Friday, 29 March 2013

Easter Holiday Opening

Good morning everyone... finally it seems we have some nice, or at least drier weather with us, and just in time for our Easter opening!

From today (Friday the 29th of March) we are open every day for two weeks, up to the Sunday the 14th of April. Why not make the most of the nice weather, and come out to see us and what we have been up to over the past few weeks (apart from just surviving the rain!)

If you do manage to visit us, I really recommend that you allow time to visit our stoats and weasels in their outside enclosures opposite the badgers. Of course all our animals are great, but in particular are smaller mustelids have been fantastic recently! Being a huge success with both schools and photographers who have come here over the past few weeks.

Afternoon is always best for them, although we do have a stoat who likes to be out and exploring all day.

Of course, all our usual keeper talks will be on offer. Check out the link in the tab at the top of the page for the current schedule.

If you can't make it this time, then remember we are still open every weekend, bank holiday and school holiday from now till the end of October.

Look forward to seeing some of you over the coming weeks.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Nocturnal house waking up?

Hibernation over?.. I had a lovely post with some nice pics ready to go, all about our nocturnal house waking up for the spring, but low and behold this weather has taken another turn for the worst, and our common dormice and bats are still in hibernation.

However, our hedgehogs and edible dormice have stirred, and can bee seen through the nocturnal house. In fact, our edible dormice in particular are very active at the moment trying to regain some body fat.

It still may take a while for the common dormice and bats to stir fully, but once the weather starts to warm more permanently I am sure they will be as much a success in there as they were last year.

Meanwhile, this coming Wednesday, I will be attending the annual Common Dormouse Captive Breeding Group's meeting to hear about the future plans and possible releases happening later this year.

Last year, with the poor weather, we only had one litter of four young dormice. These four youngsters have all successfully made it through the year and will be taken with me to the meet. From there they will go on to be screened, along with others bred in other collections, before their release in to the wild.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Pine Martens to help Red Squirrels?

It is no secret that I have a soft spot for the pine marten. To me it is the most beautiful animal in the world! Of course I have a passion for all British wildlife, but another of my favourites is our native red squirrel. So with the recent research coming out that the pine marten may be able to help save the red squirrel, I was of course very interested.

It has been thought for along time that the pine marten may be able to help keep grey squirrel numbers down in an area, but not until recently has it been studied further. Over in  Ireland recent studies have shown a decline in grey squirrel numbers where pine martens are present, and grey squirrel remains in the pine martens diet.

Coupled with the European diet for pine martens showing a small percentage is squirrel (which of course would be red squirrel over there), it is thought that the more arboreal nature of the red, and the lighter weight allowing them to get to branches a pine marten couldn't, is one reason why the pine marten doesn't prey on them so much. The more ground nature of the greys, and their larger/slower nature make them easier targets.

So, could introducing the pine marten in to certain areas not only help boost their rare numbers, but also help protect our iconic red squirrel from extinction?

Well, it is difficult to predict of course. Grey squirrels are more established over here, and are arguably in greater densities to begin with. And despite people saying that a pine marten is less likely to take a red squirrel, it certainly still would if it had the chance. Of course the big problem then is how do we get the pine martens in the first place to introduce in to these areas.

One option is captive breeding, but if you have visited the Centre before, you will appreciate how difficult this is to do. Very few places have managed it, and although we have all our fingers crossed that one of our females, Bonnie, may be pregnant now... we have never successfully bred these animals in the past. Working closely and listening to other centres who keep these animals, and in some cases have bred them too, we are hoping we will manage this one day. The more people that are successful  the more we can all help each other out, and that is why many centres that keep pine martens are now trying to co-operate with each other to ensure we can help with the future of this animal if needs be.

The other option possibly could be relocation. The pine marten suffered some bad press earlier last year with the Scottish Gamekeepers Association calling for a cull. The reason... their potential impact on capercaille. How does that work? Both are native, and ironically our current capercaille were introduced from Scandinavia. With less than 4,000 pine martens in the UK it seems unfathomable that a cull even cropped up.

But maybe relocating them could be a way to keep everyone happy. Where their densities are increasing, and they are causing a potential problem not only with the game birds but also moving in to peoples loft spaces,  they could be relocated into other areas? Something that is being looked in to by certain groups.

As mentioned before, my love of pine martens is no secret, and I have a particular bond with Bonnie, one of our females. Therefore I was thrilled when Sandra Palme presented me with this fantastic portrait she had drawn of my favourite girl! If you think this picture looks good, you should see it for real... the detail is simply amazing and it is no mistaking that it is Bonnie.

Have a look at Sandra's website if you get the time... you will get to see some more samples of her work, including some more drawings of our animals including our otters and foxes!

Friday, 8 March 2013

Wildcats Together

Earlier this week we introduced or new male wildcat, "McTavish", to our female "Kendra". They now both share the run of our first two enclosures opposite the badger sett.

Having arrived at the Centre only a couple of weeks ago, McTavish has been flirting with Kendra through the wire. Now that they are together we hope that they will breed. In time we will open up the third pen for them to roam in, then allowing us to separate the enclosures as we see fit if they do produce a litter later this year.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Badger Cull

OK... the big question... What about the badger cull?

It is a question I got asked almost daily at the end of last Summer, and now with the inevitable news last week that it is going to go ahead I thought I would put some thoughts out there.

Before I start, I need to point out two things...

Firstly, this may turn in to a bit of a long post. So for those of you that want an abridged version:

I am against the cull of badgers. I do not believe it will work, and think it may possibly make the situation worse.

Secondly, the opinions on this post are mine and not necessarily those of the British Wildlife Centre.

