As the nights get darker earlier, there’s no better time for a spot of wildlife spotting on your Center Parcs break. Wrap up warm and settle down on your private patio in your own little slice of the forest.
Use our guide, with tips from our expert Village Rangers, to look and listen for the creatures that come out at night.
You don’t need to be on a break to spot wildlife. Take our guide camping, to the park, or even into your own back garden if you live in the countryside.
You have a pretty good chance of spotting deer at any Center Parcs Village. If you’re staying at Elveden Forest, Ranger Peter Larcombe says you should look out for little Muntjac deer. Muntjac are the oldest known deer. They’re about the size of a Labrador and the males have small, straight antlers.
At Sherwood Forest, you may be lucky enough to hear a larger roe deer. Roe deer are larger than Muntjac, they have black markings on their noses and the males have large, tall antlers. “There aren’t any roe deer living at Sherwood Forest”, explains Ranger Amy Walker, “But we know they sneak in from nearby woods to look for food as they’ve been spotted by guests and caught on our cameras.”
What they do at night: If deer are out at night, it’s because they’re feeding. Deer are ruminants, which means they eat plants and fruits and chew them for a long time, so they’re probably looking for the tastiest grass.
What they sound like: Deer bark (like a dog) and snort (like a pig).
Early autumn is your best bet for hearing or seeing deer because it’s when they’re at their hungriest! Deer feed most in autumn to build up fat supplies to get them through the lean winter months.
Be on the lookout for hedgehogs if you’re staying with us at Woburn Forest, says Ranger Lucie Vicentijevic.
“Plenty of hedgehogs live on our Villages but you’re most likely to spot them at night as there’s too much noise and activity for them during the day.”
What they do at night: Hedgehogs hibernate between November and March, but they’re still active through most of autumn. At night they’re hunting for food – worms, slugs, snails and insects.
What they sound like: Hedgehogs are pretty quiet – the most you’ll hear is snuffling through the undergrowth.
If a hedgehog pops into your garden for a visit, you can help them out by putting out fresh water (not milk – it upsets their stomach) and tinned meat-based dog food (not bread – it doesn’t contain any nutrients they need).
Some people are frightened of bats, but they’re really just misunderstood. Ranger Amy from Sherwood Forest explains: “We have brown long-eared bats at Sherwood Forest. We shouldn’t be afraid of bats as they don’t want to come anywhere near us and they very, very rarely bite unless you try to handle them.”
At Longleat Forest, you can also keep an eye out for Pipistrelle bats, which are so tiny that each one weighs around 5 grams – less than a £1 coin!
For the best chance of spotting bats, look for small, fluttering black shapes against the outline of trees.
What they do at night: When bats fly around at night, they’re hunting for insects. One tiny bat can eat up to 2,000 pesky midges every night!
What they sound like: Bats do make a noise, but unfortunately our ears can’t hear it. You need a special bat detecting machine to pick it up. You might hear their wings beating as they pass over your patio though.
Bats are the only mammal that can fly. And while they may look a bit like mice with wings, bats are actually more closely related to humans that they are to mice!
Owls are nocturnal, meaning they mostly sleep during the day and do all their hunting at night, so dusk if the perfect time to spot them as they wake up and go swooping through the trees.
There are many species of owl, and you can meet some in our Baby Owls and Encounter with Owls activities. But if you spot some wild owls during your break, they’ll be tawny owls.
What they do at night: Tawny owls hunt at night, explains Ranger Amy Walker. “They’re looking for small mammals like mice and shrews that they can grab with their talons.”
What they sound like: You probably know owls make a “twit-twoo” sound, but did you know that this is actually two owls talking to each other? The female owl calls “twit” and the male owl answers “twoo”!
Longleat Forest Ranger James Monk is often on the look-out for tawny owls on his village. There are two breeding pairs that nest at Longleat Forest and lucky guests can spot them at dusk when they’re out hunting.
Badgers are common in the UK but are a rare spot because, as Ranger Emma Tapp from Whinfell Forest explains, they’re very good at not being noticed. They sleep during the day and only appear at night, and keep mostly to undergrowth and dense forest.
Badgers live in underground burrows called setts. There is actually a sett at Sherwood Forest with three badgers living it. Our cameras have spotted them before, but it’s still a very lucky guest who sees them in the flesh.
What they do at night: Hunt for beetles, small rodents, nuts and berries.
What they sound like: Badgers are pretty quiet – that’s another reason they’re difficult to spot. Fighting badgers growl, a lot like dogs. But the most common noise they make is called a ‘churr’ – it’s their mating call and sounds like a deep, throaty purr.
Longleat Forest Ranger James Monk has an unusual tip for badger spotting on his Village. He says leaving a peanut butter sandwich outside is the best way to tempt one of these beautiful creatures up to your door. But if you aren’t lucky, remember to bin it in the morning so the geese don’t get it!
Foxes live in a diverse range of habitats – everything from busy cities to secluded natural forests, like our Villages. “If you sit outside quietly, you might see some sneaking up to your Lodge hoping for scraps from your barbecue S’mores!” says Sherwood Forest’s Amy Walker.
“We know they don’t live on the Village itself because it’s too busy for them here, but we’ve found tracks showing they sneak on from neighbouring Sherwood Pines.”
What they do at night: Foxes are more active at night when it’s quieter. They have excellent hearing and eye sight so they can hunt for small animals and scraps of human food, even when it’s pitch black.
What they sound like: Foxes are a great one to listen out to whether you’re on the Village, camping or just in your own back garden. Male foxes have a call that can easily be mistaken for a dog barking, but female foxes, known as vixens, have an extremely distinctive high-pitched squeal.
Foxes are creatures of habitat, following familiar routes most nights. So if you spot the signs of a fox visit one morning (disturbed bins or tracks), keep an eye out the next night as they’ll probably pay a return visit.
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