Friday, 23 December 2016

Merry Christmas

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, and all the best for 2017!

Don't forget we are open to the public next week from Tuesday the 27th - Monday the 2nd. So if you fancy walking of your Christmas dinner, or just escaping the family for a while, why not come and see us. No guarantees of course, but you may even get to see our little otter cubs... they made their first appearance the other day with mother Emmy moving them from one holt to another.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Otter Cubs

"Otter cubs with Matt" by Alan K Jones

Some exciting news to share with you all, as we enter this festive season. We have been keeping this one a little quiet, but have dropped a couple of hints in recent weeks... We have two otter cubs born in our main otter enclosure!

These two new cubs were born during the October half term week, and once confirmed we left them to it with mum "Emmy" to look after. A week a go though they were due a health check, just to make sure they were both OK, so our vet Alan Jones came in to help and at the same time we micro chipped them, and sexed them as one male and one female. 

They are now about 7 weeks old, and so it won't be long until they start emerging from their holt for the first few times. If I were to guess, I would say we would see them out at some point next week... possibly even the end of this week... but their timing could not be better, as I hope for a lot of sightings the week after Christmas when we are open to the public. 

Here is mum, Emmy, on the ice. She is an experienced mum having reared many cubs before, so these two new little ones are in good hands/paws. Emmy is already making sure Elwood, the dad, is keeping his distant, despite him being no trouble at all!

Here is Elwood. In the wild, the male would usually have no part in the upbringing or rearing of the cubs at all, but in previous years here Elwood really has been a modern otter father. Elwood has in the past taken food back to the holt for Emmy and the cubs, and even helped with the swimming lessons. Perhaps best of all to see though is when the cubs are a little bit older, and Elwood seems to have great pleasure in playing with them in the water.

We will update you with news as they start to be seen out of their holts.

Friday, 9 December 2016

November 2016: Photo of the Month

"There's an Otter in there somewhere" by Steve Liptrot

There was clear favourite animal throughout november in terms of photography, our red squirrels! I am not surprised... they are active this time of year, and they look their best with their iconic ear tufts and beautiful full winter coats. But despite the abundance of great red squirrel photographs being shared, I decided to pick this one above taken by Steve Liptrot.

This photograph, taken by Steve, shows an animal hard at work. One of our otters, Emmy, busying away gathering new bedding material for a fresh new nest. Steve has done a brilliant job in capturing her running straight towards the camera, and the huge mouth fall of reeds and grasses adds a lovely element of humour. This photo shows how our enclosures are so naturally set up for the animals, that wild behaviour such as this can and does happen. Great work Steve.

"Ted" by Steve Liptrot

Steve's photo will be in our gallery next year, and you can see more of his photos by following the link in his name. Including this great shot of "Ted", one of our new foxes to the Centre.

"Hugo the Hedgehog" by Martin Paternoster

And I just had to share this trio of photos with you. OK, some of the more eagle eyed ones of you may notice these weren't taken here during the last month, but then I never said they had to be... and they were only shared this last month.

Martin took these wonderful photos of Hugo the hedgehog whilst here on one of our photo days. I particularly love the wide angle portrait above. Again, link in the name above will take you to see more of Martin's photos.

"Hedgehog Yawning" by Martin Paternoster

"Hugo" by Martin Paternoster

Monday, 5 December 2016

New Arrivals

We have welcomed a few new arrivals at the Centre recently. Most noticeably, as many of you regular visitors have already seen, are a couple of new foxes called "Basil" and "Ted". These two foxes were rescued and hand reared at Riverside Animal Rescue Centre. Having become too attached to humans they needed a permanent home to go to, and so this is where we stepped into help.

We have kept it a little quiet, as introducing new animals to an established group can sometimes be a bit tricky, but in the case of these two it seems we had nothing to worry about. After a lengthy introduction process, they all seem to be getting on well. In fact Basil, pictured above, and Ted are already regulars for the keeper talk... and as you can see from above, like posing for the camera.

As well as two new foxes, a couple of months a go a rescued weasel arrived on our doorstep. This little female was on deaths door, and we did not expect her to make it through the first night. But keeper Izzy took her under her wing, and with regular nightly feeds for the first few nights and a lot of TLC managed to nurse her back to full health.

With the attention this little weasel needed to survive, she has become quite attached to Izzy, and so release was not an option. So now "Nina" as we have named her, lives in our hedgerow enclosure for you to meet. She is most active in the later afternoon if you want to try and get a glimpse of her.

