Once native the UK but hunted to extinction around 500AD , the European brown bear is a majestic animal that can weigh up to 350kg and measure up to 2.5m in length from nose to tail.
Brown bears are omnivores (meaning to eat both plants and animals) and are typically found in forested areas where they feed on fruits, roots, vegetation, small and large mammals, fish and invertebrates. Despite eating meat and fish, most of their diet (around 75%) is made up of plant and vegetable matter.
Brown bears are powerfully built with short, thick limbs, a big, heavily built body and a distinct shoulder hump, which is due to the large muscles needed for digging up roots and tubers. Their long straight claws are specially adapted for digging and can measure up to 10cm.
At Wildwood we have 2 brown bears which we rescued in November 2014 from shocking neglect in a disused bear breeding station in Bulgaria (lower picture). The bears were born at the centre and had lived their entire lives in tiny barren concrete cells. They had never experienced anything other than this life, were desperately underweight and displaying signs of serious stress and anxiety. Wildwood’s supporters helped us to raise over £50,000 to rescue the bears and bring them to the park where we are currently rehabilitating the bears and building them a new woodland home where they can experience as natural a life as possible and have the chance to learn and express their natural behaviour.
Beavers are a native British species and the second largest rodent in the world, bigger even than a domestic cat! They have been extinct in this country for centuries. They are easily recognised by their large, flat tails, stocky bodies and rich deep brown fur.
European beavers are larger than their American cousins, but live in smaller family groups. Beavers were hunted to extinction in the UK for their fur, which is incredibly thick to keep them warm in the water. They are entirely vegetarian, and use their sharp teeth to chop down trees and strip away bark and leaves. Some of the trunks of these trees they use to build a dam across a stream, which creates an artificial lake.
They use the deep water in front of the dam to store branches to eat later. The water also protects the beaver from predators; they will build a family beaver lodge in the middle of the lake their dam creates, with an under water entrance.
At Wildwood our beavers have their own den with viewing panes so you can see them without disturbing them. They come out for a swim when they are fed, usually late in the afternoon. Stay very quiet and look for dark ripples and bubbles in the water, it might be a beaver ready to surface.
Badgers are one of our largest wild animals in the UK, about the size of a collie but with short stubby legs and a short tail. They are members of the weasel family (mustelids). They are omnivores, enjoying eating everything from worms and beetles to eggs, fruit and nuts. They are grey with distinctive black and white stripes along their faces and white tips to their round ears. Each badger has slightly different face markings, thought to help them tell each other apart in the dark. They live in large family groups in dens (called "setts") underground, and forage for food at dusk. They are immensely powerful diggers, and have large claws on each foot for this purpose.
You can see the badgers at Wildwood late in the afternoon when they have been fed, or mid day on sunny days in the winter. At other times you can see them curled up together asleep in their den inside.
The European Bison, or Wisent is the largest terrestrial animal in Europe and once roamed from southern Britain as far as Russia but became extinct in the wild in 1927 when the last wild bison was shot and killed.
Standing at up to 2m tall and almost 3m long the bison is the largest animal at Wildwood. Despite their large size and usual slow movements, bison are surprisingly agile and can jump over a 3m stream from a standing position. An adult male can eat an astonishing 32kg of food every day!
Being so large, the Bison are easy to spot in their enclosure, so take a good look around to see this magnificent animal.
Ten times larger than the tiny hazel dormouse which is native to Britain, edible dormice are soft grey with large black eyes and long whiskers, are nocturnal, and spend the winter in hibernation. They were introduced into this country in 1902, and have lived wild in the Chilterns area since, causing problems when they get into human habitation.
Since these creatures are nocturnal and hibernate in winter, you will be unlikely to see the edible dormouse at Wildwood at present.
The Eurasian elk together with its close relative the moose (Alces americanus), is the largest living deer species, and is easily recognised by its humped shoulders, broad, overhanging muzzle, and the pendulous flap of skin and hair which hangs beneath the throat, known as the ‘bell’.
Elk have long legs, a relatively short tail, and wide hooves, which aid in walking over mud or snow . Males are larger than females, and have bony, hornlike antlers which are shed each winter and re-grown through the summer. The antlers of Eurasian elk are the largest of any deer species, spanning up to 2 metres across and weighing as much as 30 kilograms.
