Martyn Coote broadcasts from Whipsnade
Not just a wildlife park, we take a look at the diversity of the native wildlife of Whipsnade, including the plants, mammals, insects and birds that inhabit the 600 acres of woods and chalk grassland of this unique facility.
Whipsnade Zoo, which comes under the umbrella of the Zoological Society of London and is a sister collection to London Zoo in Regents Park, was opened on the chalk downland near Dunstable in Bedfordshire on 3rd May 1931 – a ground-breaking project designed to allow the animals space and relative freedom, something almost unheard of at that time. Since those days Whipsnade has enjoyed a great deal of conservation and breeding success with endangered animals like cheetah and rhinos.
Local wildlife expert Dennis Furnell and Martyn Coote visited Whipsnade Wild Animal to look at the diversity of the free-living native wildlife, including the plants, mammals, insects and birds that inhabit the 600 acres of woods and chalk grassland of this unique facility.
For instance, the swallows in the roof of the rhino house! Usually in Britain, swallows nest in cow byres and barns but, after all, these insect-eating birds have migrated from Africa to breed here, so perhaps it’s not all that odd for them to choose to nest in the Rhino House.
The swallows, together with house-martins, sand-martins and swifts, spend the summer nesting and feeding on the small day-flying insects that throng the park; and at night, when the visitors have gone home and the wolves in Wolf Wood howl at the moon, the bats take advantage of the night-flying insects attracted by the animals and the ponds, lakes and pools that abound all over the site. Bats are in decline over much of Britain because of habitat loss, toxic building products and agro-chemicals that disturb their breeding patterns and sometimes kill adults and young. The bats at Whipsnade have not been studied in any depth, but several bat-friendly members of staff have built habitats for them, including a huge bat wintering roost or Hibernaculum.
And then there are the butterfly and wild orchid species that inhabit the chalk downland. While Dennis and Martyn stood braving the wind just above Bison Hill (a short walk past the Penguin Pool) a group of entomologists from a charitable organisation called “Buglife” were out with their nets doing their best to catch and identify the insects that were sheltering down among the wild grasses and flowering plants.
Why not pay a visit yourself to this unique “on our doorstep” Wildlife Park to see more wildlife, both native and exotic.
last updated: 04/04/2008 at 13:58