Thursday, 31 December 2020

December Update


Deja vu!.. Last months update was the second in a row where we tried to welcome you back to the Centre, and then days later are unable to due to new restrictions put in place. We spent one day in tier 3, before going in to tier 4 and having to close our doors again. Then a few days later on Christmas Eve, despite still being in tier 4, we were told we were able to open again to the public. Crazy times, but we will get through it. Despite this the Centre has decided to remain closed for January, here is our official statement from our website...

Following the Government’s 19th December announcement, the region is now in Tier 4. Sadly, we have had to close the British Wildlife Centre with effect from Sunday 20th December. All those that had pre-booked tickets have been provided with complimentary tickets for a future visit.

Though the Government have recently made an allowance for some outdoor attractions, we feel that the high rise in Covid cases presents too much of a risk. Therefore, we have made the decision to remain closed in order to safeguard our visitors, staff and the wider community.

Of course we are still here looking after the animals and getting jobs done. Over the past month we finally found the time to sex and microchip our wildcat kittens so that they could be added to the studbook and breeding programme for Scottish Wildcats. Would you believe it... all females! 

Normally each Spring we add a new young family of water voles to our display island. Last year they were great, but no one saw them as we were in lockdown. When we eventually came out they turned quite shy very quick. In anticipation of our winter opening we decided to put a new young group out a little earlier, but alas we are now closed again. They have been doing well, and hopefully will be active when we welcome visitors back to the Centre.

Our red squirrels always look great this time of year with their winter coats with thick fur, bushy tails and striking ear tufts. We experimented a little with the way we do our keeper talk over the summer with a feeding log in the middle of the Copse. It allowed far more people to get a good view with out crowding, and they still come close to visitors outside of the talk when running along the hand rails. With this in mind we are making it a permanent change, and so have changed the small log to a more substantial feeding platform. 

The most recent job before Christmas was to repair and reconnect the pine marten run system where it had been taken down to allow the two oldest pens to be re built. Now all back up and running, we will be able to use them next year to hopefully introduce our martens together for the breeding season. 

As mentioned above in our official statement, we will be remaining closed for January, but hope to be able to welcome you back soon after. Until then stay safe.

Monday, 30 November 2020

November Update

Well, my October update was short lived... not long after posting it, and inviting pre booked visits and our new Winter photographic days, we get plunged in to a second lockdown for four weeks! Hey ho, it's all about the red squirrels though, and our red squirrels are doing great :-)

Usually the "quieter" Winter months when we have a few less bookings than usual are when we utilise that extra time to get on top of some of the jobs that would be trickier to do when we are busy, or have more people visiting. These tend to be the jobs such as trimming back the trees, any major repairs and just generally freshening up the enclosures. 

Second lockdown has meant reduced staff for us to keep funds down and ensure we are still here at the end of it, but unlike the first lockdown when it was just myself and one other each day... the shorter days and extra tasks this time around allowed us to keep all keeping staff on board, albeit on reduced hours. Boy have we been busy!

Lots of tidying has been done all around the Centre, but it is the main enclosures that will be noticed the most. Branches and trees cleared from the otters, to carry on with rush removal of earlier in the Autumn. More recently we finished a bit of a change with the pine martens, including new branches and bark chip for them to explore. 

Just today we made a start on our wildcats hopefully to be finished, or at least nearly there, by our weekend opening. Still much more to do before the year end and over the first month or so of next year, but we usually manage it before the days begin to pack out February onward with groups and tours. 

On the animal front, the biggest news is perhaps our Roe buck casting his antlers. Unlike our other native deer, the red deer, who cast theirs in the Spring. Roe deer cast and regrow theirs over the Winter months. We have also had a late litter of water vole pups. All fit and healthy, but not the best time of year for a release. We will keep them over winter until better weather, and more pups are about, for a better chance of a more successful release next year. 

Let's try again shall we!.. Coming out of lockdown this week, we will be open to the public again from the weekend. Pre-booked online only, so take a look on our website to see how to do that. Tours and groups scheduled will still be taking place, and any that had to be cancelled I am sure the office have already... or will be shortly... contacting you about re booking. 

Take care and stay safe everyone. 