Despite their ungainly appearance, elk are remarkably agile and can run silently through dense forests at speeds of up to 35mph. They are also good swimmers and can sustain a speed of up to 6 miles an hour. Elk have relatively poor sight but their hearing and sense of smell are excellent. Their large ears can be rotated 180 degrees and their keen noses can find food below deep snow. Their vision seems to serve them best in detecting moving objects, which is useful for spotting approaching predators.
Elk eat twigs, bark, roots and the shoots of woody plants, especially willows and aspens. In winter, they browse on conifers, eating their needle-like leaves. They require 20kg of food per day but their stomachs, when full, can weigh up to 65kg, it’s no surprise then to discover that elk spend most of their time eating.Adopt an elk today!
The fallow deer is smaller than the red deer at less than a metre to the shoulder, with tan/brown fur and white spots on the flank. The males have branched antlers, which are grown new each year ready for the autumn mating season. The antlers have a broad flat area like the palm of a hand and the number of branches on the antler increases with age.
Fallow deer were introduced to this country by the Normans in the 10th Century, and now live wild in woodland in the UK. They browse on grass, leaves and berries.
You can see them at Wildwood in a large grassy paddock surrounded by trees. The deer are often out in the open, but on very hot or very cold days look for them in amongst the trees where they shelter.
Harvest mice are Britain's smallest rodents, their body is only the size of a 50p piece! At Wildwood you can see them all year in their enclosures in the pentagon shapes enclosure near the restaurant. They are excellent climbers, look for them high up in the stalks of grass, using their pre-hensile tails to hang on. They are active all year round, but are most active at dawn and dusk. The best times to see them are just as the park opens, and later afternoon.
They eat berries, seeds and insects, and are called harvest mice for their habit of building nests in fields of corn, which would be found at harvest time.
They are rarely seen in the wild but their summer breeding nests are easily recognised, being balls of woven living grass built among stalks. The mice themselves are tiny, with golden-brown fur.
The hazel dormouse is one of the most distinctive small mammals native to Britain. It is easily recognised by its furry tail, sandy-orange coloured fur and bulging black eyes. However, it is rarely seen due to its nocturnal activity and hibernating habits.
Dormice are most commonly found in coppiced woodland and hedgerows. The name "hazel dormouse" reflects their preference for hazel woods. They are also known as the "dozy mouse", or the "seven sleeper" as they can hibernate for up to seven months of the year.
Please note that at Wildwood our dormice are involved in breeding programmes and are off public view.
The hedgehog is an insectivore native to the UK. Most people will be familiar with these garden-visitors, snuffling in the undergrowth at dusk. The back and sides are covered in 25mm (1") long spines (which are really modified hairs). These are absent from the face, throat, chest, belly, and legs, which are covered with coarse, grey-brown fur. There are approximately 5,000-7,000 spines on an average adult hedgehog and it has a small tail tucked under the spines at the back. Hedgehogs suffer from fleas and ticks which get between their spines and are hard for the hedgehog to groom.
Hedgehogs are noisy eaters, and eat insects, slugs and snails. The hedgehog family at Wildwood live by the rat barn in an enclosure with our jay. They come out late in the evening so you are unlikely to see them except on special events.
Koniks are wild horses from the steppes of Russia and are the closest match to the Tarpan, a wild horse which was hunted to extinction here but continued to inhabit Eastern Europe until the 18th Century.
They have mouse grey colouring, two tone manes and zebra stripes on the front legs. They are hardy horses, perfect for habitat management schemes as they have thick winter coats, hooves that don't require trimming and live well on marshland.
See these beautiful, gentle creatures in their paddock at Wildwood, which is half conifer forest, half grassland. Look carefully amongst the trees for them, as their grey coats give them fantastic camouflage!
The Eurasian lynx is a solitary cat that haunts the remote northern forests of Europe. It is the third largest predator in Europe, after the Brown Bear and Wolf. Lynx are covered with beautiful thick tawny fur with faint spots. Their large paws are also furry and hit the ground with a spreading toe motion that makes them function as natural snowshoes. They are about the size of a collie dog - far bigger than a domestic cat but smaller than the wolves. They have short black-tipped tails and long back legs for jumping. Their ears have long tufts to aid hearing.
