A car park doesn’t have to be just for cars - you can have nature as well. Phase 3 of our project to turn an ecologically poor car park into a valuable wildlife resource involved cutting it all down again. After about four years the new shrubs were well established and looking good, so why cut them back?

This ‘coppicing’ did a number of useful things: firstly, it stopped any of the vegetation from getting too big and repressive; secondly, it imitated the natural cycle that many of these shrubs would undergo in the wild - being eaten by large browsing animals. This in turn opened up the ground to light and warmth, allowing the woodland flowers to bloom and insects to thrive.

By coppicing we were imitating nature. The shrubs didn’t die, they re-grew from the base and within a few years were as big as before, and ready to be cut again. Managed in this way they, and the woodland flowers beneath, are effectively immortal. There was one further benefit for us; being a zoo, we have a large number of hungry animals that very much appreciate a nice fresh leafy diet, and so everything we cut ended up, rather like in the unmanaged wild, in the tummy of a happy herbivore.

By now many of the wildflowers were doing so well that we could start thinking about dividing them and transplanting them to newer areas. The variety of microhabitats created in the landscape soon provided opportunities for other rare plants to come in, too; within a few years, we recorded pyramidal and southern marsh-orchids in one spot.

Martin Holt, former Paignton Zoo Senior Gardener

Quotes An awesome experience. The amount of free space given to the animals was very impressive Quotes