Thursday, 31 January 2013

Introducing Macavity

The beginning of every year is always exciting with new arrivals as we prepare for the new breeding seasons. The first new arrival for 2013 is a Scottish Wildcat, "Macavity"

Macavity has come on loan from Wildwood in Herne Bay. We have swapped him for our very own "Richy Junior". By doing this it has given both ourselves and Wildwood a new potential breeding pair which we hope will produce kittens later this year.

After a short spell of display, we have now introduced Macavity to one of our lucky females, Iona. So far they have been getting on very well, and both seem to enjoy sleeping in the trees. Keep your eyes peeled up there if you want to see them, as you may only get a glimpse... but they will certainly be watching you!

As with all our cats, Macavity has a bit of an attitude, but then we wouldn't want it any other way. Later this year all our cats, along with several across the country, will be DNA tested to see just how "pure" they are. This will then give everyone a better idea about the situation, before firmer plans are made about the conservation efforts for our native cat.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Snow at the BWC

Over last weekend we saw 3 inches of snow fall over the wildlife centre. After a small flurry on the Friday, Sunday had snow all day and most of the night leaving the Centre a pristine white when waking up on Monday morning.

Now for us, it makes everything that little bit harder. Clearing water bowls of snow and ice before re filling them each day, defrosting the locks on each enclosure just so we can get in to tend to the animals, constantly clearing the footpath to keep it safe for ourselves and any visitors we have and even just walking from one place to another in the snow takes longer.

We are not complaining though, it is all good fun, and you get used to it very quickly. And for the animals... well they take to it all with no hassle at all. Some animals just sleep more, or become a little less active, while others actually come out more to enjoy the snow and play around.

In particular our otters and foxes seem to enjoy the snow the most, tunnelling through it, rolling in it and catching snow balls... and of course our snowy owl just looks simply stunning in a snowy landscape.

Here are just a couple of photos of our animals in the snow, to see some more click on the picture of me to the right later in the week to go to a separate blog which will show of some of my favourites.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Members Day

Thank you to all the members which came today to our annual "Winter's Members Day" and made it a huge success.

After the initial welcome, and Centre update from owner David Mills, the members were free to roam around the Centre and mingle with each other and the staff. Regular feeds were of course scheduled, and three keeper talks filled up the 4 hours that we were open.

The otters, or at least Elwood, was fantastic and keen to see the people after the Winter break. As always, the harvest mouse talk went down extremely well and offered a rare chance to see these animals up close, out of their enclosures and with good photo chances.

The day ended with a slightly different owl display, but still fun for all and with the owls performing well.

Once again thanks to all who attended, we hope to see many of you again over the coming year, and keep an eye open for the exciting new ventures we have planned which David alluded to during his welcome and which of course I will mention on this blog as and when the time comes.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Grey Squirrel

"More walnuts would be nice!"

A lot of people have asked me what I think of the grey squirrel, and I think it is worthy of a post... like it or not the grey squirrel is now a part of British wildlife. It is our most common squirrel in the UK and for many, the only squirrel they have ever seen out in the wild.

Now, before I start, don't get me wrong, I wish the grey squirrel had never been brought over to the UK. It is a non native, invasive animal which is causing a lot of damage to our countryside no more so than being a major factor in the decline of our native red squirrel. But, there is no doubt that it is a well adapted animal that is thriving well, and you have to admire that.

I prefer the red squirrel because it is our squirrel, the British native squirrel, and I would happily see rid of all the grey squirrels in the country, but I can also see that the grey squirrel can have a positive effect in other ways:

 - If it was a choice between grey squirrels and no squirrels, then I think it is nice to have at least the grey squirrels here

 - To many people, the grey squirrel may be the first wildlife encounter they have. Especially in a more urban area, these grey squirrels can get quite "tame", and this interest could be one of very few encounters for some people which I think is important and could lead to some people wanting to learn more about our wildlife

 - Rather ironically, the greys have done the reds a favour. Before the greys were here the reds were doing the same destruction the greys are now... OK, on a far less level, but still they were hunted by some people and considered a pest. Now that the greys are here it has deflected the attention away, and most people see the red squirrel a national icon we need to save

Reaching the end

We have three grey squirrels at the Centre. Two sisters, Milly and Molly, and an albino male called Eddie. Eddie came to us as a rescue several years a go now and has been a favourite with many because of his white colour. Milly and Molly are getting on to ten years old, very good for grey squirrels.

Don't forget "Winter's Members Day" this Saturday, followed by more snowy photos on the blog next week, and then news on some new arrivals to the BWC family!

Monday, 21 January 2013

BWC in the Snow

The snow has come...

We had a snow last Friday, leaving only an inch and a half behind, but has been topped up with another inch or two yesterday when it was snowing all day!

Now I have been contacted by a few budding photographers out there to see if it is possible to come in the snow... seems my snow photo days in the past have been a huge success, so firstly the bad news:

Unfortunately I can not offer a snow day this year. We have prior bookings/commitments over the early part of this week, none of which have cancelled, and as many of you know... it is our exclusivity of allowing them to have the place to themselves which they particularly like.

