Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Deer Rut

It is that time of year again when our fallow and red deer start to think about rutting. I love the rut... and many of you know that I have a soft spot for our native deer, and so whilst I am enjoying this time of year I am also sadden by the lack of presence of our old master stag Eric.

I had worked with Eric for 8 years, seen him mature and take over as the master stag and seen him sire many offspring. It was a sad day when earlier this year we had to put him down due to old age, a broken leg and crippling arthritis.

But, new on the seen is young Albus who will eventually take over the herd and start the new era for our reds.

Without any one particular dominate stag at the moment, the red deer rut will be rather tame. We have already had a lot of posturing and roaring from the three youngsters, and the occasional clash of antler, but nothing to get too excited about. Still all interesting behaviour to watch however, and great to see Albus trying to get involved with the two established stags.

So this year, it looks like the fallow deer will e the ones to really keep an eye on. Both our young bucks are of similar age and size, and are both now mature enough to really want to stake a claim for the does. Once again, they have started to bark and flaunt themselves to each other... and I think it will only be a matter of time before they eventually lock antlers to test their stamina against each other.

Don't forget... we are open everyday this week for the half-term. Why not come and see us, and spend a bit of time by our deer paddock to see the rut unfold.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Otters to star on Winterwatch

Yesterday, Chris Packham and the "Springwatch" team were down here to film for a Winterwatch series they are doing this Winter.

Within this series they are to show an episode which concentrates on otters, and whilst they had very good footage of wild otters... they wanted to have a bit with Chris Packham talking to the camera with otters swimming around him!

Of course, Gracie and Tamar were willing to help out, and although it took a little time for them to get used to someone walking actually in their pond, they settled down quickly and proved to be naturals in front of the camera!

Although our otters have been filmed many times before, I believe it is the first time that Grace and Tamar will be on the small screen... the filming was obviously very tiring for them as you can see above.

Winterwatch will air later this year, keep an eye out to see our otters on there, and a brief cameo in the background by our weasel, Eva.

Friday, 19 October 2012

BWC Members Lunch Club

It is getting close to that time of year when we close to the general public, staying open only for pre-booked groups such as schools, universities and photographic days.

After the October half term, we will not be open again until the day after Boxing day, for about 1 week, and then after that it will be February half term and then back to normal, opening every weekend from March through till the end of October next year.

After last years success, Members of the British Wildlife Centre will still be able to come and visit the Centre during this "down" time during our exclusive "Members Lunch Club" dates. These offer members with withdrawal symptoms a chance visit us for a few hours during the day, have the Centre to themselves and we will even through in a lunch to boot!


These sessions will run from 12pm - 3pm, with lunch being served at 12.30pm.

They are only available if you pre-book by either phoning or emailing the main office.

Price will be £12 per member.

For all the dates available, and to find out more information, please check our main website linked below.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Scottish Wildcat; Conservation

The Scottish Wildcat is Britain's last remaining native cat species since the extinction of the Northern Lynx, around 1,500 years ago. Now it is under threat to become extinct too, cat diseases, road casualties and even still illegal persecution pose a threat but the main risk is hybridisation with the feral cat. Of course any hybridisation that occurs, only adds to the problem, putting more hybrid cats out their to possibly breed with the very few remaining pure wildcats there are... but how many pure wildcats are truly left in the wild of Scotland?

The truth is, no one really knows. The Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) put a figure of less than 400 pure wildcats remain, however, very recently the Scottish Wildcat Association (SWA) estimate that there are around 3,500 hybrid cats of which only 1 in a 100 of these are pure... giving a populations of only 35 pure wildcats left in the wild! Due to some areas not being covered by the survey, and only estimations, it seems that at the moment the most common figure banded around is that there are less than 100 pure Scottish wildcats left in Scotland today! Less than 100!.. that's about the same number of children and adults we have a day here during a school trip... incredible!

So what can be done? Well, it seems to be very difficult. Starting with less than a hundred in the wild is a difficult place to start, and with possibly only around 50 in captivity... of which going on SWA numbers only half of a cat would be 100% pure, its a tricky position to be in.

It seems inevitable however, that captive breeding will be needed to help the wildcat to survive in as purest form as is possible. But before any future releases can be considered, the threat in the wild has to be removed.

This is where the "Wildcat Haven" project comes in to play. This is a conservation plan which has set aside a large area in Scotland for a potential future release site. Public education and awareness is being undertaken, road users are being made aware of the possible crossings of wildcats and all the feral cats are being caught up to be neutered to reduce the risk of interbreeding once the releases start. As well as this, an exciting new genetic test is being field trialed as part of Wildcat Haven. They have recently been given permission to trap potential wildcats to take blood samples from.

