New wildlife reserve with passion for endangered species set to open next week

PUBLISHED: 06:30 28 July 2020 | UPDATED: 16:13 28 July 2020

Visitors will tour the reserve using buggies. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife Reserve

Visitors will tour the reserve using buggies. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife Reserve


A new wildlife reserve created out of a passion for endangered species by a Norfolk farmer and conservationist is set to open next week.

Blesbuck. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife ReserveBlesbuck. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife Reserve

Farmer Edward Pope and the Watatunga team are preparing to open up the new attraction for its first guided tour on Monday, August 3.

The 170-acre west Norfolk site, near the A10 at Watlington, specialises in the conservation of endangered ungulates - mainly deer and antelope - and around 70 different bird species such as the great bustard.

Edward Pope with some of the water buffalo he has bred at Watlington, near King's Lynn. Picture: Ian BurtEdward Pope with some of the water buffalo he has bred at Watlington, near King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt

The project, which is a product of Mr Pope’s love for conservation and endangered species, also aims to make people aware of these animals and educate them on the importance of their preservation.

Anna Hamilton, Watatunga director and wife of Mr Pope, said: “It’s a conservation programme and the science, genetics, breeding and conservation of the animals is first and foremost. That’s what we’re all passionate about.

Roan. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife ReserveRoan. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife Reserve

“My passion for teaching and Ed’s passion for conservation came together and there was the idea he’d continue the science and genetic work he’s been doing for years with zoos across the UK and Europe.

“Ed as a child spent a lot of time visiting Africa. It’s been his passion to do something different in the current farming climate.”

White stork. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife ReserveWhite stork. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife Reserve

The former science teacher added they hope to work with schools in the next few years.

Mrs Hamilton said: “The thing I’m most proud of is that the species we specifically work with tend to go under the radar, they’re not the rhinos, the tigers, the panda bears.

Scimitar-horned Oryx. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife ReserveScimitar-horned Oryx. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife Reserve

“Many of them are more endangered than the panda bears, with only a few of them left in captivity in the world, let alone roaming out in the wild.

“The focus for us is the animals but it’s also a huge opportunity for us to educate the public on species which otherwise aren’t really talked about.”

Barasingha male. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife ReserveBarasingha male. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife Reserve

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Creating the habitats for the animals at Watatunga has taken years to get ready to ensure the pasture and grass mixes are appropriate for the many species on site.

Kafue Flats Lechwe. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife ReserveKafue Flats Lechwe. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife Reserve

And the director added that business plans had to be altered after the original opening, which was meant to take place in April, was delayed due to Covid-19.

Mrs Hamilton said: “Some of the animals have been around for years such as the buffalos and quite a lot of the deer and antelope species.

Great Bustard - went extinct in UK in 1832 - last stronghold was Norfolk. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife ReserveGreat Bustard - went extinct in UK in 1832 - last stronghold was Norfolk. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife Reserve

“It’s taken a long time and the wet winter we had really set us back a bit, we’ve had very unusual weather as well with the very wet and then hot, dry April and May.

“But it’s beginning to look wonderful in there and the animals are breeding well which is a great sign that they’re happy.”

Blackbuck or Indian Antelope. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife ReserveBlackbuck or Indian Antelope. Picture: Watatunga Wildlife Reserve

Tours will be taking place in a socially distanced way with staff taking a maximum of five buggies on each tour. Visitors will follow a lead guide in their own buggies while listening to information through speakers.

An online booking system will be launched sometime this week - a date has not yet been confirmed.

Once open the site will be run by five members of staff, who will be taking two tours a day to begin with, for four days a week.

She added: “We’re going to open in a very small way.

“We can offer visitors individual golf buggies - which will mean they can stay within their family bubble of four to six people.

“It’s been an interesting challenge but we’re in a lovely position that it is outdoors and hopefully we can take great advantage of that... We got feedback from the community and we feel we’ve really responded to that and hopefully the community feel that too.

“It’s been a massive team effort and we’ve had great support from local companies.”

Watatunga also offers two self catering holiday lets on the edge of the reserve.

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