Something Different Near Tingwall

By Bernie Bell

Fernvalley B BellFernvalley Wildlife Centre opened last year, and we’d been meaning to go there.  We’d heard good things about it, but it’s a bit close to home, and so,  not somewhere that we’d ‘go’ to.  But, one Sunday, the weather was being the weather, not great for the walk we’d planned to do, so we decided to go along to Fernvalley, and see for ourselves.

I don’t like zoos, I don’t approve of zoos.  Except for when they serve a purpose in conserving and even breeding species which are in trouble, and, if possible, re-introducing them  to the wild, where they should be.  Otherwise, the old fashioned kind of zoo, was just so wrong, in so many ways. I remember, years ago, visiting a Zoo near Paris, and seeing a chimpanzee, sitting in a bare cage  – nothing else in the cage, just the chimp, sitting, rocking gently back and forward. I was young and didn’t know much about distress, or about chimpanzees, but it was clear to me, that this chimp had lost its mind. They are a curious, gregarious, sociable kind of beast, but he took no notice of us, no notice at all – as if we didn’t exist –  just rocking back and forth.  Maybe this was part of the chimp’s defence mechanism – I don’t know, but it was a terrible thing to see. The other image which stayed with me, was of an elephant, pacing back and forth, back and forth, along the perimeter fence of its enclosure. These are creatures which, by nature, roam for miles along well worn, traditional routes, and this one was stuck in a small enclosure, pacing back and forth , back and forth along the perimeter.   Can you imagine how that must have felt?

Back to Fernvalley, which isn’t a Zoo – it’s a Wildlife Centre. Some could say that Wildlife Centres are zoos by another name, and some, are, but some are actually doing their best for the animals in their care, and Fernvalley is one of these. Many  of the animals have been rescued from places which weren’t treating them right, and are  being rehabilitated and given a better life at Fernvalley.

The owners are also hoping to get across some messages about our attitudes to wildlife – there is an informative and very pertinent notice explaining just how much a large Iguana costs to feed and care for – maybe this will put people off, when they see these creatures and think it would be ‘nice’ to get one as a ‘pet’. Then they find that they can’t cope with the demand of an exotic animal, and, often don’t know what to do with them.  The lucky ones are taken in by places like Fernvalley.   A good example is Maximus the Iguana – a fine beast, who now has a Des. Res. with his creature comforts catered for.

In contrast to the chimp and elephant in the Paris zoo, the animals at Fernvalley appear to be…happy!

It looks like it doesn’t take a lot to make a Meerkat happy – the three residents at Fernvalley are jolly little souls, playing with their toys and digging holes.  They have plenty of sand to dig in – they likes digging – and tunnels to run through, a snuggly ‘den ‘ to sleep in, and they give the impression of generally having a whale of a time.

They are very curious creatures, always looking about them and ‘up to something’ – their  attitude reminds me of collie dogs , and, in particular , The Collie Dog Song by Rich Hall  –  “I’m ready to work,  I’m ready to work – what’s the hold up?”  Or, in the case of the Meerkats “I’m ready to dig, I’m ready to dig!”  And yes, they did the ‘Meerkat thing’.

I won’t attempt to guess what goes on in the mind of a terrapin, but the ones at Fernvalley have a nice big pool to swim in, and a ramp/ladder thing to sit about on, which then leads up to a place with  stones and sand and a couple of ‘nests’ for them to snooze in.

Fernvalley B Bell Terrapin pool

They have an inscrutable sort of look on their faces, but there is a general air of things being no’ bad for the terrapins.

If you don’t like rodents look away NOW!

Fernvalley B Bell MiceThere are also other things to interest and occupy children, lots of information on the walls, a kind of jungle ‘den’ in the centre of the room, and a couple of big board games, and I mean BIG board games

There is a general feeling of well-being at Fernvalley not only among the beasties – there’s also a good atmosphere about the café, too.  It’s a family business, and comes across as a good place to be, for everyone.  The ‘daughter of the house’, Lisa, does much of the animal care, and the animals love her for it.

Fernvalley B Bell Lisa with lizardAlvin the Bearded Dragon was kept in a Tupperware box, with air holes in the lid, by his previous owners.  He now doesn’t like to be held or touched, except by Lisa.  Her devotion to the animals in her care, is returned in full.

I’d ask all visitors to Fernvalley, to be considerate when approaching the residents there, as some of them have had a hard time.

Fernvalley is  not normally somewhere we’d go for lunch, as it really is just down the road from us, but we were there, and had heard good things about the food , too, so we went for it.  Any excuse not to cook!  The café is very good, all round.  The food is delicious, and the views are ……………!!!!!!!!!  You can look out across  the rocky shore (with Widgeon when we were there – smart birds),  the sea, and various islands – we tried to work out  which were which, but, it’s exactly the other way round to how we usually see them, and we muddled Eday with Stronsay.   The café itself has got a lovely look to it – and proper china crockery.  It’s just ACE.

Fernvalley is a good place to go to, on a wet day, or any time.  Your entrance fee will help the folk who set it up, to make a go of it, and that is helping them to provide a better life for the rescued animals.

It would be better still if the places where they weren’t treated right, didn’t exist, but, an ideal world, is just that – an ideal world.  There are folk who mistreat  them for ‘fun’ or for profit, and there are folk who care for them.  The folk at Fernvalley, come into the second category, or we wouldn’t go there!

And, finally, just a bit of fun – sea glass and beach crockery at Fernvalley  – where is it?  You’ll have to go there, to find out!


All the photos in the article were taken by Bernie Bell but as The Orkney News visited last year I have put them together in a slide show with the ones taken by the Armets when they visited. (Eds note)

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Related story: Fernvalley Wildlife Centre.

Facebook page for Fernvalley Wildlife Centre 


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