As part of our recent cottage holiday to the Cotswolds, we paid a visit to the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens in Burford.
The 160-acre site is a mix of beautiful landscaped gardens and parkland, animal enclosures, aviaries, insect and reptile houses, farmyard, and adventure playgrounds.
Its beginnings in 1969 as the brainchild of John Heyworth, who transformed the overgrown Bradwell Grove Estate into the wildlife park that can be found here today, are still visible in the authentic signage. John’s son Reggie now runs the attraction.
Although busy, the park manages to maintain a spacious feel; with so much to see, the crowds are dispersed around different areas of the park and you can always find a quiet corner for a picnic. Our five-year-old Herbie was most impressed by the extensive adventure play area complete with huge treehouses and something for all ages, with just the right measure of risk versus fun. We had to pry him off it to continue our walk through the park. Our one-year-old Gus enjoyed the peacock strutting across the lawns where we had our lunch, whilst refusing himself to eat any food, instead preferring the rhino’s choice, grass.
First hand-reared rhino in 48 years
It was Rhino Month when we visited and the two rhino calves, Alan and Belle, are ones to watch out for. Belle is the first hand-reared rhino in the park’s 48-year history, and the attraction is famous for its collection of White Rhino. Once the rarest species, they were on the verge of extinction in the early 1900s, when it was believed only around 50 remained in their native South Africa. Thanks to sustained protection, they are now the most common of the five rhino species, although poaching has once again risen to serious levels. They can be seen grazing on the lawn in front of the manor house at the centre of the park.
Wolverine triplets – a first this year
Another draw are the new Wolverine triplets; the park is the only collection in the UK to successfully breed this species this year and the first collection in the UK to ever breed them back in 2015. You’ll find them next to the Park’s train station. It’s worth coming back for another visit if you don’t see them as they’re notoriously difficult to breed so are a rare sight – we managed a glimpse.
New born zebra foal – what’s in a name?
The new baby zebra, as yet unnamed but born on Friday 13th July so expect something spooky, can be seen opposite the rhinos; the enclosures are dissected by the train line (a narrow gauge railway runs around the park, which you can ride for £1 each).
Capybara twins – seeing double
The new Capybara pair have just produced their first twins, which are perfect miniatures of the adults. They are the very newest additions as I write, born 10 days before our visit.
Amazing ant exhibit – carrying 20 times their own body weight
The park has one of the largest reptile collections in the UK and a highlight is watching the leaf-cutter ants as they trek along branches, carrying leaves on their backs.
Madagascan walk through – meet the lemurs
This area in the beautiful walled garden allows you to meet the lemurs as they freely roam the exhibit. You sometimes have to look hard, but that makes it all the more worth it when you do get a glimpse. Watch out for human adults who should know better trying to get in via the exit – hopefully a lemur crapped on him from a great height once he was inside.
The site is an excellent way to spot the erratic and sometimes inexplicable behaviour of human beings as well as making you feel better about your own parenting skills as you watch others wrestling with the short attention spans and anti-social behaviour of young children. My stand out parenting quote from a passerby on our visit was:
“I’ll put you down if you promise to stop licking the fences.”
- The park is the only large zoological collection in the UK to welcome dogs and has been a dog-friendly attraction since the day it opened in 1970
- Breeding programmes for endangered species at the park can be either European Studbooks (ESB) or European Endangered Species Programmes (EEP). These studbooks contain information about every individual in the population to ensure that captive animals remain healthy and that research, husbandry improvements and conservation are a priority. The Cotswold Wildlife Park holds the ESB for Red Crested Touracos
- E-ticket prices have been frozen since 2013 and the park tries incredibly hard to keep prices as low as possible. In fact, for its size, the gate entry is one of the lowest of any large zoological collection in the UK. The park doesn’t receive any outside help from any other sources – a lot of UK zoos are charities and receive considerable funding through this. Funds from visitors enable the park to support its thriving education programme, endangered species breeding programmes and several vital conservation projects in the wild.
- There are unisex baby change facilities – a bug bear of mine is when these can only be found in the women’s toilets – men change nappies too!
- There is also a hoist room available, which gives disabled visitors the dignity they deserve. The Changing Places website gives more information about the campaign to create more facilities like this across the UK.