Some more exciting news to announce in a week or so, but until then have a look at a few photos of our otters on the ice these past few days!

Friday, 2 December 2016

Animal Catch Up

Wow, what a busy time of year for us. Usually after the summer opening has come and gone we can catch a breather, but booked groups and animal coming and goings have been on the up. All good of course and great that the Centre is doing so well.

So well in fact that our owner, and Centre founder David Mills has been recognised for his hard work and was awarded an MBE for services to wildlife conservation... Congratulations David!

So, we are probably due a bit of a catch up here... You of course remember our wildcat kittens?! Macavity and Kendra had three lovely kittens earlier this year. Unfortunately the slightly runty one didn't make it, but the other two are a picture of health. Both are females and have been named "Morag" and "Merida" They will eventually move on to other collections to aid in the wildcat conservation breeding program that we are part of, with hopes of releases as soon as 2019!

Our red squirrels have had a real bumper year, and we have gained some new lines/genetics with swapping of livestock with other groups around the country. I mentioned earlier in the year another island release which David has been planning... It is still going ahead, and the squirrels we sent over there earlier this year are doing well, but our second lot of squirrels that where going to head over this autumn we have decided to delay.

With the weather looking quite harsh for the winter, we have decided to keep the youngster here where they are safe, and send them over in the spring when things warm up and settle down. Hopefully this will give them a much better start. Much more news on this as and when it happens next year.

The deer rut is over for both the red and fallow. Lots of posturing and dominant calling, but not a lot of actual rutting this year. But probably unsurprisingly Albus Dumbledeer, above, remains the master stag. He better watch out for Olivander next year though as he will be much more of a contender then. 

Some new arrivals to the Centre too, which I will announce over the coming weeks. Next up of course though will be Novembers photo of the month. 

Oh, and what's that I hear you cry... "We haven't seen a pine marten photo for what feels like aaaaages Matt?"... Oh OK then, here you go.

Keep your eye out for our new arrivals over the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Animals on TV

Have you seen the John Lewis Christmas advert for this year yet? Not giving too much away, but it features some British wildlife.

So why am I mentioning it?.. Well, a few weeks a go "Sky" visited us to film part of a TV short to accompany this advert. They wanted to produce a piece showing the public what they could do in their gardens at home to help our wildlife.

Presenter Patrick Aryee, pictured above with one of our red squirrels, was filmed with a few of our animals and they used some stock footage that they filmed here on previous visits. Along with what they filmed with a South London community taking part in the Hedgehog Street campaign, they put together a piece called "Garden Friends" which aired shortly after the premiere of the John Lewis Christmas advert.

To see the advert, follow this link to the Wildlife Trusts page who were this years John Lewis charity campaign partners. Here you can also see and learn about many ways in which we can help our wildlife in our gardens at home.

Below is the short "Garden Friends", that stars many of our animals, including Hugo the Hedgehog and Florence the owl.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

October 2016: Photo of the Month

"Otter Standing" by Karen Gray

Temperatures are getting colder, days are getting shorter, but it doesn't seem to be stopping you photographers out there. We have seen a surprising amount of grass snake photos this past month... Surprsing that he is still up to be seen, despite the colder weather, and surprising due to how shy he used to be. Good old Gerald though, putting on a good show.

It wasn't a grass snake photo we chose though, we went for the photograph above taken by Karen Gray of Elwood standing near the edge of the pond.

A standing otter photo is difficult to take for many reasons, and this is one by Karen is one of the best I have seen. Elwood is posing majestically and looking beautifully in to the frame. The composition is spot on, and you have the added bonus of a great background. Clean, non distracting, and showing their semi aquatic habitat perfectly. Great photo Karen.

"Otter" by Gary Chisholm

Unlike a lot of our animals, our otters seem to prefer the cooler weather. Lots of lovely otter portrait were seen this month, like this one above taken by Gary Chisholm.

"Red Deer Rut" by Stan Maddams

And of course an October photo of the month post wouldn't be complete with at least one deer picture. Our stags didn't really rut this year, but the occasionally 'practice' tussle was had such as this one caught by Stan Maddams. Hopefully this is good signs for next year!

Well done again to Karen, her photograph will be in the gallery next year in our Coffee shop and is in the running to win a photographic day here at the Centre next year.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Hibernation and Winter Talks

We have had a great year for dormouse births this year, three litters between our two pairs see us housing 11 kits which will be released back to the wild next year, along with several others bred at other Centres across the UK. 

