Sunday, 30 December 2007

Chestnut Centre & the New Forest Otters and Owls

Today my father, partner and I went to the Chestnut Centre, a conservation and wildlife park located within the Peak District National Park, in Derbyshire. The Chestnut Centre is set in the grounds of Ford Hall, and much of it still comprises the original deer park.

The centre is home to a number of British mammals and owls, as well as some foreign species, including what had to be the highlight of the day - a giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) from South America. I had previously thought that giant otters looked ugly whenever I had seen a picture, but it turns out that they are lovely animals. They have shorter and darker fur than the otters I'm used to (Eurasian, North American River and Asian Short-Claw), but have a wonderful personality. Manoki the male otter at the chestnut centre was extremely vocal and happy to squeal or chatter to the visitors. Well worth a visit.

The Chestnut Centre has been open since 1984 and yet none of my family (all from the North West) had heard of it until Ian and I went to their partner centre in the New Forest.

The two places have similar species, but being set in different National Parks have very different scenery. The Chestnut Centre has a lovely stream/river running through it, which runs past the Eurasian and Asian otter pens and actually through the pen of the giant otter. As one would expect the New Forest Centre is much more wooded, but also seemed to have more enclosures. Of particular interest is a large indoor section, which houses some of Britains smaller mammals, including stoats, harvest mice, hedgehogs etc. It also has (I think) all but one species of British deer (sika, fallow, roe, red and muntjac), wild boar, mink and probably a couple of other extra animals.

I recommend both places to anyone interested in seeing British mammals. The chances of seeing a Scottish wildcat, pine marten, European otter etc in the wild being so small they give you a great opportunity to see these less familiar species close up.

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