25 Apr 2018

We rely on many UK species for our food and even the air we breathe. From the tiny bugs to the bigger mammals; they all contribute towards a healthy environment that is vital for our survival. It’s like a jigsaw; if one piece is missing it just won’t work properly.

But how do we know if we’re losing a certain animal or plant? This is why it’s so important to record what wildlife we see throughout the year! The information collected helps conservationists to spot any changes or decline in species and to take action before it’s too late.

Knowledge is a vital tool for conservationists; the more information we have about our local habitats and the species that live within them the more we can do to protect them; especially those living within a built up area. If we don’t know what we’ve got, how do we know what’s missing or needs help?

We’ve been recording animals and plants on the Nature Reserve since the very beginning, even before the reserve was there!  Recording wildlife is really important so that we can see what has changed and which species we’re helping.

Below are some of the ways we monitor the wildlife on the Nature Reserve…

Camera traps

We often place camera traps around the reserve to see what wonderful wildlife has been visiting! Here are a couple of our favourites:

Red fox caught on camera trap

Small mammal survey

We’ve been surveying the range of small mammal species in different habitats throughout the Nature Reserve to help inform future management so that they can thrive there. Along with widespread species such as wood mouse and bank vole, we’ve also found a resident population of the secretive water shrew, who rely on good quality habitat.

We survey small mammals using our own Longworth traps and use grain and casters to encourage the animals into the snug nest box which is lined with hay. There’s always plenty of food to last the animals a couple of hours, until we check the trap. When we come to see what’s in the traps, we carefully place the animals in a clear bag, and gently work out the species, age and sex.

At the reserve we’ve left wide rough-grass margins on the mounds and along the edges of the meadow so that a variety of small mammals can make burrows and find plenty of food.

Other management is taking place in the Nature Reserve’s wet meadow to ensure that there are enough long stems for harvest mice to make their nests and plenty of overhanging growing vegetation in the ditches for water shrews. By repeating surveys over time we can build up a picture of how the management is helping small mammal populations in the long term. These animals are important in their own right, but they will also support larger mammals such as foxes and weasels, birds of prey including kestrel and buzzards and of course our local barn owls.

Harvest mouse. Photo credit: Natasha Murwill

Butterfly Surveys

Based on the Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (BMS) methodology of surveying butterflies – we’ve recently set up a butterfly transect in the Nature Reserve. The route meanders past the woodland, down through the new meadow and into the wet meadow.

In 2017, we recorded 16 butterfly species with over 50 butterflies recorded on each visit! We know that the wet meadow is particularly good for orange tip and green veined whites that are attracted to the cuckoo flowers in spring, and then later in the season, the numerous thistles.

With further survey efforts we think that we should beat this species total in 2018 and it’s hoped that, as the meadow develops, we will attract even more species and higher numbers in future. By walking the same route each year, using a standard survey technique we’ll gradually get a long term picture of how butterflies are doing locally. There can be big fluctuations from year to year due to weather conditions and other environmental factors, but a general increasing trend over ten years provides good evidence that the reserve is having a positive impact.

Photo credit: Leanna Dixon

Wildflower Monitoring

It’s not only important to monitor the mammals and insects that visit the Nature Reserve – it’s also important to monitor the floral diversity and structure of plants across the site. We use 4m2 quadrats that are placed at regular intervals along a set route. A quadrat is simply a square frame that is placed either randomly, or along a transect (line across the site) and then all of the plants that fall inside the frame are recorded. We’ve followed a ‘W’ shaped transect across the meadow with set ‘stops’ along the route.

At each stop the quadrat frame is placed randomly – not scientific normally by closing your eyes and throwing it a short distance – and the plants are then recorded. Our quadrat is separated into 9 sections and in each section we record the presence of all species of wildflower and then other factors such as ratio of grass to wildflowers, general height of the vegetation and the amount of bare ground. We also record the number of plant species that can be negative indicators of meadows such as nettles, spear thistle and bramble (these of course will be encouraged in small doses on the reserve).

