#30dayswild day 30 learning about mammals at the British Wildlife Centre

We’ve had an amazing day, the pinnacle of our 3odayswild for 2016. We were booked to spend the day at the British Wildlife Centre in Lingfield, Surrey on a Mammals Of Surrey course run by Surrey Wildlife Trust. We arrived a little early, and enjoyed looking out over the reserve, watching herons and a flock of sparrows. The sparrows were delightful and so lovely to see, sad to say that they are a rare sight now.

The morning was spent in the classroom, with the course given by the engaging and knowledgeable Dave Williams, who took us through details of all the mammals found in Surrey and the signs to look out for to identify that they are in an area. We also talked about surveying and the habits and diets of the animals. We were also able to listen to the sounds made by the animals, a startling array of noises. The most odd was the call of the Sika deer (not an animal found in Surrey but of interest), an eerie call that would send chills down your spine if you heard it in the night when you were camping in the New Forest.

I learnt a lot and cemented my knowledge of mammals, there’s always more to learn, but I feel more confident of the signs to look out for to identify mammals in an area.

After the classroom session was finished we went to explore the reserve area next to the Wildlife Centre, there were many herons around the ponds, and we spotted butterflies and talked about conservation management techniques to encourage mammals. A swan glided across the pond, serene on the water.

In the afternoon we had a private guided tour of the British Wildlife Centre. We have visited before and love seeing our British animals up close, a great opportunity to see up close animals that you may only come across by chance in the wild, if you were ever lucky enough to see them. The Centre is involved in many breeding and release programmes and the talks throughout the day on a normal visit are very informative. I recommend a visit!

This afternoon we started off in the barn area, admiring the brown and black rats and house mice. Not universally popular creatures, but very cute and interesting to see. We were then introduced to a beautiful tawny owl.

She was just gorgeous and very interested in looking up at the rats climbing over her head in their tube. Fantastic to meet her.

From there it was into the hedgerow area where we saw harvest mice, tiny creatures the size of my thumb, climbing up reeds and into their intricate ball shaped woven nests. Rabbits could be seen in their open sided burrow and other stoats, weasels, water shrews, voles and mice also make this area their home. These creatures were all pugged away sleeping, but we were able to meet Turbo the hedgehog, as stunning little animal. _DSC1054

Hedgehogs numbers are in drastic decline, and they are much less common than they once were. We talked about how to make space for hedgehogs, from leaving holes in the fence, to having hedges and wild areas in the garden, not using slug pellets, checking bonfires in the autumn for sleepy hogs, providing food (dog or cat food or specialised hedgehog food, not bread and milk!) and hedgehog homes. It would be such a shame to lose hedgehogs, so I hope that more is found out about exactly what is causing their decline and concrete solutions are found to halt it.

We next visited the red squirrels, passing the Centre’s two albino grey squirrels and resident grey squirrel on the way. The red squirrels live in a walk through enclosure along with muntjac deer. We were lucky to see a muntjac deer with her young one, and two charming and adorable red squirrels.

I love seeing these amazing little animals, they are very confiding and will come very close to you, nosing around to see if you have any treats for them. The keeper we were with had nuts for them, so they were happy squirrels!

We next saw pine martens, beautiful, wild and very hard to see in the wild. Difficult to photograph too in the centre but amazing to watch as they scampered around their enclosure, poking their head out of a tree and a hollow log to check us out.

Opposite were the Scottish Wild Cats. The cats at the centre have been DNA tested and two are pure Wild Cats, who have bred this year and have three kittens. The adults were out and about, and we were able to glimpse two of the fluffy ball of wild kittens at the back of the enclosure. A very special sighting, given how very rare these animals have become. _DSC1087

Next up were polecats, amazingly close to us and very beautiful. I love their little teddy bear faces. The female had kits in her nest tunnels, the next generation of polecats on their way.

The centre also has a mink, an invasive species the result of escapes and deliberate releases from fur farms, and wild in large numbers in Surrey. Interesting to see one of these much maligned animals. _DSC1116

The Centre has a herd of fallow and red deer, in a large deer park. We could see young deer or both species as well as the dominant male animals, Norman the fallow deer and Albus Dumbledeer the red deer, with their hinds.

There are also otters to see, beautiful animals, sinuous in the water, bouncy on land, and a success story, their numbers on the rise all across the country as our waters get cleaner and stocks of aquatic animals recover.

We admired the birds of prey in their very good and well thought out aviaries, marvelling at how well camouflaged the birds were, especially the long eared owls.

We watched the foxes, a firm favourite of mine, a mammal that most of us will have seen, common in both town and country. _DSC1177

Lastly, we saw my very favourite residents, Toby and Honey the badgers. A great way to finish my #30dayswild challenge and very apt for National Badger Week.


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