Whilst all this is happening, research into the purity of captive cats is underway. Previously only tested on pelage, it is now hopefully that next year DNA testing will be able to take place to work out for certain the purity of all wildcats in captivity. This will give everyone a better understanding of what we are up against, and then through the co-ordination of the wildcat studbook holder at Port-Lympne, the best cats available will be able to be paired up with each other at suitable breeding centres to try and breed the purist cats possible for release. By choosing the pairings carefully, it could be possible to "breed out" any feral genes and get some pure wildcats for a release programme.

So what are we doing to help? Well here at the BWC, we have had wildcats for many years, and on the old pelage tests, they have appeared to be some of the purest around for captive cats. 

We have had breeding success in the past, with any kittens going to other centres for education purposes or potential breeding cats, but in recent years we put our breeding on hold to see how the future of captive wildcats may be used for the benefit of their wild counterparts. 

We are participating members in the Scottish wildcat studbook, and support the work being done by the Scottish Wildcat Association and hope to, in the future, be able to use our experience in caring for and breeding these cats to be able to help create a generation of wildcats which will end up being released back in to the Scottish highlands.

In more immediate terms, we are working with the studbook holder in deciding what, if any, of our wildcats will breed for next year. With limited space in captivity it is important that it is used for the genetically best cats available, but at the same time... even very good looking hybrid cats can have an important role in the education of the wildcat.

It seems inevitable that if nothing is done, we will end up losing our last remaining cat species in Britain. So to keep it here we have to act, and act now! It is all well and good to say "too little too late" is being done, but surely we shouldn't let this cat go extinct without a fight! Mike Tomkies, author, naturalist and patron of the SWA once said about the wildcat "They'll fight to the death for their freedom, they epitomise what it takes to be truly free." Surely for a cat with that attitude, we owe them the same level of commitment to help them to survive!

To learn and read far more about the Scottish wildcat and the conservation efforts going on, check out the two links below for two of the leading organisations working towards creating a better future for our last remaining native cat... our own "Highland Tiger"

Monday, 15 October 2012

The Scottish Wildcat; Species Profile

After the success of the "Badger Facts" post, I thought I would start off any conservation posts with a profile on each species, just to get across how great our British wildlife is before we look at the work going on to try and conserve it.

So where better to start than with one of our rarest mammals, and keeper Richard's favourite, the Scottish Wildcat!

 - Evolved from the European wildcat, they have now been separated long enough on our island to be considered by many to be a separate sub-species of cat... The Scottish wildcat.

 - The largest evidence of a wildcat showed it to be 4 feet in length from head to tail, which would have weighed about 14kg

 - Wildcats have evolved to have exceptional eyesight, even their night sight is believed to be 7 times better than ours

 - Arguably their keenest sense is their hearing. They can independently rotate their ears through 180 degrees, and their hearing sense is active 24 hours a day

 - In other words, they can hear in their sleep... how cool is that!

 - Mothers will take live prey back to her kittens when around 12 weeks old to teach them to hunt

 - Wildcats can accelerate up to a speed of about 30mph

 - Wildcats are believed to be one of the only un-tamable wild animals, even if taken as a young kitten they can not be reared to be "pet" tame

 - Weight for weight, the Scottish wildcat is the most aggressive cat in the world!

So how do they differ from domestic cats? It is true, that to many they will look like average tabby cats, but take a closer look and hopefully you will begin to see and appreciate that there are differences there... subtle in many cases, but still there.

Wildcats are generally larger than your average domestic cat with males weighing up to 10kg, and have longer legs in proportion to their bodies. A stockier, more muscly build with defined markings on the body. A flatter, wider face with slightly smaller rounder ears and an in-explainable difference with the eyes... look into a wildcats eyes and they don't look back, they just stare at you in an almost hypnotic way. Internally they have a larger skull and jaw bone differences and a shorter gut.

Perhaps their most obvious difference visually however is their tail, being shorter, bushier and with characteristic black rings around it and ending in a blunt end rather than tapering to a point.

To learn more about Scottish wildcats, why not come and see ours at the Centre and listen to one of our keeper talks on the "Highland Tiger."

Check back in a few days to read about the conservation plans for the wildcat, and how the BWC is playing it's part to try and save Britain's last remaining native cat!

Saturday, 13 October 2012

BWC Christmas Cards

The year is racing away, and although I don't like to think about Christmas this early, I have been asked to promote our new Christmas cards for 2012. Take a look at the four designs...

