My Cotswold Life Katie Jarvis talks to Reg­gie Heyworth, who runs the Cotswold Wildlife Park

Katie Jarvis talks Mar­mite sand­wiches and poi­son dart frogs - but def­i­nitely no cider - with Reg­gie Heyworth, who runs the Cotswold Wildlife Park

Cotswold Life - - INSIDE - PHO­TOS: An­drew Hig­gins

Reg­gie Heyworth runs Cotswold Wildlife Park in Bur­ford: one of the re­gion’s most pop­u­lar and pic­turesque at­trac­tions. Set in 160 acres of park­land, with beau­ti­fully tended gar­dens, it’s home to an ex­tra­or­di­nary ar­ray of an­i­mals. You’re as likely to ‘bump’ into an Asi­atic lion or a gi­ant anteater, as you are a baby white rhino – Belle and Alan were born at the park last au­tumn. That’s not to men­tion the stun­ning col­lec­tion of ex­otic birds, pri­mates, rep­tiles and am­phib­ians.

And ‘bump’ is the key word. When Reg­gie’s father – the late John Heyworth – opened the wildlife park back in 1970, he wasn’t in­ter­ested in the sa­fari model so many other big-es­tate own­ers were es­pous­ing. His vi­sion was for an at­trac­tion where peo­ple could park their cars and walk, get­ting as close to the an­i­mals as safely pos­si­ble. To­day, the park is hugely suc­cess­ful, wel­com­ing some 420,000 pay­ing vis­i­tors each year, most from within an hour’s drive.

This was an idea born of ex­pe­di­ency; dreamed up to save an es­tate from post­sec­ond World War bank­ruptcy. But for Reg­gie – a life-long an­i­mal lover, like his father be­fore him – Cotswold Wildlife Park is a home he wouldn’t ex­change for any other: “There’s nowhere else in the world I’d rather be,” he says.

Where do you live and why?

At the Cotswold Wildlife Park – in the mid­dle of Brad­well Grove Es­tate – in what used to be the game­keeper’s cot­tage. My house isn’t very big but it’s in the most tran­quil po­si­tion, and I love it. My father in­her­ited this beau­ti­ful es­tate from his grand­fa­ther, when he was just 24. Like many of his friends, he had been packed off to board­ing school at a young age; his father was in the army and trav­elled the world with his wife, so dad was brought up by his grand­par­ents. Aged 16, dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, he was called into his house­mas­ter’s study to be told that his father had been killed – so it was an un­usual up­bring­ing, to say the least. By the time his grand­fa­ther died, post-war Bri­tain was de­pressed and bank­rupt; peo­ple in a sim­i­lar po­si­tion were sell­ing up big es­tates and em­i­grat­ing. But my father had al­ways loved this place: against the advice of fam­ily, he hung on to as much as he could, paid a huge in­her­i­tance tax bill and de­cided to give things a go.

How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?

Apart from a five-year break, work­ing in rhino con­ser­va­tion in Tan­za­nia, I’ve never lived any­where else. When I was very young, the house was rented out to the lo­cal health au­thor­ity; it be­came rather unloved and for­lorn, and I re­mem­ber find­ing it spooky and strange. I didn’t even re­alise it was any­thing to do with us – we lived a cou­ple of fields away. But by 1969, the lo­cal au­thor­ity staff had left and the house was empty. It needed a lot of work – the roof was in a ter­ri­ble state – and my father didn’t have much money. De­spite all that, he couldn’t face sell­ing the house and park­land. He thought of ev­ery­thing he could do with it, from run­ning events to turn­ing it into a golf club; but he loved an­i­mals, so he de­cided he’d give a wildlife park a try. I was aged seven when it opened, with gi­ant horn­bills, tapirs and lla­mas; there were ot­ters and pen­guins in the walled gar­den; prairie dogs and coa­t­imundis, and quite a lot of birds. It was ev­ery child’s dream. The first book I’d ever read was My Fam­ily and Other An­i­mals by Ger­ald Dur­rell. I was ab­so­lutely en­am­oured.

What’s your idea of a per­fect week­end in the Cotswolds?

Any­thing that al­lows me to tickle a rhino. I’m mad about them. The two young­sters we’ve got at the mo­ment – num­bers four and five of the ba­bies we’ve bred at the park – are Belle and Alan, born last Oc­to­ber. Adults and young­sters are all quite bid­dable so I reg­u­larly go in and give them a good scratch. They’re very gen­tle but, of course, they’re also un­pre­dictable; you still have to be care­ful.

