Our staff are celebrating the first anniversary of opening Bear Wood, an immersive woodland exhibit home to brown bears, wolves, lynx and wolverine.
The multi-million pound, 7.5 acre woodland exhibit is the UK’s largest and most ambitious brown bear exhibit.
It has been hugely popular with visitors since being officially opened last July by their Royal Highnesses the Earl and Countess of Wessex, accompanied by their children, Lady Louise and James, Viscount Severn.
The exhibit attracted record visitor numbers to Wild Place in 2019, and won a prestigious Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Social Impact Award.
Bear Wood takes visitors on a time-travelling journey, back to a time when bears, wolves, lynx and wolverine roamed the UK countryside. Visitors follow a raised wooden walkway through the trees, at heights of up to several metres, offering a truly unique view down onto the animals.
Over the past 12 months, the animals have all settled in well to their new home. The lynx have successfully bred and Bear Wood is now home to two tiny lynx kittens, believed to be the first bred in a UK Zoo this year.
Earlier this year, for the first time, the five European grey wolves were introduced to the same large woodland exhibit as the four bears, and the two species began living side by side as they would have done in this country thousands of years ago.
This was a huge milestone for Wild Place Project, and the first time these species have been mixed together in a UK Zoo.
Dr Justin Morris, chief executive of Bristol Zoological Society, which operates Wild Place Project, said: “It is fantastic that Bear Wood continues to be so popular. A lot of time and energy went into creating this award-winning exhibit, to ensure it would be the best it possibly could be. To see it now, one year on, bringing so much joy to so many people, is extremely rewarding.
“To now be able to see bears and wolves coexisting in the same woodland is another huge achievement. Whilst this isn’t a rewilding project, it is the first time European brown bears and European wolves have been together in ancient British woodland for more than 1,000 years. Bear Wood has opened up an interesting debate about rewilding which could one day perhaps see animals such as these reintroduced to the UK countryside.”
As well as offering visitors the amazing opportunity to see these charismatic species in a beautiful woodland setting as they would have once lived, Bear Wood also aims to inspire visitors to value and protect native woodland habitats and species.
Dr Morris added: “Bear Wood is most significant addition to Wild Place Project in the seven years since we opened. The feedback we have received from our visitors and supporters has been tremendous and we can also now say with confidence that it inspires visitors about the woodland and wildlife we still have, encouraging visitors to protect what remains.”
Woodlands, similar to those at Wild Place Project, covered Britain thousands of years ago but have been steadily cut down for building, housing, fuel, growing crops and making paper. Today only two per cent of Britain’s ancient woodland has not been destroyed.
But Bear Wood isn’t just about what we’ve lost. It’s also about protecting what we have left. It inspires visitors to value and protect native woodland habitats and species. Woodland offers a vital habitat for threatened species such as tawny owls, dormice, bats, butterflies and hedgehogs.
Visitors to Wild Place are now asked to pre-purchase tickets, and members are asked to pre-book tickets in advance, online, here wildplace.org.uk/plan-your-visit/online-tickets
Bristol Zoological Society, which operates Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place Project, is a conservation and education charity and relies on the generous support of the public not only to fund its important work at Wild Place Project and Bristol Zoo, but also its vital conservation and research projects spanning five continents.
The Society recently launched an appeal to ensure the future of its work ‘saving wildlife together’. The Society, which is a registered charity, has launched the BZS Appeal following the temporary closure of both its sites in Bristol in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
To find out more, or to make a donation, visit https://bristolzoo.org.uk/bzsappeal.
Bear Wood is kindly sponsored by Natracare, the Bristol-based, plastic-free and organic period product company.