A quick scower of the web led me to the British Wildlife Centre which, I’ll be frank, puzzled me. For such an official sounding name, I was surprised to never have heard of it. Furthermore, no one else I spoke to had heard of it either, so I suppose I really wasn’t expecting much (how wrong I was!).
We grabbed a gorgeous pub lunch beforehand at The Blacksmith’s Head which is just down the road from the centre. Really great food and a beautifully kept beer garden.
Turning into the car park we were welcomed by this… abomination of a statue. ‘Snuffles’ is a 7ft hedgehog and is truly terrifying up close. Apparently a gift from UKTV, he guards the entrance to the wildlife centre.
Refusing to be put off by this monstrous creation, we paid for our tickets and went to look at some 100% British animals. First up were an assortment of rats who had an elaborate maze of an enclosure that went all around the room with overhead pipes, nest boxes, sympathetically designed ‘ship-like’ areas and more.
Rather ominously, all the rodents were under the same hedgerow area as the foxes (different enclosures, don’t worry!) Flo is an orphan fox that was rescued by the centre and although sleepy, was keeping a watchful eye on the goings on outside.
And the rabbits. This one had squashed his way into the burrow, sulking away from the fresh food its friend was enjoying.
Although it was spitting slightly, we ventured outside. A lot of the animals have cages running above their enclosures that allow them to get higher than the visitors if they wish. This makes them feel more comfortable (i.e. more vigilant) and ensures they get enough exercise. This grey squirrel was having a great time watching everyone.
The British Wildlife Centre’s pride and joy is probably the walkthrough red squirrel enclosure! Red squirrels are endangered in the UK (or at the very least not doing so great) with the only significant numbers found in Scotland and on the Isle of Wight. Their numbers began to fall after the introduction of the Grey Squirrel from North America – their larger and hungrier cousins – but also due to deforestation of their native woodland thanks to the Industrial Revolution.
Any entrances to the massive enclosure are through two sets of doors, the tops of which are slightly electrified, to prevent any kind of gymnastic escapes which could lead to the squirrels starving to death, being eaten by actual wild animals, hit by a car, or cuddled to death by members of the public for being too cute.
All their food is kept away from the birds by putting it on raised tables and covering it in a mesh cage. The squirrels can get in through a hole in the bottom. It’s like a tiny tree house!
The enclosure is also home to three or four Reeve’s Muntjac deer who roam underneath the visitor boardwalk.
They’re pretty cute too but I don’t think anything could compete with the red squirrels.
Out the other side of the enclosure and we came to the stoats and weasels and I may have spoken too soon about the unparalleled cuteness of red squirrels because have you ever seen a weasel?!
Actually, I’ll be honest. Even when weasels are right in front of you they’re hard to see. And even harder to photograph. I wasted probably around 50 shots trying to get a photo of this little guy in focus and just when he had stopped moving…
Pop goes the weasel.
My persistence paid off, however. Look at that little face!
The stoat was thankfully a little better behaved.
Weasels and stoats are part of the same family as the polecats who were just opposite and were also very cute…
Just, everything was cute, okay?! The UK needs to be renamed the United Cutedom.
We were just in time for the badger talk which coincided with their feeding time.
I had never seen a badger before this day! Badgers are actually the UK’s largest carnivorous animal if you can believe it. We no longer have wolves or lynxes (although there is some consideration about whether to reintroduce the lynx) and the badger is the next largest meat eater. Their diet is mostly insects and small rodents like voles and mice mixed with cereals.
They have been known to eat hedgehogs but they tend to be a last resort for food when they’re truly starving. Sadly most badgers actually die from becoming road kill, along with hedgehogs, foxes and basically any other animal you can think of.
We were told how to spot setts in woodland while the two badgers dug into their lunch, giving us a splendid view of their butts.
Next up were the Scottish wildcats who absolutely refused to look at me.
We then moved around to see the pine martens. I was pretty excited to see these guys as one of them features in my all time favourite book series, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. They were a lot bigger than I had imagined. They’re related to ferrets and I had imagined them to be around the same size but pine martens are actually somewhere between a cat and a fox.
Beyond the pine martens were the owls who were looking pretty grumpy, probably on account of the many loud children who had decided to visit them. The little owl was ready to murder.
And the snowy owl had had it up to here.
The screech owl was proving its namesake by screaming back at the children.
The eagle owl had lost the will to live.
The buzzard, although further away and not an owl, was looking just as grumpy.
The barn owl was the only one who looked vaguely content. It was quite happy to sit prettily for me and my camera unlike the rest.
No sign of the otters so after a (rainy) walk along the wetlands area, last but not least were the deer herds. The British Wildlife Centre has red deer and fallow deer that graze in a field just north of the centre and you can see them from a boardwalk that juts out into the field.
I did some snooping on the BWC blog and found out that the two male red deer are called Albus Dumbledeer and Olivandeer!
The fallow deer fawns were wisely keeping their distance from those huge antlers.
Walking back to the car park (via the gift shop, naturally), we passed the outdoor portion of the fox enclosure. This little guy was looking a little worse for wear! The centre does take in rescues so I wouldn’t be surprised if this fox was in recovery.
I had a genuinely lovely time at the British Wildlife Centre! I honestly feel like I would have begged my mum to take us every weekend had I known of its existence when I was a kid. It’s a perfect day trip from London and is a great excuse to get into the countryside.