Saturday, 31 October 2020

October Update

Our otter cubs born a year a go have now both moved on to new adventures. Last year Dave and Nicole where born here at the end of the October half term to mum Emmy. They have stayed with mum and dad in our main enclosure until about two weeks ago where we caught them up and sent them off to their new homes. 

Dave, now named Maxwell, has gone to the UK Wild Otter Trust based in the South West to a luxurious enclosure to help promote the great work they do there for otter conservation and education. His sister won't be too far away, Nicole has moved to the West Country Wildlife Photographic Centre.

At the beginning of the month our polecat kits born here this year were collected by Ferret Rescue Surrey for release. They had been a lot of fun on display, and after a short period off display to get them used to looking after themselves they have now all gone off to be released. 

This gave us space to move one of our breeding pairs back on to display. We thought we would try our newer young breeding pair out there to see how they settle on view. So far they have been great, so you can now see Paul(cat) and Paula(cat) at the other end of the Centre next to our mink. 

A dormouse check and count confirmed we were as successful as we thought we where this year, with 19 pups born from two pairs... two litters each. These won't be going for release just yet with Winter now creeping up fast, but will be ready for release next year as part of the joint conservation programme with the Common Dormouse Captive Breeders Group and the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species. 

Unfortunately, with covid restrictions in place, we haven't been able to open our nocturnal house for you over the summer to see our dormice and bats. But we would of been closing it this time of year anyway. They have now all gone in to hibernation. Hopefully when they wake next year we will be able to open the nocturnal house too for you all to see them. 

Our other hibernating mammal is the hedgehog, and they too have begun to think about sleeping for the winter. Around half of ours are already and I am sure it won't be long till the others are too. With this in mind, as in previous years, our keeper talks change slightly. Hedgehogs will no longer feature as a talk until they wake again next spring. 

The shorter days and darker afternoons means we close a little earlier too. After tomorrow our last talk will be the owl display at 3pm, before closing at 4pm for our winter season.

With all these animal going or hiding away, it's nice to know we have some that are new. Currently off display is a new weasel, Woodrow, who came to us from a rescue centre too tame to be released. Hopefully soon we will have him on display, and you will certainly know about it. He is very vocal!

New for this year, for the quieter months with shorter days, the Centre is offering "Winter Photographic Days" These days will only be an hour shorter than our usual days, but for a much reduced price. Hedgehogs and badgers won't be on the schedule, but all the others will be as per a normal photo day and the same access to enclosures etc will be there.

The day will be an hour shorter due to the daylight hours, and cheaper due to the less reliable weather. But I can say that our animals will be just as reliable, no matter the weather, and with them all being in their winter coats, looking at their best. The softer even light and smaller group size may even appeal to many of you.

Remember, if you want to come and see us, we are currently pre-booking only via our website. You can also find out more about our winter photo days there and private "bubble" tours if you are looking for something a little more exclusive over December and January. 

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

September Update


This past month we have been adapting the way in which we work to allow groups to still come and visit us. Our photographic days have been extremely popular, and we have even had a couple of schools and private groups come to see us all in line with our restrictions and the regulations, and of course we are still open to the public at weekends to pre booked online tickets.

Before lockdown earlier in the year, we had just had two new pine marten enclosures built. They remained vacant for most of the summer while we were short staffed and still catching up with things, but this past month we finally managed to move our new martens on to display. An older male called Columbo is in one, and a young spritely female called Lyra in the other. Both are in the Dell, and almost certainly if you see one it will be Lyra. 

She is pictured in the above two photographs and is settling in extremely well.

Our red squirrels have been very active recently, and are beginning to grow through their ear tufts for the winter. 

It's that time of year once again when we need to use the extra time we have with less groups to do any of the bigger enclosure tidying jobs. The main thing with the squirrels is to keep the tree line back from the surrounding fence, and we have made a start on this.

As well as our two mothers and kittens on display, we have another pair in the end enclosure. They are both extremely shy, but do occasionally come out at the end of the day for a few late stragglers to see. They are stunning cats though, so we thought we best introduce them to those who haven't seen them yet. 

Above is Atticus. He is a very handsome cat who came to us from the West Country Wildlife Photographic Centre. Very rarely seen, but when he is it is usually in the back right corner of the enclosure where he tends to venture out later int he afternoon... waiting until it is quieter to come down to find his food. 

