People associate Chester Zoo with exotic species not realising we also work with local endangered wildlife such as dormice and sand lizards, as well as rare tree species such as the black poplar.
British wildlife needs our help too! As an example, in the last 200 years, England has lost around 12% of its mammal species and a quarter of its native butterflies. Chester Zoo’s UK wildlife programme is working alongside conservation partners in the north west of England and North Wales to protect habitats and species on our doorstep.
We’re achieving great successin areas such as habitat improvement, native species breeding and reintroduction, ecological research, recording and monitoring wildlife, and training the conservation professionals of the future.
Now, as part of its on-going commitment to conserving UK wildlife, Chester Zoo is acting for wildlife in a new way by creating a nature reserve which will provide a haven for native plants and animals, and showcase the characteristic Cheshire landscape. Currently in the first phase of development, by phase 2 it will feature diverse habitats typical of the region: ponds, reedbed, wet meadows, and hedgerows, and exciting and beautiful local wildlife.
It will highlight the local conservation work of the zoo and provide unique opportunities for study of wildlife and conservation issues in the UK, and comparison with overseas issues highlighted by the zoo’s international work. Of particular local importance will be access to wildlife and habitats for training in species identification, recording and monitoring.
The reserve, particularly when Phase 2 happens, will contribute to the preservation of UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species and habitats – which have been identified as the current priorities for British conservation. It will be open all year round and themed signage will help visitors understand what they may be able to see in each season.
We hope that the grass amphitheatre, dipping pond, woodland and other features can provide an outdoor learning space for groups and schools to connect with the natural environment.
We have already carried out initial species surveys to find out what wildlife exists in the area and we know that it is already home to orange tip butterflies, wildflowers such as ragged robin and marsh marigolds, wetland birds and buzzards, a huge array of invertebrates and lots of small mammals including water shrews and harvest mice.
We are initiating a series of standard survey activities that will be repeated regularly so that we can see how wildlife is changing on the reserve. Volunteers will be able to help out with this, working alongside staff from Record, the regional biological recording centre.
Planting and path creation has already started in readiness for the site to open to the public in 2014. Zoo staff were joined by volunteers from Bank of America-owned MBNA to plant the first 150 native trees in early April.
We’ll bring you more news, and photographs, as the site takes shape and develops over the coming year.
I am Sarah Bird, Biodiversity Officer at Chester Zoo and I Act for Wildlife.