Wednesday, 25 July 2018

The Chestnut Centre - Otter, Owl and Wildlife Park

On New Year’s Eve 2017, a small private zoological park near Chapel-en-le-Frith in Derbyshire, closed its doors for the last time. The zoological or wildlife park was opened in 1984 and was home to many birds of prey and several different species of otter. Set in a wooded valley, pleasant and green, the park could also boast a wild herd of fallow deer.

The reason for the closure is the retirement of the owners, Carol and Roger Heap. Since the closure the necessary animals have all been successfully moved to new homes. Many of the birds of prey, predominately owls have been moved to the National Centre for Birds of Prey in Helmsley, Yorkshire, which is owned and run by Carol and Roger’s elder son and his wife Vicki.

All the remaining animals and birds been rehoused at the New Forest Wildlife Park in Hampshire. This park is managed by Carol and Roger’s younger son Ed and his wife Clare. This couple also run Battersea Park Children’s Zoo. Conservation is clearly a family concern as many of the species of otter and owl at the Chestnut Centre and other parks, are threatened in the wild.

I visited the Chestnut Centre some years ago now, spending an enjoyable day exploring the valley, spotting Scottish Wildcats, Stoats, Pine martins and even a fox, all in their respective pens. Although known as the Owl, Otter and Wildlife Park, the Chestnut Centre did not in any way neglect those other wildlife species. Naturally the primary focus was the otters and never had I seen; nor seen since, so many different species of otter.

Looking back there is some sadness that Derbyshire has lost another wildlife park, as Riber Castle Zoo near Matlock closed twenty years ago. However, we should remember that the animals from the Chestnut Centre have all found new homes, the important work of breeding and conservation can continue. The work of the Heap family in this field should not be underestimated and I wish Carol and Roger a happy retirement.

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