good use of them, concentrating on the specialties in each. Our visits to gardens will be relaxed and we should have ample time to appreciate each one.

Each evening, the list of birds and other wildlife will be reviewed, and plans for the next day will be discussed.

Featured Wildlife

While we cannot guarantee sightings of the birds or mammals listed below, we believe that encountering these species is quite likely during this tour.

  • Red-billed Chough
  • Eurasian Dipper
  • Dartford Warbler
  • Pied Flycatcher
  • Gray Wagtail
  • Cetti’s Warbler
  • Eurasian Stonechat

Tour Reviews