A new woodland area is being planted at Marwell Zoo as part of a groundbreaking initiative to provide a source of nutritious food for its animals and expand the native habitat for local wildlife.
In collaboration with the Woodland Trust, Hampshire conservation charity Marwell Wildlife is planting more than 7,000 trees on its farmland to benefit both its zoo animals and British wildlife.
Once the eight-acre woodland begins to mature, animals such as giraffe, okapi and bongo will enjoy a plentiful supply of twigs and foliage known as ‘browse’ which they naturally eat in the wild.
Dr Ollie Szyszka, Animal Nutritionist at Marwell Zoo, said: “Browse has a number of health and behavioural benefits for animals. It provides the much-needed fibre required by these species to maintain a healthy gut and efficient digestion. It helps promote healthy teeth and gums and stimulates the natural process of rumination in ruminant species. Behaviourally, it helps keep animals occupied and prolongs feeding time.”
The unique project has been made possible thanks to the Woodland Trust’s flagship MOREwoods scheme, which began in 2010 and has seen the creation of more than 2,075 hectares of woodland and the planting of more than two million trees across the UK.
In a first of its kind for the Trust, Outreach Adviser Luke Everitt has guided Marwell through the process of design, ordering and planting the native woodland.
The woodland conservation charity has supplied 5825 trees, a mix of alder, field maple, goat willow, small leaved lime, oak, silver birch and wild cherry, and 1450 hazel shrubs plus canes and spirals for protection as they become established.
Luke explained: “There’s a growing interest in planting trees and shrubs for browse, partly because of the savings that can be made on feed but mainly because of the nutritional and medicinal benefits it brings to the animals. Willow for example is nature’s aspirin, containing salicin, the active ingredient in the familiar bathroom cabinet remedy.
“We’ve chosen a mix of species which will readily coppice and provide plenty of annual regrowth as well as plenty of palatability to tickle a bongo’s tastebuds or satisfy the hungriest giraffe. We’ve also chosen species similar to those in woods next to the farm to ensure suitability for soil type, hydrology and maximum survival rate.”
The trees will also benefit the environment too, helping to improve soil stability and air quality, slowing the flow of flood water and providing a home for wildlife.
Dr Martin Wilkie, Conservation Biologist at Marwell, said: “Not only will the production of forage for the zoo be a huge benefit, the creation of woodland will generate diverse woodland habitat. The varied species mix and structure will benefit insect pollinators, birds and other wildlife communities. The rough grassland beneath will provide refuge for small mammals, supporting our resident Barn owl population, and a plan to overseed with wildflowers will enhance the floral community.”
Anyone who wishes to plant a minimum half a hectare of their land (1.25 acres) can sign up to MOREWoods. The Woodland Trust offers expert advice and guidance on creating native woodland and can provide the best species mix for each site. The Trust will also contribute up to 60 per cent of the set up costs and for larger sites of a hectare or more can arrange to plant the trees as well.