Now of course, you can find many opinions all over the web about the cull, from both sides of the story, but not often in the same place. Being both a wildlife enthusiast and the employee of a former dairy farmer, I know many people from both sides of the story. So here is a brief (yes, I could of rambled on even longer), explanation of the situation as I see it. Please feel free to correct any of my information if you believe me to be mistaken. This is only what I have gathered/picked up from various people and sources.

The problem?..

Now I assume that any one interested in reading this knows what TB is. And it is true that badgers can carry it, as can cattle. So can many other mammals including wild deer species. It is also true that it is possible for cattle to get TB from badgers, as can badgers from cattle, badgers from badgers and cattle from other cattle.

Tackling the spread of TB amongst cattle is believed to have costed £500 million over the past 10 years, with 26,000 cattle slaughtered in 2011 at a cost of £90 million. So it is a big problem.

What has been decided?..

Last week, after last years delay, the badger cull was given the go ahead. What this means is that in two areas, one in West Somerset and one in Gloucestershire, a cull on badgers will take place. There is also a third reserved area in Dorset for the pilot cull.

The cull is due to take place from the 1st of June for 6 weeks, and then annually over the next 4 years, and will be independently checked on its efficiency and effectiveness.

The cull will be done by open shooting.

The aim is to cull up to 70% of the badger population in these areas, an estimated 5,000 badgers over the 4 years, at a cost of around £4 million.

Will it work?..

Well, no one knows for sure. Some independent tests in Ireland seem to show a possible decline in TB cases due to culling of badgers and in New Zealand, a cull in animals carrying TB and stricter movement controls reduced infected cattle and deer herds from over 1,500 in the 90's to less than 100 in 2011.

However. Back in the 90's/early00's a badger cull trial took place in this country, known as the Krebs trial. Here a series of culls in different situations were done. It was found that were the conditions were met, there may have been up to a 16% reduction in TB  over the 9 years. But it also showed in test areas, that the disruption of the social groups of badgers by the cull increased their dispersal and increased the cases of TB found making the situation worse than before the culls took place.

It is also argued that the stricter control in movement New Zealand adopted is the main reason behind the their reduction in TB cases, and even so, the main vector over there is the possum... which of course acts and behaves very differently to the badger.

What are the alternatives?..

Vaccinating badgers - Vaccination of badgers is expensive, it is difficult to monitor how many of the population have been successfully done, and at the moment would have to be repeated annually. This seems like a large undertaking, and for what gain? Vaccination of badgers would only reduce the risk of them getting TB and seems almost impossible to do to the scale it would be needed to be done at to have a significant effect. Wales seems to be looking at vaccination of badgers as a trial, and so it will be interesting to see what reports find. Ultimately of course, it would be ideal to create a vaccine that can eradicate TB in badgers. Something currently underway in New Zealand with their problem with possums.

Vaccinating Cattle - Vaccination of cows is possible, there is a vaccination. The problem is that the vaccination is prohibited by EU legislation, any cows vaccinated could not be sold in the EU and this currently is worth £465 million a year! There is also a test to see if an animals has been vaccinated, but it isn't fully compatible with the test and so can not reliably tell if an animal has been vaccinated or actually has TB. Even so, if a test is found that is reliable, it would still have to go through the EU before it has been accepted, which could of course take many years.

So to sum up... It's a difficult one! TB is a big problem, and it is costing us as a country a lot of money, and in the terms of the farmers affecting their livelhood. It does need to be looked at, and something needs to be done.

However, I really don't think culling badgers is the answer. I find it bewildering that with all the scientific evidence pointing to a cull not working, and possibly making the situation worse, that a cull is even being considered! Either the government isn't even reading these reports, or is choosing not to listen. It really does seem like the badger is being used as a scape goat, and just as a method to say to the farmers... Look, we are trying something.

It seems logical that a reliable cattle vaccination test needs to be developed, and one that the EU will allow. But this could take many years, and it may be a case of tackling the problem from more than one angle. From a cattle management point of view, and from the badgers in terms of vaccination to help reduce the number of badgers carrying TB.

But something does need to be done! Our farmers need our help. And I worry that with this cull, that many people will turn against farmers and boycott their produce which would be very counter productive. We need to support our famers and in turn the farmland and countryside that makes up the vast majority of this country, and supplies our wildlife with its habitat.

Friday, 1 March 2013

BWC Photo Comp 2013: Now Open

 "Tawny in Flight" - Wendy Salisbury

Last year saw a some amazing photographs entered in to our competition. Congratulations once again to Wendy Salisbury for her overall winning image above, as selected by professional wildlife photographer Heather Angel.

But now it is time to open our competition for this year, 2013! As with last year the categories and rules are the same. You can still enter in one of two ways, through our flickr site or by emailing the low res images to us.

I will explain briefly below, but for more information on how to enter and the prizes on offer, please check out our website on the link below, our flickr page and the tab above for "Photo Competition"

Good luck to all who enter!

The British Wildlife Centre's 2013 Photographic competition is divided in to 6 categories.

Animal Portrait
Capturing the character of the animal

Animals in their Habitat
Showing the animal within it's home

Animals in Motion
Showing the animal in action

Animals and their Keepers
Showing the connection between the animals and their keepers

Fauna Fun
Humorous images caught on camera with an accompanying caption

For those young photographers aged 16 years or under

You may enter up to 2 images per category, all entries must have been taken at the BWC during 2013. You can enter by submitting the images into the relevant discussion group at our Flickr group or by emailing them to

The closing date for entries is Friday the 29th of November, 2013