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by Bethany Hanson

Spring has finally arrived at Knowsley Safari and not a moment too soon. It’s been a long cold winter for staff and animals alike! Just this morning I saw the first snowdrops open on the Tiger Trail and the wildlife is beginning to wake up.

On March 3rd, World Wildlife Day is celebrated across the globe and as a Carnivore Keeper, it is easy to focus on the amazing species I work with. However, I was very lucky to grow up in the British countryside, so for World Wildlife this year I want to highlight our incredible native wildlife. The British Isles are home to a huge variety of wild animals, from red deer and otters to badgers and vivid kingfishers. These animals not only bring joy to anyone who sees them, they also play a crucial role in supporting our planet’s biodiversity.

Buzzard in flight

Red Deer are the largest land mammal in the UK and fill an ecological niche left when other large herbivores, such as bison and elk, were hunted to local extinction by humans around 10,000 years ago. These large herbivores are often called ecosystem engineers. They eat huge amounts of low-level vegetation, which clears the way for sunlight to reach the forest floor. This in turn allows native flower species to bloom, which boosts insect numbers, they then feed small birds and mammals. If badgers move in, their activity often exposes extra bugs and grubs as they dig their sets. This influx of prey species means the area can now support predators, such as birds of prey, foxes and, once upon a time, wolves.

Red Deer by ajh_creative_22

Otters are key indicators of the health of our rivers and streams. As they feed on larger fish and aquatic life, they prevent the over-predation of smaller fish species. This allows other species, like kingfishers, to eat their fill and allows amphibians to thrive as their spawn have a better chance of making it through those treacherous first weeks of life.

All these species play vital roles by controlling populations of other animals and providing essential ecosystem services allowing other species to thrive just by being around them. They are all equally important to keeping the ecosystem in balance.

Conservation is at the heart of what we do at Knowsley and the best work starts at home. Our Research Team monitor populations of birds, bats and amphibians across the Safari grounds and the neighbouring Knowsley Hall Estate. They support the National Bat Monitoring Survey with dawn and dusk surveys, roost monitoring and by coming to the rescue when any of us find a grounded bat and need Official Bat Wranglers. Also, I know the visiting barnacle geese had a fantastic time giving our keepers the run-around when they were ringed last July. Now we’ll be able to tell if any of them are returning to us year after year. I’m sure the yak are gracious hosts and don’t mind sharing their paddock.

Barnacle Geese rung at Knowsley Safari were seen in Surrey. Photo from @KaneBrides

Knowsley also hosts the Reclaiming Reds Project. The last sighting of a red squirrel at Knowsley was in 2016 and Reclaiming Reds are on a mission to bring them back. Red squirrels are a beautiful native species that saw a catastrophic decline following the introduction of grey squirrels in 1876. Grey squirrels carry squirrel pox, which is fatal to reds and outcompete them for food and habitats. They can also cause irreparable damage to our woodlands by stripping the bark off trees at a rate that our native species can’t survive. So, by using a combination of camera trap monitoring and invasive species control, Reclaiming Reds are creating a safe place for the red squirrel population currently in Formby to expand into

On this World Wildlife Day, let’s all take a moment to appreciate the incredible native wildlife around us. Our ecosystems are vast and intricately linked but fragile, and we can all do our bit to support them. No action is too small for wildlife! Plant pollinator-friendly plants, create a bug hotel or find local projects to see how to support nature on your doorstep! Together, we can all ensure that these extraordinary species can continue to thrive and bring joy to our lives for generations to come.