BUT!.. Good news... we do so happen to have a Members Lunch Club this Wednesday!

This is a pre booked, first come first serve day for members only to come and have a wander around the Centre. If you booked for this week, you will get to turn up at 12pm and spend until 3pm taking photos in the snow... you will also get a lunch thrown in to boot! All for just £12.

Please remember, this is for members of the BWC only and is a pre booked, first come first serve day.

Don't forget, this coming Saturday is "Winter's Members Day". Once again this is a pre booked day, but why not come along and see the Centre with the remaining snow. During the day we will have a series of keeper talks and of course be out and about as usual to mingle with the members. Should be a good day.

Friday, 18 January 2013

BWC Photo Comp 2012; Overall Winner

Congratulations to Wendy Salisbury for her winning image of Florence the tawny owl in flight!

Wendy won the "Animals in Motion" section with this lovely image above, and was chosen by professional wildlife photographer Heather Angel as the overall winner for the competition.

It was a difficult choice, with some fantastic photographs in the running, but Heather chose the above saying: "This is a lovely shot of a tawny owl captured head-on looking directly into the lens with the woodland backdrop. The perfect symmetry and the position of the owl in the frame could not be bettered".

As overall winner, Wendy wins a unique photographic day here at the Centre. I will take her round for the day giving her opportunities not possible during a group photographic day booking, which hopefully will allow Wendy a chance to take away some more stunning images.

Congratulations again to Wendy, and all the finalists, which will be displayed in our gallery in the coffee shop from our March weekend opening onwards.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

BWC Conservation; Red Squirrel

Our native red squirrel is declining, fast! Once throughout the country they are now mainly found in Scotland and a few of the islands around the UK. Many people think it may only be a matter of time, perhaps even only 20 years, until we lose the red squirrel completely from mainland UK.

So why are they so threatened? Well, it seems that it is a combination of many things, most of which can be linked back to the grey squirrel either directly or indirectly. So is the grey squirrel the cause of the loss of reds... yes and no. Many have forgotten that our red squirrels were declining in number before the grey squirrels even got here, but there is no doubt that since the greys have turned up the red decline has rapidly increased. From the first introductions of greys in 1876, we now have nearly 4 million of them throughout the UK with the red squirrels estimated at best to be around 145,000.

Grey squirrels very rarely physically attack a red squirrel, so it is more a competitive threat they pose. They are a larger squirrel being nearly twice the weight of an adult red and they breed more readily. But the biggest threats are that of food competition and disease.

Grey squirrels are capable of eating certain seeds and nuts before they are fully ripe, so in an area where the two exist it is possible that the grey squirrels will exhaust the supply of food before the reds get a chance to eat it.

There is a squirrel disease, the squirrel pox virus, going around the country. The difference here is that where as both the greys and reds can catch the disease, it rarely effects the greys. They therefore act only as carriers and help to spread the disease to the reds to which it is devastating, killing them off in usually only a couple of weeks.

Currently very little can be done to stop the spread and effect of the grey squirrels. We breed our red squirrels here, and the youngsters we pass round to other collections to try and build a nice healthy population of red squirrels in captivity for a time when hopefully they can be released back to the wild. I think only with careful re-introduction plans in grey squirrel safe areas can we hope to keep a few small pockets of reds remaining in the UK.

At the end of last year, we did send half a dozen squirrels over to the Isle of Tresco. The plan here is to allow the residents to learn to look after these fragile animals and observe their behaviour. I believe they wish to then introduce these animals to the wild, and then breed their own squirrels with pairs we will gift them later this year, to add to the numbers with any new kittens produced. If we have spare kittens at the end of the year, we would then be able to look at possibly helping to boost the initial numbers by sending a few more over to the island. It is still in its very initial stages, but you will of course hear updates of how it is going throughout the year.

Monday, 14 January 2013

BWC Species Profile; Red Squirrel

No, we don't have snow here, this is an old photo... but where better to see a red squirrel than in the snow where it really shows off their vivid red fur and striking ear tufts!

I could bore you to death about the red squirrel, they are one of my favourites and the animal I studied extensively for my final year projects, but I will keep it brief... As ever, to find out more then come along and catch one of our keeper talks when we are open (10:30am for the Red Squirrel Keeper Talk) where you will get to see them at close quarters in our walkthrough enclosure.

The red squirrel is our native squirrel, sometimes called the common squirrel throughout Europe, and is an adorable animal. For me they are so much prettier than the introduced grey squirrel. Apart from their coat colour and smaller size, their main difference is those amazing ear tufts! They moult these through the summer, only having them during the winter, but at this time they can grow to an amazing size showing why they are arguably their most famous feature.

Red squirrels usually only have one litter during the late spring, early summer. 4 or 5 kittens will be born, taking around 13 weeks to develop enough to start a fully independent life after the mother abandons them in their nest. It is believed that possibly only a quarter of squirrel kittens make it through their first winter!