As with previous years, these new youngsters will hibernate here over the winter before being prepared for release as they emerge from their winter sleep next year. 

With hibernation in mind, it is not just our hazel dormice that hibernate. Our edible dormice do too, along with our hedgehogs and bats.

During this time these animals lower their heart rate, breathing rate and body temperature. They sleep for long periods of time, but do still stir occasionally on milder nights.

Although none of our other animals truly hibernate, some do cut down their activity a lot. Badgers being one of the main ones.With this in mind, along with the winter closing time of 4pm, we have to alter our Keeper Talk schedule a bit... and it a return of an old favourite. The polecats.

From this weekend keep in mind we now close at 4pm with last entrance at 3pm, due to the evenings getting darker sooner.

Also, take a quick look at our new Keeper Talk schedule linked above. It is the usual winter schedule, and simply means no more hedghogs, badgers or pine martens. Owls is now at 3pm, and we have added polecats in to the schedule at 1pm.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Conservation K9 Consultancy

What many of you may not be aware of is the amount of research work the British Wildlife Centre helps with. Being the home to many of Brtiain's mammals, we are able to help accredited wildlife groups and students with their projects. In the past this has led to us helping with developing harvest mouse feeding stations, purity of wildcats through pelage and DNA, tracking by supplying a database of footprints and scat for most British mammals plus much more.

A few years a go some of you may remember that we were asked by a young lady in Wales, Louise, if we could help her to train her black labrador "Luna" to aid with the conservation surveys of pine martens. This involved us sending pine marten droppings through the post for Louise to train Luna to be able to locate the scent out in the field.

Well, a few weeks a go now I received another email from Louise and Luna, asking if we could help again. Of course we could, and so more droppings were sent through the post... this time not just pine martens, but polecats, otters, water voles plus various other scents.

I am passionate about British wildlife, and the conservation there of... and I love dogs... so I was very interested in Louise's story. I asked how Luna has been getting on, and Lousie was kind enough to up date me on how things have been going.

I tend to keep the updates here quite short, so bear with me on this one, but I found this very interesting and wanted to share it all with you.  If you don't have time now, come back with a cup of tea or something when you have a few free minutes, you will find it very interesting. Plus there are some cute puppy photos, so win win! :-)

I shall now hand you over to Louise…

-Louise Viljoen

Luna has been doing a fantastic job looking for Pine Marten Scats since 2011 when you originally scent me some scat. We assisted The Vincent Wildlife Trust in Scotland doing some scat searches that year, Luna was only new to scat searches so this was a learning curve, we did however find some well hidden scats.

Luna and I then facilitated a Phd Student in Ireland, Emma Sheehy who was studying Red Squirrel population and Pine Marten relationships. This is where Luna really showed us what she was made of, and from the very first second of her searches she found lots of scat that helps in Emma’s final results. Emma stated that if she could have had Luna work with her for the last 6 months her result would have been much better and she would have a stronger argument in her Phd.

Over the last 4 years plus we have been heavily involved in searches with Shropshire Mammal Group and Shropshire Wildlife Trust, looking for the elusive pine marten which has had sighting for many years in this area but obviously in such low numbers that we need DNA evidence to prove their presence and get more DNA information form them and confirm presence.

We have found many scats over this time, but when sending these to DNA Sequencing - the result prove inconclusive. Many reasons for this such as washed out scat, contaminated scat, dry old scat or small sample size. This is very disheartening for us, as we are very confident that they are definitely pine marten scat, but have no DNA to prove Luna is right. 

However, in 2015 in Shropshire, a Pine Marten was actually spotted and photographed. This was more evidence that Shropshire wildlife trust needed to help prove that there are Pine Martens in the area… and also makes it even more exciting searching for scat.

So Luna and I have been going out regularly with Stuart Edmunds from Shropshire Mammal Group and Shropshire Wildlife Trust, tirelessly looking for the scat we need to prove DNA and what haplotype the Pine Martens are. We have been doing the searches regularly to try and catch a recent area where the Pine Martens have passed through and hopefully find a fresh perfect scat. Luna has been undergoing intensive training to ensure she is spot on with her indication, attitude, endurance and her work ethic. At the moment she is at her peak  I am so pleased and proud of her.