And this stunning cat is Agnes... Beautiful! She has the greenest eyes I have ever seen on a wildcat! Another shy one, but she is slowly getting bolder and usually spotted on the platform in the centre of the pen or one of the logs at the front. 

Agnes is beginning to come out for food when the keepers are in with them now, and building her confidence. We hope that she and Atticus may well breed next year for more kittens.

Talking of kittens, I guess you can never have too many updates on them! There is no doubt that they have been the most popular thing at the Centre over the summer, and they continue to be a draw despite how fast they are growing. 

Above is one of Kendra's kittens, while below is one of Hilda's.

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Wildcat Kitten Update

We have had to adapt our photographic days slightly since re-opening to comply with new guidelines/restrictions and to keep everyone, photographers and staff, safe. All the same great opportunities are there for you to take some fantastic photos, just in smaller group sizes. 

We still take photographers in to all the same enclosures, and all the animals have been as brilliant as usual, but there is no doubt that the real stars have been our wildcat kittens!

There are a lot of visitors photos of our kittens up on the interweb on various social sites etc. I hadn't had the chance to take many recent photos of them myself, but looking through the many than had been shared, I had to make time to spend with them one evening last week. 

They are growing fast, but still look very kitten like. Kind of going in to that leggy stage. Hilda's two kittens, who are slightly younger, seem to be a little shyer but still do venture out most of the time. Kendra's two however are as bold as anything. Often meeting us by the door as we enter the enclsoure now. 

Their favourite spot seems to be under the gorse on the right hand side of the enclosure, and if you visit you will see the flattened grass where they they rolled around and played on. 

Hilda's prefer to stay a little further back, and enjoy the large logs that stretch through the middle of the pen. 

This is one of Hilda's above, she certainly knows she's a looker posing like that :-) 

We will keep the kittens on display up to the end of the year, so still lots of chances to see them grow and mature over the following weeks. Then early next year we will have to start thinking about moving them off display before they move to their new homes, to allow the parents to hopefully breed again. 

If you want to see them, they are often active throughout the day now, and our wildcat keeper talk times are still 11.30am and 2.00pm.

Saturday, 22 August 2020

Baby Snakes

Adderlings! OK, baby adders or "neonates". But I prefer to call them adderlings. 

Aren't they beautiful! Stunning little miniatures of their adult form... Bellatrix, our female, mated earlier this year after the boys showed off with their dancing and last weekend she gave birth. Unlike many snakes, adders don't lay eggs but give birth to live young... or to get a bit complicated, they appear to give birth to live young but in fact they develop inside the female in little egg sacs which usually erupt just before or while giving birth. 

Female adders usually have around double figures of young, and we have seen eight at once so far... so a good litter. 

Daddy's little girl!.. This gives you the scale (get it, scale :-) ) of how big the adderlings are when first born. This is a one day old adderling basking next to one of our males. 

They are full independent from the moment they are born. The father, and even the mother, has nothing to do with them once they are out in the real world. The adder is our only native venomous snake in this country, and even from day one they can administer a venomous bite. 

But look at her... butter wouldn't melt!

They do have a bad reputation, or a misunderstanding is perhaps a better way of putting it. Adders are very docile animals, and will usually be long gone before you see them out in the wild. Much rather slinking away than to be near us. Usually they would only bite if someone tried to handle them when they didn't want to be, or they where accidentally stepped on... but then wouldn't most wild animals do this!

In the extremely unlikely event that you were bitten by an adder, then you would likely just get a painful swelling and feel a little sick/unwell for a few days... That being said, if you do get bitten by an adder, it is always best to seek medical advice just in case you react badly to it and require some extra care or treatment. 

Oh, they are stunning little snakes though. I spent an hour in with them the morning after they were born and before we opened to the public. We had about 5 adderlings basking on the logs, and when I jumped in the adults all stayed but the youngsters slinked off. 

Sneaking up to the log pile, and hanging around for twenty minutes they slowly begun to crawl back to bask. One even had a slight altercation with a spider, I'm not sure who was more surprised than the other, but fun to watch. 

If we are talking about baby snakes, we have to mention our grass snakes! 

We had about 100 eggs in there or so, and about 60 odd have hatched. Take that all those that say they have never seen our grass snakes! :-)

They are much shyer than our adders, but the grass snakelings (hmm, that doesn't quite work as well) our little grass snake neonates are great and some lucky visitors have seen them exploring their compost and swimming across their ponds. 

