Top Wildlife on Dartmoor

Planning a trip to Dartmoor? What’s on your packing checklist? Hiking boots, warm socks, raincoat, maybe even a picnic. But have you thought about a pair of binoculars? As well as Dartmoor’s famous hiking routes, tors and natural landscapes, you should expect to bump into some of the National Park’s residents during your visit. For years, wildlife enthusiasts have flocked to Dartmoor to spot some of the common, and not so common, species that roam the moorland. 

But you don’t have to be a know-all wildlife lover to come and spot some of the best wildlife on Dartmoor, you don’t even need a pair of binoculars for some of these animals. Below we’ve listed some of our favourite wildlife wonders for you to look out for during your next visit.

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So, what is the best wildlife on Dartmoor?

Amongst the vast grasslands and hidden waterfalls, there are many exciting creatures that you can spot, including rare wildlife that were once close to extinction.  

Before you read on and then head out to spot wildlife on Dartmoor, it’s important to remember these creatures are just that, wild. This means you should never approach or touch these animals, and even if they bat their eyelids or ask nicely, keep your food firmly hidden away, KitKats and ham sandwiches aren’t necessary for their natural diets. 

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Friendly Dartmoor Ponies

Whether you frequent Dartmoor on a regular basis or you’re planning a visit to tick it off your bucket list, you’ve probably heard of the famous Dartmoor ponies. And for good reason, these four legged friends have been grazing on the moors for thousands of years. Hoof prints were recently discovered during an archaeological dig dating back 3,500 years and written tales of ponies on the moor go back as far as AD1012. They’re as much a part of Dartmoor as the famous Tors. 

But why are they here? These iconic ponies have played a pivotal role in the history of Dartmoor and have been used for riding and driving, pit ponies, shepherding, maintenance and even carrying the postman for delivering mail. Despite their wild roaming tendencies, all ponies are owned by various Dartmoor Commoners and carefully counted.

These ponies are definitely the most famous wildlife on Dartmoor, however, despite their friendly appearance, you should always admire from a respectful distance and never feed them.

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The Shy Polecat

Perhaps one of Dartmoor’s more recent residents, the Polecat has been slowly reintroduced into the area after years of persecution led them to near-extinction. These rare, bandit-like carnivores reflect characteristics of the ferret, its domesticated cousin.

They can be found beside rivers and the quieter areas of Dartmoor.

Because the Polecats are nocturnal, they are among the most difficult wildlife on Dartmoor to spot so if you are lucky enough to come across one of these hidden creatures make sure to take in their white stripes and dark faces. 

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The Rare Greyface Dartmoor Sheep

Have you ever been on a Dartmoor walk and spotted clumps of thick wool clung to brambles or scattered across the floor. No, you’re not following someone with an unravelling knitted jumper, this wool belongs to the Greyface Dartmoor. This rare breed of large sheep is known for its distinctive facial markings and hardy, thick coats that allow them to withstand Dartmoor’s harsh weather. 

So, during your hike, ramble or stroll, keep a look out for this rare breed of wildlife on Dartmoor, and if you visit during Spring,  keep an extra keen eye out for Greyface Dartmoor lambs.  


The Dancing White-Throated Dipper

It isn’t just ponies and sheep that make up the best of the wildlife on Dartmoor, there are plenty of species in the sky that should be at the top of your tick list. This includes the White-Throated Dipper, and there are no points here for guessing the distinct contrasting colour of this plump little bird.

If you look along the various rivers or streams that spread across Dartmoor, you may find this small bird ‘dancing’ or ‘dipping’ in and out of the water.

There are two theories as to why this wildlife on Dartmoor ‘dips’. One theory is that it performs this dance to hide from predators, and the other is to aid the bird when it is hunting for prey in the water.

These birds can be spotted all year-round so while you find the perfect spot for your picnic, be sure to stop by the rivers to look for flashes of white dipping into the water. 


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The Playful Otter

Wildlife on Dartmoor spans far and wide across the 368 sqaure mile National Park and homes a variety of animals, including the otter. This notoriously mischievous (yet playful) animal can be found throughout all the main rivers running off Dartmoor, and use the high moorland to cross between catchments and find food. 

The otters are a popular animal, known for holding hands while sleeping so they don’t drift apart, and they can be found all year round across most of the UK.

Despite their seemingly common presence, these tiny-pawed mammals can be difficult to spot, so make sure to sit still and keep your eyes peeled on the water, especially during dawn and dusk. 


A Base for your Wildlife Watching 

A day exploring wildlife on Dartmoor can be exhausting, so come the end of the day you’ll need a comfy bed and some fantastic food. Nowhere accommodates as such like The Horn of Plenty, an independent 4* hotel in the market town of Tavistock, a stone’s throw from the National Park. 

Drift to sleep in your individually styled room and wake to a freshly prepared breakfast before heading back out to the National Park to spot more of the wonderful wildlife on Dartmoor. 

Published on Friday 09th June 2023 / By Alice Beresford