Wildwood: A Hidden Kent Gem
If you’re looking for an affordable but exciting present for a nature lover (or even one to add to your own birthday wish list), then I strongly suggest you consider a day out at the nearest animal sanctuary. Or if the recipient wants that little bit more educational or interactive day out, try a day course, such as the Mammal Identification at Wildwood. Last year I had the chance to attend the course, and not only did the day not break the bank, but I learnt about nature too (and not in the powerpoint manner with monotone speaking voice that would rock you to sleep kind of way).
Wildwood, opened since 1999, is situated in North East Kent, and was one of the more fun places I travelled to with my secondary school. I remember the field trip, at about 13 years old, and having a wonderful time round the park, especially the play area where we played tag. In fact, that day might have been one of the early moments that lead to a zoology degree later on in life. I’ve wanted to visit the park again for years, and a day course in identifying mammals seemed like the perfect chance.
The course set a relaxed pace for learning, where questions were encouraged and no question was too silly or stupid to answer. Our class totalled six, which was a good number to be small enough to not get lost in a crowd, but not so small that it would feel intimidating or like an odd interview. The course wasn’t dissimilar to a weekend long course I’d done on small mammal identification, except this one was focused on larger animals, too. Using guidebooks and several tables worth of specimens, we learnt the ways that you can identify mammals found across the UK. The clues animals leave behind, such as bits of fur, trails and specific scents, all build up a picture of what animal had been there.
If you have a strong stomach and enjoy taxidermy specimens and skulls, then you’d enjoy the hands-on part of the course where we got to examine a range of animal parts. I’d never really thought of wild boar as living in the UK, and having a chance to compare the coarseness of its fur compared to a fox isn’t an everyday activity. For fun, we even had a test. Now, as odd as that may sound, the test was actually a poop test, and we all had to examine about ten different types of faeces, and see how many of them we remembered from the morning’s teaching. I was particularly pleased to identify the squirrel poo correctly, and am still quite proud of that to this day.
To end the day, we were given a guided tour around the park, which flooded back memories for me of being 13 and enjoying one of the better days of school. The trip was a good reminder for me of some animals I haven’t seen in years, and I was shocked at how small a weasel is and how big an elk is (honestly, there are terrifying in a way). Zoos are a controversial topic when it comes to the quality of the care for the animals, but I didn’t see any enclosures at Wildwood that made me feel like the animal was worse off for being inside of it.
To pay £30 for a guided tour, information packs, interactive learning, access to awesome specimens, and a chance for a bit of nostalgia, was more than acceptable, and Wildwood was a great day out. I would recommend the place if you’re ever nearby, and the park actually does a range of courses, should they take your fancy. And, considering you get a certificate afterwards, it’s a very enjoyable way to get a little boost for your CV.
Words by Olly Dove
Olly recently completed her MSc. in Taxonomy and Biodiversity at ICL and the Natural History Museum, with her next step being a volunteering placement with RSPB.