Quadrat wildflowers survey

Another way of monitoring plants is to create an entire site list of all the plants found over the whole meadow, with abundance scores for each species to see how plant composition changes over time.  This method is quite intensive, needs an expert botanist, and takes a couple of days each year, but the results can be essential in understanding how best to manage the reserve.


We have records of over 80 bird species spotted in and around the Nature Reserve. The area is particularly good for warblers, with six species in residence each summer. We have already seen large groups of swallows and house martins using the new meadow pond to drink and catching numerous flies that gather above the meadow.

A new bird survey was started last spring based on the British Trust of Ornithology’s common birds’ census technique; which gives a good indication of breeding bird populations on a small site. The idea is to walk the same route on ten separate occasions throughout the bird breeding period; generally late March to mid-July depending on the year and species. All birds encountered visually or through their song are recorded onto maps using special symbols for each species.

Photo credit: Andy Harmer

Additional information is gathered such as where the bird was seen in flight, singing, showing signs of territorial behaviour or actually on a nest.  Most surveys are carried out just after dawn, but two are done in the early evening to pick up other species that may be more active at that time of day.  At the end of the season all of the maps are transposed onto a single map for each species, showing all of the records from across the ten surveys.

Analysing the maps gives an idea of how many individual pairs of each species have bred at the zoo’s Nature Reserve.  We’ll use this to make management recommendations and to provide conditions which are suitable for a wide range of species.  The mosaic of reedbed and wet meadow and scrub at the reserve is particularly important for reed bunting, reed warbler and grasshopper warbler, and a kingfisher now regularly hunts for minnows in our wet meadow pond. Here’s a link to a reed bunting call so you’ll know what to listen out for next time you visit!

2 Oct 2017

Our team not only work with schools and communities in the UK, they also support our conservation partners around the world working with them to provide training, capacity building, ideas for learning resources as well as research and strategic planning for the educational elements of the projects.

3 May 2017

The Nature Reserve first opened in 2013 and is located outside the boundary of the main zoo near the visitor entrance.  It currently spans around 10,000 square metres of land, and contains an amphitheatre, a wildlife pond and a new woodland with 150 native trees. The site will grow to more than 50,000 square metres, creating and enhancing important fragile habitat.

Bumblebee on flower

Surveys have shown that the site is already home to lots of British wildlife, from rare polecats and the sharply declining hedgehog, to a range of bee and butterfly species and the great crested newt. Birds including reed-bunting, grasshopper warbler and skylark are already known to nest in the area, and threatened harvest mice were introduced to the area by conservationists at the zoo in 2002 and 2003.

Sarah Bird, Chester Zoo biodiversity officer, said:

“We’re transforming land that has been used for agriculture into a more natural landscape that will feature wildflower meadows, ponds, beetle banks, trees and reedbeds. We will link into a strip of wetland along the canal, which is designated as a Local Wildlife Site for the animals and plants already present. We want to make a really great wildlife corridor allowing species to live at the reserve, and move through the landscape when they need to.

“We hope visitors will enjoy this oasis for UK wildlife when it opens in 2018. As well as helping threatened species, we want it to reconnect people with the natural world and inspire further conservation action.”

British wildlife is under threat, but it’s not too late to take action. We won’t stand back. Every one of us can make a difference.

Sarah Bird, Chester Zoo biodiversity officer

The Chester Zoo Nature Reserve is being part funded by WREN through the FCC Community Action Fund via a Landfill Communities Funding agreement.

The zoo’s existing 10,000 square metre Nature Reserve will remain open to the public throughout the development of the expanded area.

Make Wildlife Connections

By creating connections from one wildlife-friendly space to the next we can create wildlife highways through our neighbourhoods and protect the precious wildlife that we love.

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27 Feb 2017

Our safari ranger team work with local schools and communities within the region on a daily basis; delivering workshops on a number of different topics and themes linked to the curriculum to educate and inspire the next generation to protect nature.

Last year our learning team started the POW (Protecting Our Wildlife) project. A programme that focused on bringing pupils closer to the wonderful wildlife found right here in the UK and what they can do to help protect it.