They are pretty cute too aren't they!.. Maybe not so much as the adders, but still something about them. Completely harmless too. 

They are a little older, a couple of weeks or so now, but similar in size to our adderlings so pretty difficult to spot. When curled up our little neonates of both types are not much larger than the size of a fifty pence piece.

If you are visiting soon, just spend a little time up by the snake enclosures, and with a little patience hopefully you will get to see these stunning little strikers. 

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Wildcat Kittens

It's been a strange year, a difficult few months, but finally we seem to be getting a little bit back to normality. We have been open to the public again, pre booking only, for the last month and it has been great to see many of you back here to share our wonderful wildlife with and to just give the Centre a "buzz" to the atmosphere. 

Blog posts have been absent while we have been working short staffed to keep things moving, but hopefully the office have been keeping you all up to date with the animal news via our social media pages. We have some new arrivals I will introduce you to soon, lots of babies, but perhaps most popular of all at the moment are our two litters of wildcat kittens!

Kendra, out experienced mum, gave birth seven and a half weeks a go now to two wildcat kittens. Both strong and healthy. They have been putting on a good show, coming out post days and playing near the back of the enclosure. 

Then a couple of weeks later Hilda, one of our newest wildcats, gave birth to her first litter. She has also had two strong, healthy kittens, and they are the ones pictured here in this post. 

Don't they look adorable? They have been spotted out a couple of times in the last week by visitors, and will get bolder by the day. One morning when heading in to work early I spotted them out on the log with mum, so dashed back to get my camera and took a few photos. 

This photo may look similar to the one above of the single kitten, but the pose is coincidental... this is of the other kitten. One photo of each. 

Look how amazingly blue their eyes are!.. Kittens always have brilliant blue eyes when first born, slowly changing to the greener eyes of adult hood, but this litter has the bluest eyes I have ever seen in a wildcat kitten. Stunning! 

Keep your eyes on the first two wildcat enclosures if you do decide to visit, the first pen has Hilda and her kittens in it and the second Kendra and her two kittens.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Water Voles

Our new display family of water voles have been out on the island for about 2 months now, and have settled in extremely well. Some may think this is due to the lockdown we are currently in, and no visitors being here... and maybe that has helped a little, but to be honest our water voles normally settle fairly quickly once they are out on the island. It is a very large, natural enclosure for them and so plenty of space to hide if they so wish. 

I took the photo at the top of Walter, one of our male voles, a few days a go. It was a quick snap and go while he was eating breakfast and I was doing routines, but it made me think I must spend a bit of time with them and my camera. Yesterday morning was that time!.. I had a few minutes, so spent ten of them in around the island with my camera. The voles are active on and off through out the day, but usually have a peak around 10am. That's when I was there. 

I managed to see all five... Walt, Skyler, Saul, Gus and Jessie. All looking good and healthy. They do eat what we offer them, but can also munch away on pretty much everything in their natural enclosure so would likely survive even if we didn't offer any extra food. They would miss their apple treat every morning though. 

If all out together I could probably tell them apart, but would be trickier to do so one at a time... except for Walter and Skyler who are a bit more obvious. Mainly you can tell by behaviour though. Some are bolder than others, some use different track to the others, some prefer different feed stations etc. 

For example, this little one above is one of the youngsters. A female called Jessie. Very shy compared to her siblings, and often just playing peek-a-boo out from one of the holes in the main island... waiting for you to not look before she makes a quick dash to one of the feed islands.

Having the 'moat' around the main island allows our water voles to swim naturally as they would in the wild, and deep enough for them to dive and swim below surface if they wish to. Again they show different personalities when swimming. Some more relaxed than others, some preferring under water to above, and some freezing in place when spotted while others dash off, dive under or just carry on unbothered.

If you sit still, even if only for ten minutes, you get to see a lot of action... and quite possibly even all five voles. The way they move around and keep popping up from different tunnels though, you may well think there are more than that in there.

We also have some frogs in there. A few common frogs, and some marsh and even pool frogs too.

Once restrictions are lifted, and you are able to come and visit again, it will be well worth spending a bit of time by our water voles. Even if only for ten minutes, as I did here, you will get to see plenty of behaviour. Best time will likely be shortly after we open in the morning... around 10am for the first hour or so.