A special animal feeding encounter at Wildwood Escot

PUBLISHED: 08:00 03 October 2020

Wildwood Escot is one of the few places in the country where you can hand feed red squirrels

Wildwood Escot is one of the few places in the country where you can hand feed red squirrels

Wildwood Escot

A special animal feeding encounter at Wildwood Escot has been added to the attractions portfolio, writes Kirsty Woodgate, who enjoyed the experience

Lyra, the beautiful Arctic Fox displaying her autumnal bluey-grey furLyra, the beautiful Arctic Fox displaying her autumnal bluey-grey fur

Recently, several new encounters were added to the Wildwood Escot portfolio, to enhance its visitor experience and complement its environmental awareness campaigns.

The new experiences, launched at the beginning of September, allow visitors to see and feed some of the animals up close at the Escot estate, near Ottery St Mary.

We were invited to sample three of these exciting encounters that involved spending time with the red squirrels, the hungry wolves and the dainty Arctic fox.

We were safely chaperoned around the site by education manager Charlie Mead, who was accompanied by keepers Ben Gregory and Tanith Meyer.

Feeding fresh meat to the wolves at Wildwood EscotFeeding fresh meat to the wolves at Wildwood Escot

With a small tub of hazelnuts in hand, we were first led to see the adorable red squirrels.

Five red squirrels call the enclosure home and each one has a unique character.

The bravest, Fern, has been at Escot for eight years, and is the first to approach us to grasp a tasty hazelnut.

The others, Twiglet, Blossom, Thyme and Cherry, also venture near us, with a little more trepidation, but hungry for the hazelnuts, they gently come forward and quickly grab them from us with their teeth.

Wildwood Escot is one of the few places in the country where you can hand feed red squirrelsWildwood Escot is one of the few places in the country where you can hand feed red squirrels

The staff at Wildwood Escot have trained the squirrels to respond to the noise from a small hand-held clicking device. The squirrels associate the clicking noise with a treat, so when they hear the clicks, they come forward knowing they will be given a tasty nut.

In sharp contrast to the genteel, timid nature of the red rodents, we were directed to the wolves’ enclosure next.

The interaction with the wolves takes place at their boundary fence, as they have been conditioned to associate a fence visit with a treat they like. Treats include tripe, chicken or fish.

There are six wolves, a family pack made up of four brothers and two sisters. A formal hierarchy within the pack doesn’t seem to have been established, with the males, namely Elvis, Moby, Sting and Lemmy, taking an equal pegging with the females PJ and KD.

Lyra, the beautiful Arctic Fox displaying her autumnal bluey-grey furLyra, the beautiful Arctic Fox displaying her autumnal bluey-grey fur

Yet each wolf has a distinct character, with Lemmy being a bit of a joker and KD the most curious.

The pack is largely harmonious, although there are inevitable moments where they compete with each other.

Feeding the wolves is a memorable encounter.

We are given wooden tongs to grasp the meat and feed the wolves through the gaps in the fence.

Feeding fresh meat to the wolves at Wildwood EscotFeeding fresh meat to the wolves at Wildwood Escot

Although it’s clearly apparent that the wolves are vying for the food, and squabble a bit, we feel totally safe on our side of the boundary.

Our last visit of the day was to see the gentle Arctic fox, Lyra, who like a chameleon, changes colour and fur according to the seasons.

In the summer, this delicate looking animal sports light brown fur, that is shed and replaced by a light bluey grey colour in the autumn.

By winter, she is coated in thick white fur.

This transformation is simply fascinating.

This time we scatter the food and place it strategically so Lyra can access it easily.

Lyra is fed a diet of fresh and frozen chicks, peas and raspberries.

This rounded off an altogether engaging and enjoyable visit.

Being so close to the animals was truly enlightening, but being in the company of people who know the individual personalities of each animal so well adds another level of interest.

With an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the animals, Charlie, who has been the education manager at Wildwood Escot for three years, said: “The experiences give people a chance to get up close and personal with the British species.

“They create a real connection between animals and people.”

General manager George Hyde said: “The experiences allow us, in a controlled and safe way, to remove the normal barriers that people have when visiting.

“People are able to see the animals in a totally different light.

“The staff are engaging and have such expert knowledge of each individual animal and their characteristics, which enhances the whole experience”.

Covid-secure measures are in place throughout the park.

Visit https://devon.wildwoodtrust.org/


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