They tend to prefer mixed or coniferous woodland, and have a varied diet sometimes dependant on the season. Seed and nuts of course form the majority, with the seeds of pine cones being a staple, but also fruits and berries and even anything else that they can find in a tree... bark, sap, leaves, even the invertebrates and rarely baby birds or bird eggs.

The red squirrel is a far more arboreal squirrel than the grey. That is, it spends more time in the trees. Nesting up their in their dreys, often burying food behind bark instead of on the ground. They are extremely well adapted for this life style... double jointed ankles to allow them to swivel their hind feet 180 degrees, strong curved sharp claws, large bushy tail for balance and a tendency to sometimes urinate on their hands and feet to make them a little stickier.

Unfortunately the introduction of the grey squirrel from America has accelerated the decline of our native red. I will mention this, and what we are doing to help, in a later post this week, but for now have a look at these amazing facts about the red squirrel.

 - Not only for balance, their beautiful tail can be used to keep them warm in the winter or even as a sun umbrella in the summer to shade them from the sun

 - Possibly where they get their name from, which means to sit in the shade of the tail

 - Five toes and four fingers, but with a fifth residual thumb which helps them to eat

 - Red squirrels are either right handed or left handed, with the same squirrel always choosing to eat the tines on a pine cone with the same hand

 - Red squirrels can't effectively digest acorns

 - Red squirrels see in the same colour as a green-red colour blind person. That is, they can see colour but can't distinguish between greens and reds

 - Our British red squirrel has nearly gone extinct before in the past, leading to introductions from Europe to help booster numbers

 - Our old, British red squirrel, used to have a white tail and ear tufts in the summer! How cool would that be to see (remember little "Flame I reared two years ago?!)

Friday, 11 January 2013

Photo Comp 2012; Category Winners

OK, the wait is over, and today I am announcing the category runner ups and winners for our 2012 photographic competition. Each of the photos shown below will be displayed in our competition gallery, located in our coffee shop, from the March weekend openings for the following year. The winners of each category win annual membership to the British Wildlife Centre, or extension to their current membership for a year. This allows them to visit as many times as they wish during our open hours plus offers discounts and invitations to special member only events.

As with last year, the judging panel was made up with three people. David Mills, the BWC founder and owner. Myself, who as you know am a keen amateur photographer. And this year our head judge who chose the winning photos for each category, and the overall winner for the competition, was Heather Angel.

Heather Angel is a friend of the centre, and an internationally known professional wildlife photographer. During her career Heather has written many fascinating books and taken some truly stunning photographs. She has travelled around the world in pursuit of great images, but arguably her most well known work has been taken in China.

To see some of Heather Angel's photographs, and learn more about the work she has done, check out her website here and be truly inspired to pick up a camera!

So here you go... the photos themselves... check back later next week for the announcement of the overall winner.

Animal Portrait

"Otter" - Furtographer Phil

"Will it be dark soon?" - Malcolm Biles

Animal in their Habitat

"Harvest Mouse" - Linda K

"This fishing is hard work" - Casamacca

Animals in Motion

"Tawny" - Wendy Salisbury

"Otters playing" - Brian Stoddart

Animals with their Keeper

"Florence and Izzy" - Gordan Rae

"Flo the fox" - Amanda Hawes

Fauna Fun

"Red squirrels ride invisible motorbikes" - Andrew Bertram

"Salmon fillet this big please" - Peter Trimming


"Synchronised snakes" - Jaime Holme

"I'm watching you" - Alex Berryman

Congratulations to all the photographers above, and good luck to the winners for the overall prize. I have a couple of good posts lined up for the beginning of next week, and then will announce the overall winner on Friday (18th).

Friday, 4 January 2013

Goodbye to Una

Sadly, the week before Christmas we said good bye to our eldest and one of our first wildcats at the British Wildlife Centre.

Una was one of the very first wildcats that came to the BWC, back in 1996. She arrived with her siblings and mother and quickly became one of our most well known animals. While here she went on to have many litters of kittens herself and provided much joy to many people getting up close to this rare and special animal.

Over the past few years, in the lead up to winter, Una had lost a bit of condition and was struggling to look after herself, but with careful looking after always bounced back for the Summer season. This winter however, she took a turn for the worse, and shortly before Christmas it was clear that she wasn't going to make it this time and it was kinder for her to allow her to pass away peacefully at the grand old age of 17.

Una will always be remembered as arguably the most photographed wildcat in the world! Almost all of the photos I see of a snarling wildcat is of Una, who always posed nicely and snarled on command for photographers, and is immortalised in many popular books on animals and has on numerous occasions been in top magazines such as BBC Wildlife!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

Welcome to another year everyone, lets hope it is a good one, 2013. This year we have a lot in the pipeline for the BWC. Most notably the addition of a few new enclosures we hope to have set up by Easter. These will be down around our nature reserve board walk, and will be home to many new reptiles and amphibians which we are obtaining this year.

We are working hard with the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation group to help educate about our native herptiles (amphibians and reptiles), but more news on all of this as the year progresses.

Of course, we still have the photo competition winners to announce too, and this will be done over the course of the next month. Good luck to all who were short listed.

But for now, best wishes to everyone for 2013, thanks for following the blog.