Conservationists at Chester Zoo have unveiled a 60,000 square metre Nature Reserve – providing protected habitat for threatened British wildlife.
The new wildlife haven - located outside the boundary of the main zoo - opened last Friday (April 27) and is free for visitors to enter.
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, with 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.
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.
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.
“We hope visitors will enjoy it too – and if people are inspired to act for wildlife at home in their own gardens then even better!”
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.
The new Nature Reserve meadow will benefit bumblebees and many other pollinating insects that are currently struggling in the UK. Half of the nation’s 27 bumblebee species are in decline, seven species have declined by more than 50% in the last 25 years, and three UK bumblebee species have already gone extinct.
Most UK bat species have seen populations fall in the last 100 years; only a few are showing signs of recovery. Populations of pipistrelles (the most common bat species) have declined dramatically in the last few decades alone, but conservationists at the zoo have already seen bats feeding over the new meadow and ponds at the reserve and have installed bat boxes in trees nearby.
The Nature Reserve will also provide a boost to British wildflowers. Wildflowers are key to healthy habitats, bring colour to the countryside, and are important in their own right. Yet one in five of Britain’s wildflowers is threatened with extinction in the UK and our flora is the least protected, invested in and acknowledged part of the country’s wildlife heritage.
Chester Zoo’s new Nature Reserve will include a walking trail, fully accessible for buggies, wheelchairs and strollers.
Conservationists at the zoo hope the new area will inspire visitors to take action at home in their own gardens and community spaces to create additional pockets of wildlife habitat across the region and the UK.