What better way to spend day 2 of our #30dayswild challenge than with a visit to the wonderful British Wildlife Centre, in Lingfield, Surrey. This is an educational centre with a collection of British wild animals. It’s so interesting to be able to see the animals up close, when it is difficult to view them in the wild. During the day there are keeper talks on many of the animals, a great opportunity to see them being fed and to learn more about them.
Our visit started in the deer paddock. The Centre has a herd of Fallow and Red Deer in the paddock and two roe deer in another area. The deer are beautiful, such graceful, gentle creatures. Red deer and roe deer are native British species, while fallow deer were brought here by the Normans for hunting in their deer parks. Deer lose their antlers each year, growing a new set in 16 weeks. Their antlers are different to a horn, they are made of bone and are equivalent to growing an extra limb every year, whereas horn are made from keratin, the same substance that our fingernails and hair are made from, and are grown over the course of a lifetime. The deer antlers are larger as the deer grows older, but contrary to popular belief, an additional spike is not added to the antler each year. At this time of year, when the antlers have just started to re grow, they are small and covered in fur. Only male deer have antlers, unless they are reindeer, in which case the females also have antlers.
One of my very favourite British animals is the hedgehog, we are lucky to have hedgehogs visiting our own garden, and we often watch them noisily chomping away on the food we put out, but a chance to see a hedgehog up close and personal in daylight was not to be missed. Turbo the hedgehog is the star of the talk about these beautiful animals, wandering the dell while the keeper talked about the threats hedgehogs are facing and what we can do to help. Hedgehogs are in serious decline in the UK, and could be extinct here in the next 10-15 years. I’ll be blogging about our garden hedgehogs and what we can do to help these lovely creatures later in the month.
There were so many wonderful animals to see at the Wildlife Centre. We loved seeing the field mice in their tiny nests, impossibly small, they build exquisite tennis ball size shaped glass globes in amongst the grass stems. A stoat showed off their agility and speed, whizzing up and down in an aerial walkway, leaping up a drop three times its length with ease and astonishing us with its grace.
As we watched the otters being fed, the heavens opened and we were amused to see that as the humans took cover, the otters did too, jumping into the water to get out of the rain.
The Centre is home to three Scottish Wildcats, an endemic British species on the very edge of extinction. In Scotland it is thought that there are only 2-300 animals left in the wild, and interbreeding with feral domestic cats is a serious threat. Wandering passed their enclosures movement caught our eye in the top corner, the centre’s newest residents, young Wildcat kittens out exploring for one of the first times. They are beautiful animals, piercing blue eyes, characteristic wide black stripes and fluffy fur. Two of the kittens tumbled together, while the third watched, head poking out from grass tussocks. Before long, Kendra, their Mum, gathered the kittens up and we felt privileged to have seen these amazing pure bred Wildcat kittens. The animals here are part of a breeding programme and may one day help to increase the wild population.
Honey and Toby are the centre’s resident badgers. They know when their moment in the spotlight is due and are out in their enclosure shortly before the badger talk is due to start. During the rest of the day they can be seen sleeping in their artificial sett, in a dimly lit space, a glimpse into their hidden world. They are charismatic animals, snuffling and grunting, romping around in search of the food provided. Badgers are much vilified, seeing them up close and learning more about them, it seems hard to believe that anyone could want to do them harm, one of our most iconic British animals.
We loved our visit to the Centre, feeling an affinity with the fantastic animals that call our country their home.