Reviewed by Laura Wragg
If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. At least that’s how I felt after visiting the New Forest Wildlife Park at the weekend. Tucked away on the outskirts of the national park, only a short distance from the M27, you’ll find the small but perfectly formed home to otter, deer, lynx, wild boar, bison and wolves among many others.
We arrived mid-morning to beat traffic and ensure we got there in time for feeding (times listed on the website). We were given a map of the park and told when we could hear the keepers talking about the animals and from there, you are free to roam the park your own pace which, with the sun shining and two young children in tow, suited us perfectly.
Initially greeted by two Canadian otters flitting between their pool and enclosure in what seemed to be an impromptu performance you wander past mice, ferrets and hedgehogs then out to the owls; predictably aloof to their surroundings and stunning to see up close. We came to the main otter enclosures just in time for their second feed of the day but from the excitement, you’d think they not been fed for weeks! This really is a must see. I’d not realised what wonderful personalities otters have. The keeper that brought their lunch was swiftly relieved of all the food she had and proceeded to give a very knowledgeable talk about the different breeds that they look after while the animals played. One even tried to steal any scraps left in the food bucket, much to the amusement of the crowd, particularly the children!
Following the path through the trees and after a short break at a very impressive adventure playground built around the tree trunks, we headed toward the next enclosure just in time to see deer following a keeper for their lunch. Many of the deer roam free within the enclosure and are very friendly. Lots of talk of Bambi from our eldest until we overheard a boy in the distance shout, ”Gruffalo”. Looking around, there were two huge, imposing bison standing nearby awaiting patiently for their lunch. Another very interesting chat from one of the keepers on the bison and deer and feeling a bit peckish ourselves, we headed off to the cafe after checking out the lynx and wolves lounging in the midday sun as we wandered back. The cafe is a decent size with both indoor and outdoor seating but it can get pretty busy at lunch, unsurprisingly, so I’d recommend stopping there before you go into the park if you’re planning to eat and the weather permits. There’s a great picnic area near the playground to stop at on the way round.
The New Forest Wildlife Park is a fantastic day out, not to mention educational (who knew otters could use tools?), and very reasonably priced. Just don’t forget your teddy bears for your picnic!
Prices: Children £7.95 / Adults £10.95 / Family £32.75
For more information visit www.newforestwildlifepark.co.uk.
New Forest Wildlife Park, Deerleap Lane, Nr Ashurst, Southampton, SO40 4UH | 02380 292408