If money were no ob­ject, where would you live in the Cotswolds?

I wouldn’t move for all the money in the world. Nor, if I had a blank cheque, would I be throw­ing it at con­ser­va­tion

work – an is­sue dear to my heart. NGOS and char­i­ties, whose lifeblood de­pends on rais­ing funds, too of­ten per­pet­u­ate the idea that con­ser­va­tion prob­lems can only be solved by spend­ing money. As Or­well said, if you con­trol the lan­guage, you con­trol the de­bate. The real is­sues are of­ten ig­nored. What we should be ad­dress­ing are fe­male em­pow­er­ment and giv­ing women con­trol over their bod­ies; pop­u­la­tion is­sues; and waste.

Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?

Any vil­lage with lots of se­cu­rity gates. When I was young and would go with my par­ents to visit friends in lo­cal vil­lages, no one would lock their cars or their doors. Nowa­days, peo­ple close them­selves off with solid au­to­matic gates, not be­cause of se­cu­rity fears but be­cause it’s the way they want to live.

Where’s the best pub in the area?

The Cotty [Cotswold] Arms in Bur­ford High Street. It feels like a proper pub.

And the best place to eat?

Def­i­nitely the Swan in Swin­brook. My grand­par­ents used to live in the vil­lage and I spent a lot of my child­hood there.

What would you do for a spe­cial oc­ca­sion?

I’d have a roar and snore: an overnight camp in my shep­herd’s hut by the lion en­clo­sure. They’re won­der­ful an­i­mals and much en­dan­gered. The tent shakes when lions roar close by.

What’s the best thing about the Cotswolds?

The chang­ing sea­sons. Our long and some­times harsh win­ters can be a strug­gle; I wouldn’t say our rhi­nos en­joy them, but they get through it. Most an­i­mals are zoo-bred in the North­ern Hemi­sphere so they’ve all adapted pretty well over time.

... and the worst?

One of our rare droughts, when all the crops and gar­dens look ter­ri­ble, and the trees get very stressed. When­ever we used to com­plain that it was pour­ing with rain, my father would say, ‘Be­lieve me, any­thing is bet­ter than a drought’.

Which shop could you not live with­out?

From a per­sonal per­spec­tive, Asda in Carter­ton. I love it!

As far as the wildlife park goes, the gift shop. I’ve got a great team of peo­ple and I’m very proud of it. Un­usu­ally for a place like us, our vis­i­tors are not made to leave via the shop, which doesn’t even have a sign.

What’s the most un­der­rated thing about the Cotswolds?

I once said I wanted us to be the best wildlife park in the world that no one has ever heard of. I still haven’t found a bet­ter way of putting it. When my father was start­ing out, there were a num­ber of larger-than-life, showy char­ac­ters – Ger­ald Dur­rell at Jersey Zoo; John Aspinall at Howletts Zoo; the Mar­quess of Bath at Lon­gleat; the Dowa­ger Duchess of Bedford, an ab­so­lute cam­era-mag­net at Woburn – who were also set­ting up wildlife parks and zoos. My father was the com­plete op­po­site of them: very low key. I want every­body here to feel they’re work­ing at the best wildlife park in the world. But the idea of hav­ing the na­tional, let alone global, sta­tus of one of the big boys, I find slightly cringe-mak­ing.

What is a per­son from the Cotswolds called?

A win­ner in life’s lot­tery.

What would be a three­course Cotswold meal?

I’m happy with a Mar­mite sand­wich. I lived for five years in Tan­za­nia where I’d go weeks liv­ing off lo­cal beans, rice, and what­ever fruit was in sea­son.

What’s your favourite view in the Cotswolds?

The best sight ever was ar­riv­ing half an hour af­ter the birth of Astrid, our first ever baby rhino calf in July 2013.

What’s your quin­tes­sen­tial Cotswolds vil­lage and why?

Church, vicarage, pub, swifts in sum­mer, and no tourists: Shilton. It even has a ford.

Name three ba­sic ele­ments of the Cotswolds…

Wa­ter, stone and sky­larks.

What’s your favourite Cotswolds build­ing and why?

Hol­well church in our vil­lage. It’s where my father is buried and where I’d like to end up one day.

‘The first book I ever read was My Fam­ily and Other An­i­mals by Ger­ald Dur­rell. I was ab­so­lutely en­am­oured’

What would you never do in the Cotswolds?

Get into my car on a Bank Hol­i­day Mon­day.

Starter homes or ex­ec­u­tive prop­er­ties?