Over 1,500 pupils in 63 classes at 14 different schools were involved in the POW project and were visited by our team. Below, Anya Moon one of our safari rangers, tells us more about the project and what they got up to:

School children learning about native species as part of Chester Zoo POW programme

“The project was made up of five workshops that took place either in the classroom or at the zoo. The first two workshops were classroom based and provided the class with an introduction to UK wildlife, the different habitats, the different threats facing local species and providing more of an understanding on a variety of terms like native, non-invasive and invasive species.

“The third part was a visit to Chester Zoo, which were free and designed as a practical, standalone session. The fourth part was also a practical session, where we were supported by our fab Chester Zoo volunteers, back at the schools and involved a number of activities like wellie planting, bird watching and bug hotel building. These activities linked in with our Wildlife Connections campaign activities; benefitting local wildlife by creating safe spaces.

the visit to the zoo was excellent, but the children also enjoyed ‘getting their hands dirty’ planting their wellies! It’s hard to choose a best part!

Feedback from one of the teachers

“The children each produced a wooden pledge, making lovely displays in each of the schools and showcasing what they’d learnt over the workshops. The final workshop was quite different from previous workshops we’d delivered and involved choral speaking and a literacy element.

“The literacy activities were designed to link with the content of the workshops and use the material to create a poem. A drama practitioner was brought in, Emily Capstick, and using the literacy material she created an individual unique poem for each of the 63 classes.

“In most schools a celebration assembly was held where each class was able to perform their poem for the other classes and in some cases parents too; telling them all about the project, what they had learnt and perform the Wildlife Connections song.

School children learning about native species as part of Chester Zoo POW programme

“The POW programme was great – it was lovely to see the same classes over a period of time and for the pupils to get to know us, and look forward to us visiting. On top of that it was also nice to work with volunteers and other colleagues when the schools visited the zoo.

“The safari ranger team are really looking forward to getting stuck into our next POW project which will be linked to our Sing for Songbirds campaign. On top of this we will continue to analyse the data collected from the programme and follow up evaluation with the schools that took part.  Another exciting project we’re doing is adapting the POW project to work for after school groups too.”

22 Feb 2017

Bloom at Chester Zoo highlights the spaces at the zoo and the incredible wildlife that can be found within them. There are many gardens just waiting to be explored, each different from the last and each with their own story to tell.

Our horticulture and botany team work hard all year round to make sure the gardens and spaces not only look great but also play a vital role in conserving local wildlife.

The team recently created a Bumblebee Garden to help our fuzzy friends find vital food and shelter as bumblebee populations are disappearing at a worrying rate.

Here members of Chester Zoo horticulture team tell us more about the bumblebee garden

Below we take a look at some of the other work our conservationists are doing to help UK wildlife beyond the zoo thrive. We’ve highlighted a couple of their successes over the past 12 months…

This footage was captured the last time our team went out into the field to collect another round of data. How cute?!


Pine martens are thriving in Scotland, but in England and Wales the population is very fragile. Two years ago we joined forces with The Vincent Wildlife Trust on their pine marten recovery project, to restore viable populations of pine martens to Wales.

For the past two years the project has relocated pine martens from Scotland to mid-Wales. Once the animals are relocated they are given a ‘soft release’ to ensure that they’re given as much of a chance as possible to adjust to their new surroundings. The translocation has been very successful with 20 pine martens being relocated in 2015 and a further 19 individuals in 2016.

Pine marten. Photo credit: Lydia Murphy
Photo credit: Lydia Murphy

It’s not just about moving the animals; our staff help monitor the success of the translocation and the progress of the animals using camera traps, radio tracking and field surveys. These tracking methods enable the project to obtain further information so, for example, we know that at least half of the females released in the first year successfully gave birth in Wales which is an excellent result. The next stage of the project is to continue following this year’s released individuals, find out if they will also successfully raise young and to see which habitats are favoured for permanent territories.

