“ Address: Lochfergue Plantation / Kickcudbright / Dumfries and Galloway / DG6 4XX / Scotland „
I took my 82 year old Mum for a few days break to Galloway last week. The Galloway Wildlife Conservation Park was one of the places we went to visit.
It is situated just outside the town of Kirkudbright and well signposted from the town centre and about ten minutes from the A75.
The park is set in 27 acres of woodland. Don't let the extremely rough track up to it put you off visiting. Persevere through the ruts and up the single track road and eventually you get to it. Hopefully you will not, like us, meet a driver who doesn't know where the reverse gear is in their car!
The track leads to a fairly large parking area amongst trees. There is no charge for parking and two disabled bays close to the entrance. The charges for entrance were £6.00 for me and £5.00 for my Mum.
If you decide to adopt an animal, which will cost you £30.00 per year, you get unlimited free access.
To be honest, at first sight the park doesn't look too promising. There was a large circle of pens visible and not much else.
The ticket booth was at one end of a cabin which was also a shop and cafe. There were some nice wooden picnic tables and benches outside for you to sit and have your drink or ice cream at. There was very little for sale in the souvenir shop which I was happy about but my mum was not!
As we walked around the first circle of pens it was possible to see the larger layout of the park. It would have been helpful if we had been given a map of the place in order to plan where we would visit. As it was we wandered down a few routes which were not really suitable for an 82 year old and left her very tired by the time we found our way back onto level pathways. There were one or two indications on the way round of routes that were suitable for wheelchairs, but they were a bit 'too little too late'.
Nevertheless we enjoyed our visit. The park has a collection of almost 150 animals, some of which are endangered species and the majority of which are part of breeding programmes in conjunction with other wildlife parks throughout Europe.
The highlight of the visit for me were the otters, it was obviously close to feeding time and two adult otters stood at the end of the pen and squeaked and begged endearingly at us as we looked over to admire them. They had kittens but they were safely asleep in their lodge and we didn't see them. I was fascinated by the way the otters kept a stone or a shell tucked under their arms and held them up to us every so often. I found the otters themselves lovely to see but I wasn't too impressed by their pen. It was clean but fairly small.
The meerkat enclosure was quite spacious and it was fun to watch the meerkats on 'sentry duty'. There is something quite different to seeing their inquisitive little faces in the flesh. For some reason the biggest meerkat kept raising it's forepaw and it reminded me for all the world like someone standing in a bus queue.
Many of the creatures were very hard to spot. I thought this was fair enough because they were allowed their privacy in their runs or enclosures. The small wildcats were hard to spot but rewarding when sighted in the undergrowth that made up a large part of their pens.
All the animals looked healthy and their pens were kept very clean. The park though, obviously suffers from underfunding and some of the unused pens were very overgrown and neglected looking.
One of the larger aviaries contained Kookaburras and the noise from them had to be heard to be believed. One little girl was so startled by the din she threw herself down screaming and refused to go any further. She was so distraught her mum had to take her back to the car. It was easy to understand why they are called Laughing Jackasses.
There were quite a few large paddocks. These contained wallabies, guanacos (like small lamas), Anoas (tiny little cattle), lots of peacocks, herons and ducks. There was quite an impressive wallow for the wild pigs and tapirs.
The Conservation Park has had a fairly succesful year in terms of breeding. In the last few months they have had two red panda cubs born. These are beautiful creatures and were very happy to show off to us. Red pandas are becoming extremely rare so it is a great achievement for two to be born and reared in captivity. Besides the lovely pandas, wallabies, asian otters and tree porcupines have been born here with more arrivals expected in the next few weeks. I found the staff very informative and happy to chat about what was going on in the park. They seemed genuinely proud of the work they were doing and pleased to help in any way.
One exciting aspect of the park is regular sessions at around 3pm where there is an opportunity to meet and handle snakes. Unfortunately my Mum was too tired to stay for this and we missed it. I did look longingly at the photographs though. I have always wanted to handle a boa. I will time my visit better next time I hope!
The enclosures were spaced around the hillside and woodlands in what seemed to me a haphazard fashion. Because of the way the enclosures were built to include trees and bushes it felt like a fairly natural environment was being provided for the animals. I do have reservations though about the space allotted to some of the creatures.( but I am always a bit torn about that in any wildlife park.)
My sense was that the curators were doing their best for the animals given the resources they had available.
This wildlife park is worth a visit. It isn't a vast and polished affair like Chester zoo but it is a pleasant and educational place to visit for a few hours. Many of the paths are steep or rough underfoot so you need to be reasonably mobile to be able to see everything.
For me the experience would have been enhanced if there was more information available about the layout of the site. An A4 map of the enclosures with the animals to be found in them would have been really useful. Also, more information about the animals written on the enclosures would have been useful. On a number of occasions I didn't know what (if anything) a particular enclosure, paddock or cage held.
Overall I found this Conservation Park interesting. Some of the animals were delightful to see and the staff were very helpful. I just couldn't help feeling that the whole place needed a large investment of capital to offset the slightly amateurish and ramshackle feel to it. Having said that, don't be put off visiting because the conservation and breeding work they do is fairly impressive for a small concern.
More information can be found on their website..
~~~Opening times and prices~~~
Open from 1st February to 30th November.
10am to dusk daily (last admission 6.00pm)
December to January: Closed
Senior Citizen £5.00
Family £19.00 ( 2 adults & 2 Children )