We drive up to a little garden centre, and as we pull up towards the back of the car-park I can see creatures from afar bounding about in enclosures. Now, I am excited! I hurriedly make my way through Fletcher’s Garden Centre, dragging Stuart behind me, who is sporting his “my girlfriend is crazy but endearing” face. We get to the entrance, and are immediately greeted with the sounds of animals scurrying about, and squawks from the resident raptors….
“Gentleshaw Wildlife centre, a registered charity, is a small sanctuary for exotic animals and birds of prey. As well as a hospital unit for the treatment of wild raptors, (not on display), the centre is home to over 30 different species of Bird of prey, Primate, Reptile, Invertebrate, Raccoons, Cats and many more. Our mission statement is to provide, at all times, the best care and welfare for the birds and animals we take in, nothing is more important to us than their health and safety.” [source]
Small nature centres are often looked over in favour of the larger zoos, but I am in love with sanctuaries like Gentleshaw Wildlife Centre. Its ethos is centred around the rescue, and rehabilitation of exotic animals being kept in bad conditions. This is further enhanced by their on-site raptor hospital, which is not accessible to the public. All around the enclosures there are signs telling the stories of how the animals came to the centre: their previous circumstances (most of which were quite harrowing), their recovery, and their current disposition. I was just as fascinated by these signs as I was by the creatures themselves. Every time we visit zoos, and nature centres I always joke with Stuart about wanting to take the animals home to live with us, and we have conversations about what it would be like to live with the various species we encounter… but this centre was an eye-widening reminder of just how often exotic animals are abused and neglected by humans. While the conversations we have are always light-hearted, there are plenty that are not. Please think twice before deciding to bring an exotic animal into your home!!
While small, Gentleshaw was mighty! There were plenty of animals that piqued our interest, and a few we had never seen before. The favourite for me was seeing the enclosure of wildcats. If you follow this blog, you will come to realise just how much of a crazy cat lady I am! In fact, this is a very good example of it… usually we are very methodical in our animal visits, we move around centres from enclosure to enclosure, sticking to the maps to make sure we do not miss anything… but this time, I saw the cats and nothing else existed and I hurried straight over to them! They were beautiful, and it was the first time I had seen different species of wildcat up close.
Another highlight was the group of endearingly adorable raccoons. They were so fun to watch swinging around the rope swings in their enclosure, and climbing all over the ledges and tree trunks. Peak trash panda joy!
I was also thrilled to see a wolfdog. His name was Saxon and he was beautiful… and massive! It was the closest I have come to seeing a wolf of any kind, and with huge paws, a very handsome face, and beautiful markings on his coat, Saxon was a wonder to see.
Did you know? The species marker name for all wildcats is “silvestris” which is Latin for “Of the forest.” This is especially interesting when you consider all the mythology and fairytails that have been told throughout the ages about cat-like creatures in the woods. A favourite myth of mine is the Scottish Sith Cat legend. A Cat Sith is said to be a fairy creature from Celtic mythology resembling a large black cat with a white spot on its chest. Legend has it that this spectral cat haunts the Scottish Highlands. These tales are thought to be inspired by the Scottish Wildcat, a few of which have been discovered with melanistic properties, and resemble the Sith Cat legend.
Gentleshaw Wildlife Centre at a glance…
10:30 – 16:30
Closes are 16:00 during the winter months.
Closed on Tuesdays
Family Ticket: £16.00
Address: Stone Rd, Eccleshall, Stafford ST21 6JY OR use Google Maps here.
The centre is largely accessible.
Activity packs can be bought for children for £1.00
Also on site is a tearoom, miniature train, garden centre, playground, and mini golf.
No dogs allowed in the centre, but are allowed in the surrounding garden centre.