1 Feb 2017

Saving the northern bald ibis from extinction

During the summer of 2016 we were delighted to breed seven bald ibis chicks. A critically endangered species, the northern bald ibis is part of a European breeding programme led by zoos. With an estimated 115 pairs of birds left in the wild the northern bald ibis is on the brink of extinction. This is the second breeding success for our bird keeping team. The first of the chicks bred here were released to the wild in February and the latest will be released early next year. We’re hoping that by introducing these birds to a protected site in Southern Spain we’ll take big step forward in reversing the decline of the species.

Northern bald ibis chick

Saving turtles with your support

You’ll remember our recent appeal to help our partners at the Katala Foundation project in the Philippines after they confiscated over 3,500 live Palawan forest turtles. The future looked bleak for the turtles that had fallen victim to the illegal wildlife trade and were destined to be sold in China. We’re delighted to report that thanks to your support and the hard work of the team working on the ground at the Katala Foundation, 89% of the turtles were saved and have now been reintroduced in to the wild. Thank you!

Read more about the appeal here arrow

Confiscated turtles - saved from illegal wildlife trade

Proud of our volunteers making Wildlife Connections

All year we’ve been focused on giving people across the UK the skills that they need to deliver real conservation in their own back yards. We’ve trained 57 wildlife champions to go out, create wildlife friendly habitats and to train their local community to do the same. Plus, we’ve had hundreds more people sign up and download our ‘how-to’ guides to create their own Wildlife Connections.  It’s not too late to sign up for a ‘UK wildlife friendly’ start to 2017. Why not make it your New Year’s resolution?

We Will Never Forget

This year we launched our ‘We Will Never Forget’ campaign to raise funds to support research in to the deadly EEHV virus which threatens young elephants in zoos and all over the world. For us, this was personal after we lost elephants to the virus. We’ve been overwhelmed by your support; to date we’ve raised £100,000 which has funded a post-doc research position dedicated to finding a cure the virus. Please help us to keep this vital research going and enable us to carry out more research in the wild by making a donation.

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Two Asian elephant calves

Find out more about how our community of committed experts and enthusiasts are making a real difference to conservation by signing up for our e-newsletter or following us on social media.


11 Oct 2016

Sadly, UK wildlife is in decline.

In fact, nature is doing a lot worse in the UK than in most other countries around the world.

According to the State of Nature report, released by RSPB and 50 other wildlife organisations, over 56% of our incredible species have declined over recent decades and 15% of UK species are threatened with extinction. There are a range of factors that are driving this decline, including agriculture and climate change.

Bumblebee on flower

Everything we do in our day-to-day lives can have an impact on nature – from the food we eat to the energy we use – everyone has a role to play in conservation and it’s more important than ever that everyone does their bit.

We ALL need to get involved if we’re going to make a real difference.

One simple thing to do is record the wildlife we see; it’s such an important action that we can all contribute to and the data collected enables conservationists to keep an eye on any changes or trends and take action before it’s too late. The more information we have about our habitats, the more we can do to help protect them.

Man with binoculars looking out for birds

There are also plenty of other benefits to wildlife watching too – it’s relaxing, you can learn more and it gets you outdoors! Fancy giving it a go? Here are some hints and tips on watching and recording wildlife.

Creating safe habitats for our local wildlife has been highlighted as one of the most beneficial conservation actions for wildlife. Habitat creation is not just about nature reserves, it includes our homes, gardens and local green spaces too. And by creating safe spaces for wildlife we’re creating a better landscape for nature.

Wildlife Connections is about helping reverse these declining trends by helping to open up our landscape to wildlife with wildlife corridors and making new areas of good habitat in gardens and community spaces that will help the wildlife around us thrive.

The pine marten recovery project we’re working on with The Vincent Wildlife Trust was just one example highlighted in the State of Nature report of how conservation action is helping to reverse the decline in UK species. And we’re also really proud to be working together with a number of other partners across the UK to help save other species, like the hazel dormouse, Scottish wildcat and the black poplar.

Sleepy dormouse in hand of conservationist

The hazel dormouse is just one of the many UK species we’re working to protect.