These stealthy cats avoid humans and hunt at night, so they are rarely seen. Lynx became extinct in Britain due to hunting for their fur and habitat loss. They have been absent from this country for at least 1500 years.
Wildwood's two lynx are sisters, and can be seen on sunny days lounging on their platforms or in their den. On wet days, look for them in their warmest den at the side of the enclosure.
The Mink is a member of the weasel family (Mustelid), and not native to this county. It is sometimes mistaken for an otter, but is much smaller and fluffier, about the same size as a ferret. It was brought here in 1929 to be farmed for its fur during the craze for mink coats. Some mink escaped and others were released as fashions changed and fur farms went out of business.
Mink prey on the water vole, which has been brought to the point of extinction because of it. The mink is a clever predator, equally at home on land or in the water and is the only carnivore capable of swimming after a water vole and entering its burrow through its underwater entrance, killing all the voles in the burrow. It also takes fish, waterfowl, rabbits, small mammals and amphibians. The commonest colour is dark brown but there are also other colour forms, including silver grey (silver blue to the fur trade), white and caramel.
See the Mink at Wildwood at feeding time in the late afternoon, diving for their dinner. They are shy and come out predominantly at dusk.
An introduced species to Britain, the Reeves’ muntjac (to give it it’s full name) is named after John Russell Reeves who first brought the species to Woburn Park, Befordshire from Southeast China in 1838. During the 1920s, some individuals escaped and muntjac now are now found across England and Wales.
Muntjac are active throughout the day and night, with peaks of activity at dawn and dusk. They feed on bramble, ferns, ivy, grasses and tree shoots, and unfortunately have a penchant for plants with a high conservation status such as bluebells and primulas.
Unlike other deer, muntjac don't have a fixed breeding season and reproduce continually throughout the year, increasing in numbers and eating almost any plant material that grows within their browse line which in turn impacts upon the natural habitat of many species of plants, insects and small birds. With no natural predators to control their numbers culls are required in order to keep the population under control and stop them doing too much damage to woodlands.
With a shoulder height of only 50cm, the Reeves’ muntjac is Britain’s smallest deer. They are naturally shy and prefer to remain hidden in the cover of dense vegetation, so take a good look around their enclosure to spot them.Adopt a Muntjac today!
The otter is a member of the weasel family (Mustelid) and lives in lakes, streams and rivers around the UK. It is endangered, but its populations are recovering after almost reaching extinction from absorbing the poisonous weed killer DDT from the animals it ate.
It is about the size of a domestic cat, but longer and lower to the ground, with a long body and tail and small legs with webbed feet. It has brown fur with a white underbelly, small rounded ears and a pointed face.
It is an excellent swimmer, and will play in the water, looping and diving for fun! It eats fish which it catches then brings back to land to eat. A family of otters will live in a den at the water's edge. Otters are not able to swim when they are born, and have to be taught.
The pine marten is a member of the weasel family (Mustelids), and is about the size of a domestic cat. It has distinctive chestnut fur, with darker paws and tail and a white underside. It has fantastic climbing abilities and you will often see the pine martens at Wildwood running up the side of the enclosure, or perched high in the branches.
They are carnivores and in the wild would eat rodents, small animals and bird eggs. At Wildwood they are fed in the afternoon and are often more active then.
Until 200 years ago, the pine marten was one of Britain's more common woodland mammals. Unfortunately, their habit of preying on game birds and their eggs meant that they fell foul of gamekeepers and the species was wiped out across large areas of Britain.
The polecat is a member of the weasel family (Mustelid) and is a carnivore. It has a distinctive black mask around the eyes, with dark brown fur and black legs and tail. It is larger than a stoat or weasel, smaller than a domestic cat but almost the same length nose to tail! The male is much larger than the female, with a broader head. The weasel has short legs and a long body, perfect for digging and burrowing. In the wild it would hunt rabbits, rats and mice, and other small creatures.
The polecat is the wild relative of the domestic ferret, which was bred for hunting. The Polecat is very rare in the UK now, killed by poachers and farmers protecting their livestock. "Polecat" means "chicken cat" in French, for their habit of going after chickens and eggs.
At Wildwood you can see polecats by the badger enclosure. If they are not out playing (chase and play-wrestling are favourites!), you can see them asleep all together in a pile in their dens. The best time to see them out is at feeding time, mid afternoon.
