Leg climbing red squirrels. And more

By | Category: Travel destinations

A red squirrel getting dangerously close!

Little animals with big, appealing eyes always seem to score well for day trippers but that normally means visiting a zoo or a children’s farm. But there are opportunities to get close to animals in the wild and one such place where you can do that is at the British Wildlife Centre near Lingfield in Surrey.
In just sixteen years, the centre has become a big attraction not just amongst locals but from those further afield since it is only a few miles south of the M25 making it a quicker drive than if you were on single carriage roads.
Let me start with red squirrels. There aren’t many places in England where these can be seen yet alone having them climb on you but they will here at the Centre. In one corner of the grounds next to the busy A22, there is secure area where they are bred and returned to the wild. But at 10.30 each day, there is a talk by the keepers which usually coincides with feeding time. Out they come to the feeding boxes but they will run along the raised walk, peek into bags, clamber up legs and pose for cameras. When I went there for the first time last August this was one of the big attractions for some overseas visitors I took.They couldn’t believe how close they came. Returning this month with more visitors, I wasn’t so lucky in that only one or two were spotted. Because of the appeal of seeing squirrels people turn up with serious camera equipment suggesting you need strong muscles to carry the kit! Special camera days occur when the centre is closed and that includes entry to some of the enclosures. These days are restricted to just amateurs.
From programmes like Springwatch (currently to be seen on BBC2) otters have become a firm favourite with people. Here you can see them frolicking in their pools and boarding the banks at feeding time. But get there about five minutes before the keeper turns up because this area can get crowded on peak days such as bank holidays. It is hard not to just sit and watch them for as long as you can see them as their antics in playing with their food, darting around the water where all you follow are rows of bubbles, the upraised head as it stares at you (who is watching whom?) and the balletic twists and turns.
Appealing as these are the other favourites with my visitors were the polecats, weasels and stoats. In large cages these animals also had long runs placed well above our heads as we walked around and my, didn’t they use them. With a lolling gait they would tear up and down these runs making it difficult to photograph them. How un-obliging! Didn’t they realise they were supposed to pose? Needless to say, my visitors bought fluffy toys of these animals in the shop before we departed.
Those of us in urban areas probably see more foxes than people in the countryside. But that still doesn’t mean we don’t want to see them in all their glory as they come to be feed when that keeper talk occurs. It is a fact that foxes largely live for between 18 months and three years in towns. Here they live to the ages of dogs.
From 10.30 in the morning until 4pm there is a keeper talk every half hour. Some are repeated such as those about foxes, otters and wildcats so it is easy – I have done so – to spend nearly the whole day there. Some inhabitants such as grass snakes, adders, buzzards, rats and voles don’t have keeper talks. But that doesn’t mean that the keepers won’t talk about them if you can catch them on their rounds.
Do check the website for opening times. They aren’t open every day. Primarily the centre has an educational role and only opened to the public as interest grew. Weekends are usually open from say Easter until October half term. I was planning on going on a Friday and had I not checked in advance, would have been disappointed as they weren’t open. And get there before ten-thirty so as not to miss the red squirrels!
In 2012, this centre won Best Wildlife Centre in the Burgess Wetnose Animal Rescue Awards and deservedly so. Its come a long way in a short time

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