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British Wildlife Centre owner David Mills on his perfect Surrey weekend

PUBLISHED: 16:12 14 May 2015 | UPDATED: 16:42 14 May 2015

David Mills with one of the red squirrels at the British Wildlife Centre

David Mills with one of the red squirrels at the British Wildlife Centre

Matt Binstead

As owner and founder of the British Wildlife Centre in Lingfield, which is home to the country’s finest collection of native wildlife, David Mills rarely manages a weekend off, but that’s just the way he likes it. Here he talks us through what he gets up to...

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2015

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Share your Surrey wildlife photography @ www.surreylife.co.uk/photos

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“What is a weekend?” This was a question once asked by the indomitable Dowager Countess of Grantham from the popular TV series, Downton Abbey.

This same question is relevant to us here at the British Wildlife Centre because as a visitor attraction we are open to visitors every weekend of the year (as well as daily during school holidays). On weekdays in term-time, we are busy hosting school visits and photographic events.

I am fortunate enough to live on-site in a house I designed myself and built ten years ago – overlooking the lake of the nature reserve with not another dwelling to be seen in any direction. Absolute heaven! Native American Indians always had their tepee door facing east so they could give thanks to the rising sun for the gift of a new day. I always try to do the same as it helps me connect with nature and appreciate my surroundings.

Animal magic

I usually start first thing by checking on my own animals. The first ones to greet me are my two large dogs, both rescues, a Newfoundland and a German Shepherd. Together, we let out the very free-ranging chickens. If we have time, we walk out onto the reserve to check the grazing animals: three Highland steers, a retired polo pony and an ancient Shetland pony, all there to do a job in conservational grazing.

Having done the rounds, it is time for breakfast – hearty but healthy fare, which means I can skip lunch if I am too busy in the centre. On the rare occasions, I am away from the centre overnight, I might indulge in a full English!

At weekends, we open at 10am. I am blessed to have a wonderful young team of keepers and visitor centre staff who help to make the place such a success. My job is to be around to make sure they have everything they need. We do a series of popular and informative keeper talks at the various animal enclosures, starting at 10.30am in the walk-through red squirrel enclosure. I enjoy mingling with the visitors, listening to their comments and chatting with them afterwards. I find that this is the best way to get direct feedback on ways of improving the visitor experience.

Through the lens

We recently moved into the world of film too! With the help of a small production team of professionals, I have created and developed a cartoon red squirrel character called ‘Pip’ who interacts with the real animals here at the centre and stars in his own DVD. It is an entertaining way to teach young children simple facts about the wildlife that lives all around them and, hopefully, fires their imagination to discover nature for themselves. Series 1 is out now and Series 2 is in post-production. ‘Pip the Squirrel’ even has his own website.

We are currently planning a Pip’s corner where young children can learn about nature in a fun and interactive way. I can’t wait to see how this develops.

• The British Wildlife Centre is home to the finest collection of native wildlife in the country, with over 40 species on display. The centre is open to the public every weekend and during school holidays. Admission: Adults, £11; children, £8; under-three’s, free; seniors, £10; family ticket (two plus two), £35. Tel: 01342 834658. Web: britishwildlifecentre.co.uk

 

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MORE FOR ANIMAL LOVERS

• Surrey Wildlife Trust has a monthly column in Surrey Life magazine

Dame Judi Dench becomes a Surrey Wildlife Trust patron

• British Wildlife Centre, near Lingfield - a wild day out in Surrey

Owl enclosures open at British Wildlife Centre in Lingfield

• The new WWF headquarters in Woking: one of the UK’s greenest buildings and a new Surrey attraction

• Actress Virginia McKenna on Born Free, life in Coldharbour and her memoirs, The Life in My Years

• Nicholas Owen meets Wildlife Aid’s Simon Cowell

• Discover how the Shalford-based David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation is helping to protect the world’s endangered species

The Supervet and his pioneering work replacing animal limbs at Eashing

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