Have you ever dreamed of feeding a penguin? How about coming face-to-face with a troupe of cheeky monkeys, flying a falcon or cuddling a baby crocodile? You might be surprised to discover that the Cotswolds has a serious wild side! With an abundance of animal attractions including farm parks, zoos and nature reserves, there are plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal to all manner of creatures great and small.
Here are some of our favourite places to experience native Cotswolds wildlife as well as animals of the more exotic kind.
Animal parks in the Cotswolds
Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens, Burford
Set within 160 acres of parkland, Cotswold Wildlife Park offers the chance to discover a whole host of endangered species. Stroll through the Madagascar enclosure with free-roaming lemurs, watch rhinos graze on the lawns in front of the Gothic Manor House and get eye-to-eye with the world’s tallest mammal on the new Giraffe Walkway. There is penguin feeding daily, a Tropical House where you can wander among sloth, birds and bats as well as the chance to explore the beautifully landscaped gardens aboard the narrow-gauge railway.
Cotswold Farm Park, Guiting Power
Run by TV presenter Adam Henson, Cotswold Farm Park is the home of domestic rare breed conservation. Meet over 50 flocks and herds of farm animals including Gloucestershire Old Spot Pigs and Highland cattle, enjoy seasonal demonstrations and handle new-born ducklings and chicks in the Touch Barn. This is the perfect place to learn all about farming past and present, and there’s plenty of entertainment for children of all ages. You can also experience the stunning diversity of local animals and plants by completing the 2-mile wildlife walk.
Prinknash Bird and Deer Park, Gloucester
Wonderfully located in a wooded valley at the centre of a monastic estate, Prinknash Bird and Deer Park has been described as the biggest pets’ corner in the country. Pick up a bag of bird, deer or fish food and enjoy a relaxed wander among over 50 peacocks and waterfowl, charming fallow deer who are often seen nosing into visitors’ handbags and pockets, an aviary full of songbirds, a lake with black swans and graceful crown cranes, and even African pygmy goats and miniature donkeys!
Bird watching in the Cotswolds
Birdland Park and Gardens, Bourton-on-the-Water
Admire more than 500 species of rare and exotic birds from around the world at Birdland, set in 9 picturesque acres of gardens with riverside walks and nature trails. Enjoy close encounters with over 50 aviaries of flamingos, parrots, laughing kookaburras, birds of prey, pelicans, owls and the only King Penguins in England. Become a ‘Keeper for the Day’, and help feed penguins as well as visiting the hatchery with incubators where you can see fluffy new-born chicks taking their first steps. There are also special event days held throughout the year.
Cotswold Falconry Centre, Moreton-in-Marsh
The Cotswold Falconry Centre is home to around 150 birds of prey – many of which can be seen in free-flying demonstrations daily. During your visit, you can observe eagles, hawks, kites, owls, vultures and falcons as they are flown, appreciating their speed, grace and agility, often with the opportunity to hold one. For a special occasion, the centre also offers owl evenings for groups as well as falconry gift experiences.
WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, Slimbridge
Featuring the world’s largest collection of swans, geese, flamingos and ducks, WWT Slimbridge is an internationally renowned reserve in the Cotswolds. Be sure to visit the grain desk before exploring the grounds as some of the birds are tame enough to feed from your hand! During the summer months, take to the water on a canoe safari for a unique wetland adventure, where you can spot water vole, wildflowers and many interesting species of bird from across the world. In winter, marvel at the magnificent wild Bewick’s swans at the daily feeding session and in spring, make the most of the myriad of bird hides and see if you can catch a glimpse of colourful kingfishers fledging from their nests.
Zoos in the Cotswolds
Longleat Safari Park, Warminster
Nestled within 900 acres of Capability Brown landscaped grounds, Longleat boasts an abundance of exciting attractions where you can get up close to some truly amazing wild animals. The 6.5-mile safari drive-through expedition is an incredible opportunity to survey the African Plains and look out for the mighty rhino, camel and cheeky monkeys before entering the Big Cats section where you’ll glimpse tigers, lions and cheetahs. Meet playful meerkats in the Jungle Kingdom as they scamper around your feet and hand-feed lorikeets in Monkey Temple before going on a walking safari through the African village to meet giraffes and zebra. Don’t forget to take a jungle cruise on the lake to visit Gorilla Island too while enchanting sea lions swim alongside you.
Crocodiles of the World, Brize Norton
Crocodiles of the World is the UK's first and only crocodile zoo and is home to over 80 crocodiles as well as alligators, caimans, lizards, snakes and even a Komodo dragon! There are underwater viewing enclosures for eye-to-eye encounters, feeding displays, crocodile talks and the chance to handle a baby crocodile or alligator for a fantastic photo opportunity! For those brave enough, you can even spend a day working with the keepers, meeting many of the zoo’s scaly inhabitants up close, helping with the feeding and getting hands-on around the zoo.
Nature reserves in the Cotswolds
The Cotswolds is scattered with a myriad of nature reserves where you can appreciate the region’s abundance of native wildlife, near-extinct animals and rare flowers. Here are just a few of our favourites:
Chimney Meadows nature reserve: home to large numbers of now scarce ground-nesting birds, as well as a haven for curlew, snipe and reed bunting.
Foxholes nature reserve: particularly noted for its springtime bluebells, seven different species of bat, white admiral butterflies, nuthatches and treecreepers.
Greystones Farm nature reserve: features an archaeology walk, wildflower meadows, the River Eyre trickling through and sightings of water vole.
Midger Wood nature reserve: a magical hidden valley of mossy oaks, ferns and small waterfalls where woodland birds such as willow warbler, marsh tit and great spotted woodpecker can be spotted.
Bryworth Lane Railway nature reserve: the calcareous grassland is the perfect home for slow worms, toads, newts, and adders.
Chedworth nature reserve: birdlife includes tawny owls, wood warblers and woodcock, plus deer including fallow deer, roe deer and muntjac. Warm, humid weather may result in the emergence of the local Roman snail.
Highnam Woods RSPB Reserve: visit in spring to hear a symphony of birdsong, especially the nightingales which breed here.
Roundhouse Lake nature reserve: part of the Cotswold Water Park, it plays host to large numbers of wintering fowl, including wigeon, red-crested pochard and tufted duck.
This is just a small selection of Cotswolds nature reserves - you can discover more local wild places on the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust website.
Where to stay in the Cotswolds
If you’re feeling inspired to reconnect with nature, our cosy Cotswolds holiday cottages are never too far away from one of these top wildlife watching destinations in the Cotswolds.
For more great inspiration for days out in the region, why not have a read of our ‘Things to do in the Cotswolds’ guide and after a day of exploring, our guide to the ‘Best places to eat in the Cotswolds’ will give you a mouth-watering selection of restaurants to dine in.