On top of the work we’re doing in the field, our staff at Chester Zoo are using their skills and expertise to increase animals and plant populations through conservation breeding and plant propagation, for reintroduction into the wild.

The state of UK nature is bad – but we will continue to act for our precious wildlife! We’re so lucky to have such amazing wildlife right here on our doorstep and we need your help, not only to make Wildlife Connections, but to also spread the word! The more people that take action, the more wildlife we’ll be able to protect.

We’re in this together and we can all make a difference to help save our wonderful local wildlife.

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Join our Wildlife Connections campaign

6 Dec 2015


We kick started the year by celebrating five years of our Biodiversity Trainee scheme; a project we’re all very proud of and which saw us train 12 future conservationists in a range of skills needed to preserve UK wildlife. The participants were trained in a huge range of topics-from wildlife recording to fundraising-and public engagement to habitat management – and everything in between. The project was run in partnership with RECORD and Cheshire Wildlife Trust-and was made possible thanks to generous funding from Heritage Lottery Fund.

A team of zoo staff took part in an expedition to Assam in North East India where they spent time working with our Assam Haathi Project. The project has been working to reduce human-elephant conflict for over ten years; together with local communities we have implemented a range of methods to help keep elephants and people from harm.

It was non-stop for the group as they travelled from village to village working closely with a number of villages. If they weren’t sharing their knowledge and skills in a workshop-they were volunteering their support in general maintenance and construction or providing support to long-term strategies for elephant conservation in this area.


We were thrilled to announce our new Living with Tigers project which-as the name suggests-aims to protect tigers and help the local communities live safely alongside them. Despite the fantastic news that tiger numbers are increasing as a result of the conservation efforts-this development brought with it a new challenge: human-tiger conflict. We recognised a need for support and are now currently establishing a team in Nepal who can work with the local villages to reduce the risk of tiger attacks. Read more updates from our Living with Tigers project-here.

Bengal tiger in the wild. Photo credit: James Warwick

Back in Chester-as the warmer weather arrived we celebrated our changing seasons and the wonderful animals and plants we have right here in the UK. We also conducted our own BioBlitz – which saw a team of around 30 professionals count and identify as many species as possible in and around the zoo – all within 24 hours! Some of the highlights included exceeding our 500 species target-recording over 50 species of mosses and lichens and using new technology to record seven bat species.

Carl Clee and Tony Parker identifying bumblebees at this year’s BioBlitz


We received some devastating news from our project partners the Katala Foundation-in the Philippines-that over 4,000 turtles were confiscated from a convoy on its way to China. We sent out an emergency appeal to send resources to the team who were working around the clock to save as many turtles as possible. Thanks to the AMAZING response from you-our wonderful supporters-they were able to treat and release almost all of the animals!

Releasing the turtles back into the wild. Photo credit: Katala Foundation Inc.

Those that weren’t ready for release are being rehabilitated at the Katala Foundation-who sent us this message:

“Without the generous support-immediate action-moral support and great dedication of all of you-we would not have been able to manage this crisis. But now-I believe we can proudly say ‘a crisis well managed’. Congratulations and Kudos. Thank you so much!”

We were also flying high after being recognised for the work we do to protect highly threatened bird species. The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) created a list of the top ten birds benefiting from conservation and breeding programmes at zoos and aquariums in the UK. We are home to six of the species that were on the list and play a significant role in supporting and protecting endangered birds on the brink of extinction – not just here at the zoo but also through the vital work we do in the wild.

Bald ibis at Chester Zoo


Alongside our Go Orange for Orangutans campaign we launched the Palm Oil Challenge and asked for your help to take part in our challenge of making sustainable palm oil the norm. By picking products that contain sustainable palm oil on your weekly shop you’ll be helping to protect the remaining forest homes for animals like the orangutan-tiger-rhino and elephant.

You can Act for Wildlife and help us to continue the vital work we’re doing around the world by making a donation. Go to www.actforwildlife.org.uk/get-involved/donate to donate now. And with Christmas only a couple of weeks away-why not sponsor a project for someone else as a unique gift? Perfect for any last minute presents!

We’re looking forward to 2016!.