Our last search was on 15th sept 2016. We covered a huge area, up hill mostly, the temperature was 25 degree plus and very humid, Luna didn't let that stop her, we searched for a full 4 hours with little breaks in between to rehydrate her and check she is ok and working well and staying cool under the tree canopy.

As we were walking along Luna produced a perfect lay indication. This was on a tuft of grass, no visible scat could be located, however with closer examination it appeared the area was a scent marking spot and drips of feaces had been sprayed on the grass. Perfect, a sample has been collected, after that Luna indicated on two more scats also, but too old and too brittle to collect and send off.

At the end of the search when Luna was tired on our way back to our vehicles, she started to act rather strange… excited, confused, wind scenting and searching frantically then freezing and then sitting and laying down, a mixture of behaviours. Stuart who I was with was very confident that we where near the pine martens den area, and around the trees they must feed up as Luna was trying to climb the trees. This was absolutely wonderful and Luna was very good at showing us areas of interest that more camera traps could be set up to gain more footage of the pine martens and try to get footage of the juveniles, which proves they are breeding which is positively brilliant news!

Its so important to continue and increase the use of detection dogs within wildlife surveys and searches within the UK and beyond. Basically because it’s the most non-invasive method there is! It’s non-biased, it’s the most effective and efficient method to use for surveys and searches as a dog can cover a larger area than human search teams in less time. Research suggests that human search teams efficiency is a mere 11-26% yet it have been proven that dog search teams are over 90% efficient!!! The numbers speak for themselves. However in the UK we are a little less accepting of such methods for our conservation needs and using dogs in this area. It has been used as a viable method especially in the states since the 80's and increasingly being used world wide to help with, carcass, nest, animal products, invasive plants and animal, animal signs and wildlife crime detection.

Not only is it the BEST method to use, it’s innovative, pioneering and exciting, it is cost effective. That's why here at Conservation K9 Consultancy we are so very passionate about it we want to be able to offer a more affordable and professional method to be available for organisations.

In my previous role, I set up the UK’s first company working dogs for wildlife search. This was driven through my will and my passion for this subject. So now, after returning from living in South Africa, I am back to reintroduce the best dogs and training out there for any UK wildlife and conservation project. I can deliver the best possible results. We may be a small business, but we have big ambitions!

Whilst I was living in South Africa, (I did take all my 4 beautiful dogs with me) my beloved springer spaniel got taken ill, and we found he had cancer, he was my pride and joy… a rescue springer. I had trained him in cadaver detection for a search and rescue organisation and he was the first UK Bat Carcass detection dog! For 5 years I conducted demonstrations, presentations and talks around the country to push and advertise the use of dogs for bat carcass searches primarily for use on wind turbine sites. He was a super star, he has been in many editorials, publications and magazines. In 2014 the bat carcass detection dog work came in and he was put to work. He did wonderful and helped develop the methodology of bat carcass searches in the UK.

When I returned to the UK with 3 dogs I felt very lonely, and being Springerless I had to look at rescuing a Springer ASAP. So we welcomed “Henry” a beautiful black and white springer spaniel that had been in a a few homes already and was looking for a home desperately due to his hyperactivity and lets say, manic non stop attitude. We rescued him on the 29th March 2016.

Then “Hettie” came along, a 16 week old cocker spaniel. I help a local dog rescue and I was fostering the non name dog, anyway the no name dog became Hettie and stayed with me.

So now I have two dogs to add on with Luna. Luna is already trained in Pine Marten scat, Great Crested Newts and Bat Carcass'. We intend to train Henry and Hettie on some of these existing scents plus many more such as hedgehog, bird carcass, wildlife poison, Polecat, Dormouse nests, ivory and other products of animal origin as well as some non disclosed invasive plant and animal species. We have an exciting year ahead.

This method is definitely going to become a more regularly and preferred method of animal survey and search. The list of things that dogs can help facilitate with detecting is never ending we just have to not limit our imagination.

If its hard to find and needs to be found… let dogs take the LEAD and show us how its done!

Hope you enjoyed that as much as I did... If you want to hear more about Louise's work, and what she achieves with Luna and her other dogs, you can follow Conservation K9 Consultancy on Facebook through the link below, and I will share the link to their website when it is finished being updated.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Red Deer Rut

I have received a lot of queries lately on when our red deer are likely to start rutting... the short answer is soon!

I have not seen any locking of antlers, nor posturing from the younger stags, but Albus is beginning to strut around and make a noise. 

I imagine he will be successful this year again. We do have two younger stags, the one above is still way too young to challenge and I doubt will even attempt it, but Olivander below may well give it a go. 

