where you can see the spectacular sights of Wild Isles

The massive Bass Rock sits pretty in the Firth of Forth, three miles off the coast of the idyllic town of North Berwick on Scotland’s east coast. Viewed from the mainland, the island looks like a giant stone scone with a powerful bite on one side. A dust of flour seems to cover the landmass and sprinkle the sky above.

But as our boat gently steers toward the island, those speckles come into focus and we see the stunning sight that brought us here: the world’s largest colony of gannets.

“In a normal year, Bass Rock would support 75,000 breeding pairs – that’s 150,000 birds,” says Susan Davies, Executive Director of the Scottish Seabird Centre. “It’s of global importance.”

The birds crowd close together on the rugged rock. They circle above the rugged cliffs looking for cod or herring. When they see one, the birds torpedo down from a height of 100 feet, flap their wings behind them, and dive into the water at 60 miles per hour.

About 10% of the world’s gannets live on Bass Rock and while it is well known, few people, even in Edinburgh (30 minutes from North Berwick), realize its importance. Perhaps that will change after starring in Wild Isles, the new series narrated by David Attenborough, set to remind us of the global importance of the British Isles’ (albeit severely depleted) nature.

“We are custodians of more than 50% of the world’s bluebells and 85% of the world’s chalk streams,” says series producer Hilary Jeffkins. “Nevertheless, we are still one of the countries with the lowest biological diversity in the world. Therefore, it is important to protect and restore the wildlife that we have.”

Related: David Attenborough’s new series on Britain and Ireland will likely be his last on the ground

The Guardian was told on Friday that the BBC had decided not to air an episode of the series over fears its themes of the destruction of nature could risk backlash from Tory politicians and the right-wing press. The row erupted just two days before the first episode of the highly anticipated series was due to air on BBC One.

Here are some of the spectacular species and settings featured in Sunday’s first episode.

Gannets, Bass Rock, Firth of Forth

Bass Rock has two nests of gannets for every square meter during peak summer – but experts aren’t sure how many will return after last year’s bird flu outbreak in 2023. “Boobies are the largest seabirds we have [in Britain]’ Davis says. “They have a wingspan of over two meters. It’s spectacular when they fold their wings and dive.” The Scottish Seabird Center offers boat trips from North Berwick to the Rock, which is also home to a 19th-century lighthouse and a ruined castle where Jacobite prisoners were once held.

Puffin, Farne Islands, Northumberland

The sea stacks of the Farne Islands are home to up to 55,000 pairs of puffins, easily identified by their colorful beaks and matching feet during the breeding season. The best time to visit is from April to late July, while baby seals can be seen from October to mid-December.

In Wild Isles we watch puffins battle greedy seagulls trying to steal their hard-earned sandeels. It is becoming increasingly difficult for puffins to catch these tiny eels as a combination of overfishing and the climate crisis is driving the eels further north. The segment is followed by a clip from Attenborough up close with the puffins on Skomer Island, a mile off the Pembrokeshire coast, which is also a great place to spot puffins, Manx shearwaters and more.

This is the world’s foremost marine predator, breeding in our waters – there is no more powerful creature in the oceans

Orcas, Shetland

Wild Isles begins with a stunning succession of crashing waves around the island of Muckle Flugga, one of the most northerly points in the British Isles. The lighthouse pictured was designed in 1854 by Robert Louis Stevenson’s father and uncle Thomas and David Stevenson.

In episode one, the orcas are captured, who communicate and then silently sneak up on an unsuspecting seal. The killer whales reliably arrive in Shetland every spring to feed, but of course you can’t guarantee a sighting. The Wild Isles crew filmed this sequence over three years, with 250 locals helping them track orcas along the coast.

“This is the world’s finest breeding of marine predators in our waters,” says producer-director Nicholas Gates. “There is no mightier or more feared creature in the oceans.”

Old Oaks, Oxfordshire

Attenborough’s narrative highlights that only 13% of Britain as a whole is tree-covered, one of the lowest percentages in Europe – but England has more old oak trees than the rest of Europe combined. Three quarters of these ancient oak trees are over 500 years old, with the oldest being a 1050 year old tree in the grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.

Sea Eagle, Islay

The standout sequence from Wild Isles shows two white-tailed eagles, a species not reintroduced to Scotland until the 1980s, chasing a barnacle goose in the air. These geese travel to Islay off the west coast of Scotland every summer to eat the grass.

“This behavior is very, very new,” says Gates. “We got that species back and now we’re seeing those lost behaviors come back as well. This is a conservation success story.”

The sea eagles were filmed at RSPB Loch Gruinart on Islay, although the Isle of Mull further north is better known for sea eagles. There is a regular ferry from Kennacraig to Islay which also has world class whiskey distilleries including Lagavulin and Laphroaig.

Related: 10 of the best wildlife weekends in the UK

Kingfishers: Rivers Stour, Avon and Frome

Attenborough describes Britain’s crystal clear chalk streams as “one of the rarest habitats on earth”. There are around 200 in the world, most of which run through southern England. Various breeds of salmon and trout live beneath the surface of the water, as do minnows, the kingfisher’s favorite snack. These electric blue and orange birds fly swiftly over the surface of the rivers at speeds of up to 40 km/h. Their long beaks — a third of their body length — allow kingfishers to silently enter the water without alerting prey — a design borrowed to silence Japan’s bullet train. The Rivers Stour, Avon and Frome are found in Wild Isles, but kingfishers are widespread in Britain.

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