Starter homes. We em­ploy 140 full­time-equiv­a­lent mem­bers of staff, and af­ford­able hous­ing is a big is­sue for a lot of them. We’re lucky that we’re close to Carter­ton, which does have lower-price houses, as well as plenty of peo­ple who want to work lo­cally whose part­ners are in the RAF.

What are the four cor­ners of the Cotswolds?

The four cor­ners of our Cotswold world, in terms of an­i­mals we have here, are: North: the wolver­ine, his­tor­i­cally from North­ern Europe, Rus­sia, North­ern Canada and Alaska; South: pen­guins in gen­eral, though ours are Hum­boldt pen­guins from the west coast of South Amer­ica; West: the poi­son dart frog from the western South Amer­i­cas; East: the clouded leop­ard from Bor­neo.

If you lived abroad, what would you take to re­mind you of the Cotswolds?

I haven’t seen it my­self yet but I would take a box-set of This Coun­try. I don’t have a tele­vi­sion li­cence be­cause I refuse to pay the fee; I got tired a long time ago of the re­lent­less sneer­ing - by the metropoli­tan elite that dom­i­nates the BBC - against the Church of Eng­land.

What’s the first piece of advice you’d give to some­body new to the Cotswolds?

Visit the churches but avoid the PCCS.

And which book should they read?

The Mu­sic Room by Wil­liam Fi­ennes: a hymn of praise to his older brother, Richard, who suf­fered from epilepsy. The Fi­ennes fam­ily has been at Broughton Cas­tle for more than 800 years: that’s real roots in the Cotswolds.

Have you a favourite Cotswolds walk?

I love walk­ing from Hol­well to Shilton along the pub­lic foot­path, which takes you down the Shill Val­ley. You never see any­body else on it other than other than neigh­bours out on their horses.

Which event, or ac­tiv­ity, best sums up the Cotswolds?

Sheep-shear­ing - I wish there was more of it. It’s one of the great sad­nesses of modern farm­ing that in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion has taken hold, mean­ing you see so much less live­stock than you once did. We’re or­ganic farm­ers, with around 2,000 arable acres un­der the plough in part­ner­ship with an­other lo­cal farmer; and then there are our cat­tle and sheep.

If you were in­vis­i­ble for a day, where would you go and what would you do?

I wouldn’t mind sit­ting in on a Cotswold Wildlife Park staff tea-break. It would be re­ally fun to lis­ten to what was be­ing said. If I tried to do the same with the an­i­mals, they’d smell me!

To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds me­mo­rial?

Like the ‘Un­known War­rior’, there should be one to the un­known parish priest: a huge and un­sung re­source in vil­lage life. I’ve just read a bi­og­ra­phy of John Ke­ble, which brought home to me – not that I’ve ever doubted it – how im­por­tant the po­si­tion of vicar has been his­tor­i­cally, and still is. They rep­re­sent an en­tire arm of what has now been farmed out to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties (who, sadly, have too many other pri­or­i­ties to jug­gle): so­cial ser­vice-providers, com­pas­sion-givers, men­tal health car­ers. Ap­par­ently, that’s one of the un­der­ly­ing mes­sages from This Coun­try [TV se­ries].

The Cotswolds – as­pic or as­phalt?

As­pic – who wouldn’t! My father re­fused to turn the es­tate into a sa­fari park. He said, ‘No. I want peo­ple to get out of their cars and en­joy the gar­dens, the trees and the fresh air’. We were never keen on as­phalt.

Which at­ti­tude best sums up the Cotswolds?

Grat­i­tude.

With whom would you most like to have a cider?

I had an ‘ac­ci­dent’ on cider, aged about 16, so who­ever I have it with is go­ing to have to drink my share! My hero is Ian His­lop, ed­i­tor of Pri­vate Eye. We are very lucky to have peo­ple like that, hold­ing power to ac­count. Su­perb sense of hu­mour and com­plete in­tegrity.

Visit

Cotswold Wildlife Park (Brad­well Grove, OX18 4JP), two miles south of Bur­ford, is open ev­ery day apart from Christ­mas. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit cotswold­wildlifepark.co.uk

Tinker­bell, the young rhino, a favourite of Reg­gie Heyworth

Reg­gie Heyworth, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Cotswold Wildlife Park at Bur­ford.

The Heyworth’s house at the cen­tre of the Cotswold Wildlife Park at Bur­ford.

Cen­tury and Wal­lace, gi­raffes at the Cotswold Wildlife Park at Bur­ford.

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