This year the office has decided to go ahead with 4 different designs. A fox, squirrel, otter and badger. All four photos are ones I took in the snow a few years ago. They are packed in to packs of 10 cards, and two packs are available.

One pack has five otter cards and five fox cards. The other pack available has five squirrel cards and five badger cards in it. Each pack retails for £6.50 each, so for £13 you could get 20 cards and all four designs!

These cards are all personal to the Centre portraying the animals we have here, and all the money made from their sales will go towards the good work we do here for conservation and education of our native British animals.

To buy a pack (or packs) you can either visit the centre on an open day to buy them from the shop, or during term time drop in to the main office between 10am and 4pm. Alternatively ring the office between these hours on 01342 834658 to order a pack for us to send them out to you, or email the main office at info@britishwildlifecentre.co.uk

Nice, aren't they?

OK, keep your eyes peeled next week for the first of a few conservation posts.

Monday, 8 October 2012


After news that this has been the wettest Summer in Britain for over one hundred years, there is still no sign of the rain letting up. It has proved to be challenging for us in terms of looking after the different groups. Photographic groups have had to be done in difficult conditions, although leading to some unusual and often spectacular photos. School groups have been dodging the showers as best they can, and for us it just seems to make everything take that little bit longer to accomplish.

On the other side of things, the animals have taken it all in their stride. They have been quite happy out in this weather for short spells, as long as it means they still get their food.

Don't forget everyone, only a month left of our BWC Photographic Competition to get your entries in.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

National Badger Day

So, today is National Badger Day... Badgers have been in the news a lot recently with the impending badger cull, but I am not going to go in to this now. Instead, here are just a few interesting facts about Britian's largest weasel:

   - Have you heard that badgers are a member of the weasel family, or "Mustelid" family. Closely related to weasels, stoats, mink, polecats, pine martens and otters, badgers are the largest mustelid in Britain

   - A male badger is called a boar, a female a sow and the young are called cubs

   - Badgers can mate at anytime of year, but have a delayed implantation meaning that there cubs are always born during the start of the new year and usually around February time

   - A group of badgers is called a "clan"

   - Living quite solitary in Europe, badgers are one of Britain's most social mammals

   - There are 8 species of badger in the world, only the European badger lives in Britain

   - Unlike cats and dogs, badgers have five front toes

   - Badgers have very strong, powerful, non-retractable claws

   - Badgers are the fastest digging mammal in the world for their size

   - It is thought that the word "badger" comes from the French, "Becheur" meaning "digger"

   - The Welsh for badger is "Moch daear", meaning "Earth pig"

   - A badger's home is called a "Sett"

   - Badgers are very clean animals, always clearing out their setts, and always defecating in special "latrines" dotted around their homes

   - Most of a badgers diet is made up of earth worms, of which they can consume around 200 of in a good night

   - Badgers are one of very few animals that can kill and eat a healthy hedgehog

   - Oh, and a sneaky preview... The badger will be on the front of our BWC leaflet for 2013!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

BWC Keeper's Blog; Round Up

Did you all know it is "National Red Squirrel Week" this week?... No, me neither until about 30 minutes ago. Apparently it is national Badger Day this coming Saturday too, so there you go!

Anyway, it is coming to that time of year again when the weekly news of more arrivals, kittens and and other exciting animal news is slowing down. It doesn't mean we are any less busy, in fact we are arguably more busy when the public are not here looking after schools and photographers. Once they slow up come December, then its noses to the grind stone to make use of the few "free" weeks to get on top of any maintenance that needs to be done.

It does mean the blog has less to report, as I am sure no one wants to be bored by numerous "We had a school in today" posts, and so more time can be used for other posts.

It is also that time of year where the anniversary of the blog arrives. I have now been writing this blog for nearly three years, and during that time seen it grown from the odd reader to now nearly 200 individual hits every day on average!. Wow... thanks to all the readers for this huge success.

I know you have to put up with the occasional "quirky" post, but I hope this is allowed for the news and little extras you get through this portal.

So what does all this mean...

Well... I want to keep the same laid back feel to the blog, but now that it has access to so many people, push a bit more on the education and conservation side of things as we do in all other aspects of the work we do at the British Wildlife Centre. Therefore, during the slower weeks, you may well be seeing posts on individual species and what makes them so fascinating and important to British wildlife.

Expect more posts on the conservation issues too... My most common asked question this summer has been "What do you think of the Badger cull?", so hopefully this blog can reach out to a few people and explain important issues like this that effect our native wildlife.

Don't worry, I won't let it get too heavy or opinionated, but just help make people aware of what is happening out there with our very precious wildlife.