Shy mammals take a walk on the wild side

British animals get a bad press, says Tom Pullar-Strecker, but a new zoo may change that

If you go down to the woods today you do have more of a chance of spotting a water vole, black rat or pine marten than of chancing across a teddy bears' picnic; but your best bet might be a zoo in the New Forest displaying Britain's native mammalian species.

On show at the Nature Quest zoo in Longdown in the New Forest are wild boar, foxes, badgers, wallabies and a wide range of assorted rodents. Wallabies, while not native, are naturalised: they have, apparently, been happily hopping about in Derbyshire since the turn of the century.

Visiting the New Forest to watch British animals in captivity may seem anathema to some, and downright boring to others. But while British wildlife may seem mundane compared with its more exotic counterparts in mainstream zoos, it certainly isn't a case of familiarity breeding contempt. The British wild cat, for instance, has been reduced to just a few thousand specimens in Scotland as a result of cross-breeding with domestic cats and exposure to domestic cat diseases.

Derek Gow, the curator of the zoo, insists poor presentation is entirely to blame for the bad press that domestic animals get. "In the main when you consider British mammals you're looking at a ubiquitously shy, retiring group of mainly nocturnal species, not large showy, gaudy African-plains- type animals. But people can go all over the country and see lions, tigers and elephants and there is virtually nowhere in the British Isles you can go to see a water vole."

The company that runs Nature Quest, Vardon plc, has done what it can to simulate the experience of a chance encounter with nature in the wild by displaying animals in miniature re-creations of both man-made and natural habitats. Brown rats scuttle around a fake garage complete with a rusty car, while ferrets loll about in a simulated paddock.

Viewing of the animals - often through video links and one-way glass screens - is relatively non-intrusive and the stress of captivity is reduced by rotating groups of animals between public displays and private off-display enclosures. Nature Quest hopes to secure planning permission for a board-walk over spacious fenced enclosures in the woodlands surrounding the zoo, which will house low-density populations of wild boar, deer, red squirrels and wild cats.

Derek Gow explains, "People should stretch, stoop and strain. If the animal is just sitting like a blob in a concrete box then we have failed with the concept."

Initial reaction from Nature Quest visitors seems to bear out the hypothesis. Steve Chilcraft, a visitor from Milton Keynes who admits his usual encounters with nature are limited to "an occasional glimpse of a fox at the top of the garden" says: "It is much more adventurously done than most wildlife displays. They have made British animals interesting."

Although it is a commercial venture, Nature Quest is forging links with conservation groups and universities with the aim of providing both the stock and the know-how to help re-introduce some species into the wild. Derek Gow cautions: "The New Forest is an interesting woodland and there is a whole range of vertebrate life that is connected with the forest because of its age, and if you go back 500 years you would have found wild cats, wild boar and pole cats. But the heavy grazing regime that it is subjected to obviously influences fairly radically the variety of wildlife habitats. I doubt you'll ever see wild boar again in this country because we don't have large enough forest areas to maintain self-sustaining populations." Wild cats? "Maybe not in the New Forest, but in England ultimately, yes."

It is in gaining expertise in animal husbandry while breeding animals destined for elsewhere that Mr Gow believes the future lies: "Lots of people jump up and down shouting for the re-introduction of a whole variety of species but the reality is that it has to be a calm, precise, scientifically methodical project to have any reasonable chance of success.

"If you want to re-introduce water voles, you want to introduce hundreds of them and really blitz a site, and when we have an animal with a problem we have to know something about it," he argues. "Otherwise you end up with a situation like the Mauritius kestrel in Jersey which got down in number to five pairs. What do you do? Bring them into captivity for breeding? But what if they die? You've blown it."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems Analyst (Technical, UML, UI)

£30000 - £40000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Cost Reporting-MI Packs-Edinburgh-Bank-£350/day

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Cost Reporting Manager - MI Packs -...

Senior Private Client Solicitor - Gloucestershire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - We are makin...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Support Developer

£50000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A unique and rare opport...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn