The New Forest Wildlife Park covers a little over ten scenic hectares of ancient woodland in Hampshire, United Kingdom. It is set within the New Forest Heritage area, designated a National Park in 2005.
Keeping animals in captivity on this particular site in the New Forest started in 1981 when ‘The New Forest Butterfly Farm’ was opened. Its main building, a glasshouse complex, is still used today.
The butterfly farm closed in the early nineties, and it was taken over by entertainment company Vardon Plc. (which also owned several of UK’s Sea Life Centres). In 1995 the site was turned into ‘New Forest Nature Quest’, a collection specialising in indigenous British wildlife. However, when Vardon Attractions was taken over by Merlin Entertainments in 1998, the park was put up for sale.
Some specimens of the animal collection ended up at the newly created Wildwood Discovery Park in Kent, but the remainder of the collection was taken over by Roger Heap. Since 1984, Heap had already been running the Chestnut Centre in Derbyshire, a collection specialised in otters and owls. The New Forest site and its original remaining native animal collection was extended with a large collection of otters and owls, comparable with the Chestnut Centre collection, and Eurasian lynx and wild boar. The new name for this zoological park became ‘The New Forest Otter, Owl and Wildlife Park’. In 2010, the Park was re-branded into ‘The New Forest Wildlife Park’ to emphasise the large and expanding collection of native and past-native wildlife in addition to the otters and owls.
As part of its conservation efforts the New Forest Wildlife Park is involved with the rehabilitation of injured and orphaned wildlife. In addition it takes part in captive breeding programmes for several endangered indigenous species such as the Scottish wildcat, pine marten, European polecat, Eurasian otter, harvest mouse and water vole. In fact, there is a substantial designated off-show area for the breeding and raising of Eurasian otters as part of a captive breeding and reintroduction programme. This otter has made a good recovery in the wild and captive breeding and release schemes were put on hold. Nevertheless at the New Forest Wildlife Park they continue their work with injured and orphaned otters, of which the vast majority return to the wild. Furthermore, they work with various bodies for testing otter fences to keep wild otters out of carp lakes and fish farms.
Internationally the Park is involved in the EEP of the European bison, and they support Diane McTurk’s giant otter rehabilitation programme in Guyana.
(Sources: Wikipedia; information panels and website of the New Forest Wildlife Park; the IZES Guide to British Zoos & Aquariums by Tim Brown, 2009)