Sunday, 5 August 2012

Fondue and Foxes

Sadly lacking in holidays away this year, P and I were lucky enough to be invited to stay with friends in Kent this weekend.

So leaving The Bear to his comfy cushion and occasional cat-carer, we set off, passing through pounding rain to arrive in Canterbury to blue skies and sunshine.

We spent the afternoon in the seaside town of Whitstable, famous for its oysters, and with plenty of places to buy them along the Harbour front. I enjoyed browsing the varied market stalls, with its produce ranging from freshly caught seafood to home-grown art. I loved the planting troughs that are fixed along many of the back walls of the seafront properties, full of alpine plants and mixed grasses. And I was intrigued by the many tiny alleys that run from the seafront to the road, with their descriptive names such as Squeeze Gut Alley and Coastguard's Alley.

After a vastly satisfying fondue dinner I retired to bed, where I slept the peaceful sleep of one on holiday, soothed by the cool breeze from the open window, and barely waking until mid-morning.

A relaxed Sunday breakfast set the tone for the day, and we decided to visit Wildwood, a wildlife park for British native animals (past and present), focusing on conservation, rescue, breeding programmes for threatened species, and green initiatives.

It was pleasant to amble along the tree-lined paths, learning about the different species and seeking out the animals in their enclosures.

The habitats here seem well thought out. Large enough for the animals to live in as naturally as captivity allows, but with viewing windows and platforms that enable visitors to actually see the animal. The smaller animals even have peep-holes in their sleeping quarters, allowing me to discover just how heart-melting a snoring polecat or a dreaming badger can be! The habitats are enriched with hidey-holes, climbing facilities, toys and fun items appropriate for each species, and many have runs connecting up several different enclosures to allow the animals more room to live and explore. The only enclosures I felt doubtful about were those of the owls, which didn't seem to have much horizontal flight space. But this is always going to be problematic for birds in captivity, and these enclosures are large compared to those in many other zoos and parks.

The animals at Wildwood range from insect to reptile, mammal and bird, and include species now extinct in Britain, such as lynx and wolves, both of which I saw up close for the first time today. There is a breeding wolf pack at the park, but also (separately) two adult wolves that were hand-reared after they were rescued from a flooded den. We listened to a talk on these hand-reared wolves, and watched them interacting with a keeper (from outside of their enclosure, never from inside!), and with each other, which involved a lot of snarling and posturing over food. It really is remarkable to watch such wildlife moments up close, and to get a feel for these animals, both as individuals, and as part of a species that is both mythologised and demonised.

Containing only British species, and therefore smaller than many zoos, Wildwood still provides several hours of interest from its animals, and extra for children, with its adventure playground and 'animal encounters' area. From an educational perspective, what Wildwood does is invaluable, imparting learning, as well as creating empathy for the plight of our British wildlife. And if you just have to take a wolf or fox home with you, you can buy one in the gift shop (I didn't!).

Late afternoon we headed back home, back into the rain, to be greeted enthusiastically by The Bear, who always misses us, and gives us much affection on our return. I told him that we saw wolves, but he didn't seem impressed.

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