This year Olivander has really matured, and grown in size for this season. He has a wider spread of antlers this year too and so he may fancy his chances. I imagine not much will happen in the early stages, but when Albus starts to tire Olivander may try to assert himself as a challenger.

But at the moment... and who my money is on for this year... it is still Albus Dumbledeer. He is certainly making himself known, stamping around, chasing off the younger males and roaring. Side by side he still is a little bigger than Olivander, but watch out next year... they will be more evenly matched then.

If you want to see them strut and roar, now is a good time, and one thing I can;t express over this blog is the smell! A real strong musty scent that the males cover themselves in this time of year, it really hits you out by the paddock. I wouldn't say it's particularly pleasant, but well worth experiencing.

As for actual locking of antlers... if that occurs, I will try and get some pictures and of course let you know to come and see for yourself.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

September 2016: Photo of the Month

"Stray light over Red Fox" by Matthew Cattell

A lot of good images shared this past month, and a lot of fun ones too... but 1 in particular caught my eye.

This photo of Flo the fox, taken by Matt Cattell, has a lot of atmosphere to it. It is difficult to catch Flo at the best of times, as she is constantly on the move, but not only has Matt done this he has also managed to get some eye contact. What really stands out though is the lighting. Beautiful dappled light on her body really adds something to the image, and the shadows in the background really make Flo stand out. Nice one Matt!

Matt's image will be in our coffee shop gallery next year, alongside the other months picks, and be in with the chance of winning a photo day here at the Centre.

"Polecats" by Routemaster on Twitter

This is  a great fun photo that was posted to our twitter feed. Oriel, our female polecat, almost looking pleadingly at the camera to help here out with her 6 boisterous kits... all seen behind her.

"Badger" by Rosalind Gray

Another fun one from flickr... Toby, with out a care in the world, having an afternoon scratch in the sun.

'Wild Roe Deer" by Ken Noble
And take a look at this photo by Ken! Ken is a local bird watcher, who keeps a tab on all the sightings on our nature reserve. He sent me in this great photo of a wild Roe buck who we frequently see out there with a doe.

Look forwards to seeing more photos of the coming month.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Polecat Update

Do you remember these?.. Lots of polecat babies bred by Cassie and Billy. I haven't got any recent photos, as they are now preparing for collection by the breeding group, but along with Whitstable and Oriel's youngsters we have 12 kits ready to move on to pastures new.

All our kits are now off-display, so you can no longer see them if you visit the Centre. But you can still see our adult polecats.

Oriel, above, is very much enjoying her life now with out the kitts around. She if  make the keepers lives easier too, with no babies to protect she is a lot less bitey!

Whitstable is as laid back as ever, but it won't be long now until we introduce him back in to our main enclosure with Oriel. They can the settle over the winter, before hopefully having more kitts next season.

Billy and Cassie, well... Just Cassie really... is a bit more temperamental. We will have to introduce them together a little bit slower, but they should both be on display by October half term.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Harvest Mice on Countryfile

Our harvest mice have been very successful this year, and so we have been able to continue our releases out on to our nature reserve. Having spotted more frequent activity on my morning walks with Bess around the boardwalk area, we decided to release this years mice a little further in to the reserve to encourage the spread throughout our land and hopefully connect up with previous litters we have released. 

Our releases have been such a success that they even caught the eye of the Countryfile team. They have filmed a piece on the work the Surrey Wildlife Trust do with monitoring harvest mice in the wild, but unfortunately were unable to find any mice in the lead up to filming. Therefore they sent Anita Rani to see us to actually see a mouse, and talk about the work we do here.

We filmed a short sequence on how we converted 26 acres of redundant farmland in to a nature reserve of a mosaic of habitats, and how introducing our harvest mice is not only good for bio-diversity but also as a indicator species for the habitat itself and how successful it is for wildlife.

All good news of course, and means one of our harvest mice gets to be a TV star!... (but not Barry, sorry Steve).

Of all the mice we release, only a small percentage will survive, but that is what is expected with a survival rate in the wild of only around 5% Unfortunately for the harvest mouse, one of their main roles is to be at the lower end of the food chain... but it is there presence, along with other mice and voles, that attracts in the stoats, weasels, barn owls, kestrels and many other predators that we see on our reserve.

If you want to see our mice on Countryfile, I believe it will be aired on the 2nd of October, but will let you know if that changes.