Chester Zoo opens free 600,000 sq ft nature reserve to protect threatened wildlife

Site just outside the boundary of the main zoo is already known to be home to a variety of species of local and national significance, such as kingfishers, hedgehogs and harvest mice. Tony McDonough reports

Chester Zoo
A great crested newt, one of the species Chester Zoo’s nature reserve hopes to protect

 

Chester Zoo opens a 600,000 sq ft nature reserve this week which will provide a protected habitat for threatened British wildlife.

The new wildlife haven – located outside the boundary of the main zoo – will be free for visitors to enter when it opens on Friday, April 27. The site is already known to be home to a variety of species of local and national significance, such as kingfishers, hedgehogs and harvest mice.

There have also been reported occasional sightings otters and many other species. Part of the reserve is designated as a Local Wildlife Site for the important plants, birds and invertebrates recorded there.

Relaxing place

Designed as a community place for relaxing and wildlife space for learning, Chester Zoo first built a small Nature Reserve in 2013.

The new area is a 600% expansion, providing new and larger protected habitats for vulnerable species, and a bigger community space. Over the coming years the area will develop further as plants and wildflowers begin to flourish.

Chester Zoo is top visitor attraction in England outside London – click to read more

Sarah Bird, biodiversity officer at Chester Zoo, said: “This area was formerly used for agriculture, but over the past two years we have been carefully restoring it to allow nature to move in and thrive.

“It now comprises wildflower meadows, ponds, beetle banks, log piles, trees and a reedbed, with a hide for viewing the wildlife. Linking into the strip of wetland along the canal, the reserve provides a new wildlife refuge at the zoo, and creates a corridor of habitat allowing species to move through the landscape when they need to.”

Chester Zoo
Kingfishers have been spotted by conservationists monitoring threatened wildlife at Chester Zoo’s new Nature Reserve

 

Grant support

The Chester Zoo Nature Reserve has been part funded by a grant of £49,144 from WREN’s FCC Community Action Fund. WREN is a not-for-profit business that awards grants for community projects from funds donated by FCC Environment through the Landfill Communities Fund.

Across the UK, familiar and formerly widespread species such as water voles and the small tortoiseshell butterfly are declining sharply. They are just a fraction of the species facing extinction in the UK, which could benefit from the reserve.

Wide hedges, meadows and rough grassland at the reserve will be carefully managed to help species such as the hedgehog, which appears to be declining in the UK at the same rate as tigers are globally – at around 5% a year, in both rural and urban habitats.

Around 30% of the population appears to have been lost since 2002, and it is likely that there are now fewer than a million hedgehogs left in the UK.

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