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Views shared on plans to bring bears, wolves and lynx back to ‘Wild Rutland

Plans for a wildlife park featuring bears, wolves and lynx drew a wide range of opinions.

Wild Rutland could cover 1,000-acres of farmland between the Oakham bypass and Burley Wood if plans receive local government approval.

But ahead of a planning application being submitted, the team behind Wild Rutland was keen to find out what people living nearby think of the plans and held a public exhibition at Victoria Hall in High Street, Oakham on Wednesday (March 13).

Chief executive officer of Wild Rutland, Hugh Vere Nicoll,
Chief executive officer of Wild Rutland, Hugh Vere Nicoll,

About 300 people attended with a wide range of opinions, some were in favour of the proposals others were against as well as residents who were keeping an open mind.

Chief executive officer of Wild Rutland, Hugh Vere Nicoll, described the response to the consultation as ‘brilliant’ with no feedback catching the team off-guard.

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“Part of the site was previously allocated for 200 houses,” he said.

The Wild Rutland public exhibition and (inset) aEuropean grey wolf which could roam the wildlife park
The Wild Rutland public exhibition and (inset) aEuropean grey wolf which could roam the wildlife park

“Burley Wood is a very special outdoor parkland and we wanted to provide people access to it.”

The plans include turning back the clock by reintroducing animals which haven't roamed the farmland for more than 1,000 years.

The Wild Rutland reserve would become home to native British species including Eurasian brown bears, lynx and grey wolves.

As well as the wildlife reserve, the proposal aims to improve the biodiversity of Burley Wood and the surrounding fields by introducing wildflower meadows and planting native trees.

European Grey Wolf on a rock
European Grey Wolf on a rock

Mark Springate, who lives within the Burley-on-the-Hill estate in a property close to the boundary of the proposed wildlife park, was surprised at the lack of information available at the consultation about the animals.

“It changes it completely,” he said. “The animals make it less of a rewilding project and closer to a zoo.

“I personally don’t like the idea in this day and age of people coming to look at animals that have been put there purely for entertainment purposes whether they were once here or not.”

Brad Armstrong, who also lives in Burley-on-the-Hill, explained he doesn’t want large crowds of people on his doorstep and that he wouldn’t feel comfortable with pens of animals close to his home.

He has asked the Wild Rutland team if there can be a buffer between their home and the wildlife reserve to which he received a ‘generally supportive’ response.

“I was surprised by the plans,” he added. “It is a brand new way of doing things.”

An Oakham resident, who asked not to be named, said she was keeping an open mind on the plans and was interested to find out more about how the animals would be reintroduced.

She said: “They are known for being fairly ferocious species so I wonder how they will be controlled.”

Specialists for each species would be employed and the animals would be allowed to free roam in certain areas, with a secure perimeter of the site, to create the most natural environment possible

Brown bears roamed Britain until about 500AD, while wolves were around until about 1500AD, and are believed to have become extinct in the reign of Henry VIII.

Adult brown bears can be 6ft tall when standing on their hind legs, and can weigh up to 600kg. But they are generally shy and avoid humans.

Joss and James Hanbury, who are behind the plans, are from a family which has farmed the land for centuries.

They believe the farm needs to diversify in order to remain self-sufficient, and say it has been a long-held dream of the family to develop a project that benefits the natural environment, builds upon what Rutland has to offer both residents and visitors and retains the integrity of the county.

Oliver Hemsley, who represents Langham on Rutland County Council, said: “If we don’t push the boundaries how does Rutland retain its uniqueness?”

However, others were concerned about the loss of farmland.

Marilyn Tomalin, who lives with her husband John in Dog Kennel Cottage, which borders the site, said: “We live in a broken world and we need to be self-sufficient.

“We are already facing difficulties with food production and we have an expanding population.”

The couple moved to the cottage 28 years ago, selecting it as a peaceful retirement home. They now fear this could be disrupted.

Wild Rutland would also include visitor facilities such as a cafe, events space and high ropes adventure play.

Hugh said: “Wild Rutland will be shaped through genuine consultation and collaboration with all relevant local authorities, residents, neighbours, businesses and environmental agencies.

“The overriding intention is to improve the natural habitat and ecology of the area, which in turn will create new opportunities for greater bird, insect and reptile diversity.

“Ultimately, our ambition is that Wild Rutland will facilitate education and understanding and encourage people to enjoy the natural world, while reflecting positively on and promoting Rutland to a wider audience.”

What do you think to the plans? Let us know in the comments.

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