The red deer is our largest land mammal, standing over a metre to the shoulder. Its summer coat is reddish brown to brown; winter coat is brown to grey. There are no spots present in adult coat. The Stags (males) have large, highly branched antlers, with the number of branches increasing with age. The stags grow these antlers for the autumn mating season, The antlers drop off in winter and a new set is grown the next year. They are native to the UK and widespread in forests and heathland. Red deer are herbivores, grazing on grass, bushes and tree leaves.
You can see the red deer at Wildwood past the wild boar enclosure, amongst pine forest. They blend in well with their surroundings; look through the trees to the clearing, or to the feed station filled with hay, where they often congregate.
The red fox is the last member of the dog family still wild in the UK. It is the size of a collie, with a huge bushy tail and large pointed ears. Its fur is a bright orange-red, with white chest and muzzle and darker legs and tip of tail. It lives in the countryside, hunting a range of small animals, but has also adapted to living in towns, scavenging in our bins for food scraps.
You can see two pairs of red foxes at Wildwood, one by the entrance and one just past the badger enclosure. The best times to see them are just after 10 am and mid afternoon when they've been fed. If you can't see them, look through the viewing panes to their dens, they are often resting out of the sun.
Red squirrels are one of Britain's most attractive woodland animals and one of it's rarest. They are easily recognisable, with long back legs for jumping and a long bushy tail, which they wrap around themselves to keep warm in winter and to shade themselves from the sun in summer. They are smaller than grey squirrels and have distinctive ear tufts, and a deep red coat. Baby squirrels look very much like their parents, but are a little smaller and have no ear tufts.
At Wildwood, the best times to see the red squirrel are just after 10 am and again at about 3 pm for the summer months, and around mid day during the winter. They often come out for food, but spend much of the winter in their dray in the warm. They prefer warm, sunny days. Keep quiet and look carefully. They are quite small and their red fur blends in surprisingly well with their surroundings!
Despite being famed for only visiting Britain on one special night of the year, reindeer were actually native to Britain before dying out in the wild around 8,000 years ago. After this reindeer were imported as game animals and a few herds remained in Scotland until the 13th century when they were hunted to extinction. Today reindeer can still be found in Scotland after being introduced to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre in 1952.
Famous for pulling Santa’s sled; reindeer are the only deer species where both the males and females possess antlers. Interestingly, the males usually shed theirs before Christmas, leaving some scientists to wonder if Santa’s most famous reindeer, Rudolph, is actually a girl.
Reindeer typically live in cold climates and are extremely well adapted to freezing conditions. They can divert body heat away from their legs to keep their torso warm in deep snow and make a characteristic clicking sound when walking which allows them to find each other in arctic blizzards. This is extremely useful during their annual migrations which can involve herds of up to 500,000 animals travelling distances of over 5000km.Adopt a reindeer today!
Soay sheep are a small primitive breed of domestic sheep that are descended from a population of feral sheep on the 259 acre island of Soay, in the St Kilda Archipelago, about 65km from the Western Isles of Scotland.
They are undiluted by interbreeding, so represent a unique example of the neolithic origins of domesticated sheep. They are very hardy, less troubled by parasites, foot rot and other ailments that commonly afflict their more modern descendants.
The stoat is a small member of the weasel family (Mustelid) with a mid-brown coat, white underside and black tip to the tail. The females are smaller than the males at 15cm (the length of a biro) with males reaching up to 30cm (the length of an A4 sheet of paper) from nose to tail. They have long thin bodies with short legs. In cold winters they can turn completely white with just a black tip to their tail. They are carnivores and hunt small animals such as rats which are often larger than they are.
The best time to see our stoat at Wildwood is at feeding time, in mid afternoon. You can sometimes see it asleep in its nest through the viewing pane. Look carefully - this small creature blends in well with its surroundings.
Immortalised as Ratty in Kenneth Graeme's the Wind in the Willows, water voles were once one of our most familiar mammals. They have figured in folklore for centuries and have many local names, including water rat, water mole, crabber, waterdog, earth-hound and water campagnol. They are now extremely rare and need our help to come back to areas they once populated.
Water voles are the largest of Britain's voles and are often confused with brown rats. However, water voles have very small ears and a furry tail whilst rats have large ears and a bald tail. Water voles also have a blunt muzzle, unlike the pointed nose of a rat.
The Water voles at Wildwood can be seen at the water vole pool at feeding time, but you have to stay very still and quiet before they come out. Most of Wildwood's water voles are behind the scenes, involved in breeding and release programmes.
The water shrew is the largest of the British shrews, and is the only native venomous mammal. It is a carnivore, and uses venom in its saliva to stun its prey. It is a tiny creature, about the size of a plum!
Water shrews eat aquatic invertebrates, worms and small fish. They have such a fast metabolism that they have to eat round the clock. They have iron in the tip of their teeth, which keeps them sharp. They do not hibernate so are active all year round.
At wildwood all our water shrews are involved with breeding and scientific study programmes and are not yet on public view.
The weasel is the smallest member of the Weasel family (or "Mustelid") at only 15 cm long, about the length of a biro. It is reddish brown with a white underside. It is a carnivore and eats small animals which are often far bigger than it is. The Weasel is a very fast and fierce for it's size.
At Wildwood you can see them asleep in their dens through the viewing pane - if you see something yellow or white and fluffy that is probably their lunch tucked in along side them! See them at feeding time in mid afternoon, look for a tiny orange-brown shape darting around the enclosure.
Wild boar are members of the pig family, and used to roam wild in the UK until they were hunted to extinction in the 1300s. They are the size of a large dog but far heavier, with dark grey skin and reddish brown bristles. They have small tusks and a hump over their shoulders.
Boarlets are born in the spring, and have orange stripes which gradually fade as they grow. Boars live in matriarchal groups (the oldest female in charge) with adult male boars living separately. Wild boar are living wild in the UK again, in isolated areas, having escaped from wild boar farms. However these animals are shy and you are unlikely to see them in the wild.
You can see the wild boar at Wildwood amongst pine forest. For their size the boar blend in to their environment surprisingly well.
Look for mounds of what appear to be earth - if it's moving, it's a boar! At feeding time they will come close to the edge of the enclosure and root in the earth with their strong snouts.
Wildcats are native to the UK but now exist only in the highlands of Scotland. They are not closely related to the domestic cat and are much bigger and bulkier with a large bushy tail. As the name suggests they are wild and cannot easily be tamed even from a kitten. They are able to interbreed with the domestic cat, which weakens their genetics.
Wildcats hunt on small animals in the moorlands and woodlands of Scotland. The wildcats at Wildwood can be seen lounging in their specially designed hammocks and climbing amongst the branches in their enclosure. Look closely as their fur gives them fantastic camouflage.
Wolves are the largest members of the dog family. Grey wolves are by far the most common and were once found all over the Northern Hemisphere. They have grey-brown fur with lighter fur on their chest and legs, pointed ears and a thick, bushy tail. In winter they have very thick coats to keep them warm. They are the size of a large Alsatian, but can blend in very well with their surroundings. In the wild they hunt in a pack, running long distances to exhaust their prey - usually deer.
Wolves and humans have a long adversarial history. Though they almost never attack humans, wolves are considered one of the animal world's most fearsome natural villains. They do attack domestic animals, and countless wolves have been shot, trapped, and poisoned because of this tendency. Wolves were hunted to extinction in the England by the 15th Century, and Scotland by the 17th Century.
The wolves at Wildwood are split into two groups, our wild pack of four related wolves and our two hand-reared wolves who are sisters. You can see the wolf pack best from the wolf viewing platform. The pack often lounges in the sun on their own platform opposite.
The hand-reared wolves were born to the wolf pack but rescued when their den became flooded. They had to spend so long with people whilst their den was fixed, they could not be returned to the pack. They will often come to the edge of their enclosure and wag their tails to see visitors. However, do not be fooled by their dog-like appearance. Although raised by humans, they are still wolves at heart and not domesticated: they are not brought to meet the public.
The wood mouse is the most common native rodent in Britain. Its alternative name, the long-tailed field mouse, refers to its long tail which is often roughly the same size as its combined head and body length. Wood mice have large eyes and ears, meaning they have good hearing and vision at night which allows them to avoid predators. Their sense of smell is highly developed and they can detect the exact location of buried seeds without having to dig at random in a general area to find food.
Wood mice do not hibernate and will happily live in a wide range of habitats, including fields, cultivated areas, woodlands, forests and human habitations.