‘Fantastic’ first season for new wildlife reserve as more animals brought in
- Credit: Archant
A Norfolk wildlife reserve says it has been “blown away” by positive feedback after opening for its first season and introducing a clutch of new animals.
Watatunga Wildlife Reserve in Watlington, near King’s Lynn, has seen more than 1,000 people visit after opening for its first tour at the beginning of August.
The 170-acre west Norfolk site, made up of old quarries, lakes and vast swathes of grassland and woodland, specialises in the conservation of endangered ungulates - mainly deer and antelope - and has around 70 different bird species.
The reserve, which is a product of farmer Ed Pope, Anna Hamilton and the Watatunga team’s love for conservation and endangered species, also aims to educate people on the importance of the preservation of these animals.
Mrs Hamilton, director, said the first season had been “fantastic”, after the reserve adapted its operational model in order to make the tours possible under social distancing measures, following a delayed opening due to lockdown.
The former science teacher added: “Initially we were going to offer trailer tours but just after lockdown we rented five electric buggies allowing guests to remain within their ‘bubble’ and get out and about among our magnificent wildlife.
“Our tours were fully booked throughout the summer holidays and we have welcomed more than 1,000 visitors to the reserve since opening and have been blown away by the positive feedback and enthusiasm for what we’re doing.”
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Storks, the great bustard, water buffalos, roan antelope and scimitar horned oryx are a few of the most regularly seen animals.
And new animals were introduced into the reserve over the summer including four Père David deer, three great bustard males, two barasingha males, a melanistic fallow buck, mouflon, white stork and a Malayan sambar male.
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Mr Pope said: “It’s been totally amazing.
“We’ve been doing conservation work for many years and it was about bringing in people to see this and the feedback has been remarkable.
“You never know whether it’s something that is of interest to me and the team or whether actually people will embrace it and respond to it and thankfully it has just been incredible how people have taken it.”
Mrs Hamilton added: “It’s been great seeing people coming back from the tours and hearing their feedback. That’s meant the world to us as a team after all the effort and set up, to then see people enjoy it is a huge relief but it also makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
Watatunga works in partnership with the Great Bustard Group to restore populations of the great bustard across England, with a plan to create further populations in other areas which formerly held them, including Norfolk.
Mrs Hamilton said: “Watatunga is one of only two places in the UK which holds great bustard and is a key partner in the captive breeding project.”
The site will close for the season at the end of October with plans to reopen in April and Mr Pope said they will use the winter period to reflect on what the reserve “could do better”.
That will include possibly looking at creating a café after 90pc of initial visitors surveyed felt the experience could be improved by having one.
He added: “I’m excited the way this season has gone and the potential for next season.”
The team is also considering how to make the reserve more suited for individuals and couples, with the four and six-seater buggies currently needing to be booked in their entirety.
Mrs Hamilton said: “We’re looking forward to developing our education work while we are closed for buggy tours over the winter and hope to reopen in April next year for a full season of tours.”
Watatunga has also been involved in setting up the Turtle Dove Trust and has released 22 turtle doves - one of Britain’s most endangered specialist farmland species - on site in the hopes of providing them and other farmland birds with a “safe breeding environment”.
Watatunga is looking for a reserve manager - for more information click here