If you’re heading to the South Coast for a few days, a great morning stop off is at Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre, near Ringwood. It is located just off the M27/A31 which can be easily navigated back to, to be able to continue with your journey hassle free.
Birds of Prey, Reptiles and much more…
I went here recently with my 4 year old who is snake mad! I have to say, I was a bit concerned there wasn’t going to be many snakes (because he was adamant that was all he wanted to see) but I was pleasantly surprised and we had a great morning. Don’t worry though, if snakes are not quite your thing, there is a large collection of Birds Of Prey on display, including Owls, Hawks, Falcons and Vultures and with daily flying demonstrations, you get the chance to see these birds up close in action.
The centre is a good size, not too big or overwhelming and you will probably find a few hours is plenty of time to explore. We arrived around 10am to a near empty car park and purchased our tickets at the entrance. There is no need to book but they do say if the car park is full they are full, so best to arrive early. An adult ticket costs £11.95 and child ticket £5.95, under 3’s go free and there is a concession on senior tickets.
The Reptile House
Our first stop, was of course the Reptile House which is located just inside the main entrance. Now, I need to explain that even though my son is snake mad, these beloved snakes are in the form of cuddly toys and plastic. He also enjoys watching all the wildlife programmes about snakes but if you ask him if he wants a real snake – it’s a no! So you can imagine when he approached the near dark room, he was slightly apprehensive and I had to nudge him through the door. He relaxed once he saw the glass cabinets and realised they were not actually slithering and crawling across the floor!
The array of reptiles that were on show was pretty impressive, many of which were quietly sleeping, however there were a couple of very friendly little fellas. My favourite being this Common Green Iguana who, every time we approached the glass, would nod his head up and down in enthusiasm at us. However after reading about him, I’m not sure if he was being friendly or eyeing us up!
With some gentle persuasion we managed to move on from the Reptile House, as long as I promised that we would come back before we left. We followed the pathways around, seeing which birds we could spot and recognize, while taking a closer look at the more unusual breeds. There were some beautiful owls and some amazing looking Hawks, Eagles and Kites in all their glory. We also stumbled across Stormin Norman, a Giant African Spur-Thigh Tortoise who seemingly spent his days slowly trailing around his garden.
The Bird Show
We decided to stay for the bird show at midday and had some time to spare beforehand, so we grabbed a drink from the small onsite café and took a seat on one of the many benches in the play area. The play area is great if you have the grandchildren with you and the large sandpit equipped with diggers, buckets and spades will keep them entertained for ages. The café is small but was selling a selection of sandwiches and drinks, all reasonably priced. However, with the amount of picnic benches placed around the centre, if you decided to take your own lunch that would definitely work well.
Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre is named after Liberty, the centre’s Alaskan Bald Eagle. It is a charity run centre and they rely on donations as well as ticket sales to help rescue, rehabilitate and release injured or sick birds of prey, as well as maintaining the birds they have at the Centre that cannot be released. Many of the birds are rescued after injury, ill health or ill treatment and these birds have been given a permanent home at the Centre.
The bird show takes place on an open field within the centre. There are wooden benches to sit on in the spectators area, however these perhaps aren’t the comfiest! The first bird out was Gerry, a British Golden Eagle. Gerry, only six years old, weighs 7.5 pounds and has a 7ft wingspan. However, this little guy did not want to play ball and at his first opportunity, flew out of the viewing field to the neighbouring corn field. At this point our falconer politely continued with his spiel, only to slowly come to the realisation that Gerry was not coming back and to all of our amusement and concern, had to dash off to his rescue.
The show was continued by a colleague and two other birds were shown, a rather cute native Barn Owl called Snowy and a spectacular looking Harris Hawk. The show was very informative with some interesting (unknown) facts about the birds. I recommend sitting close to one of the pillars, as the birds fly between these and perch upon them while they eat their treats. You can then get a real good look at them. The show lasted around 30 minutes and at the end we were informed that Gerry was absolutely fine and back in his abode, after playing hide and seek in the corn field!
Help support the centre
On our way out, I kept my promise and we had one last look in the Reptile House before visiting the small gift shop. There was an array of little gifts and souvenirs, all very reasonably priced for a tourist attraction – the perfect place for the children to spend their pocket money. We of course came out with a bag full of snakes and a snake badge given to us by the friendly lady who served us, after they had a very in-depth 4 year old conversation about reptiles.
The centre also offer Falconry Experience Days, Owl Experience Days and Photography Experiences, to people who might like to take up the opportunity to enjoy a closer encounter with some of the birds. These would make excellent presents.
On our way home we decided to visit the farm shop, just two doors up the road from the centre. Crow Farm Shop sells fresh local produce and are famous for their award-winning sausages and champion pork pies, which are apparently delicious according to the other half – I’m just not a pork pie fan. I, on the other hand, enjoyed a slice of homemade fruit cake which was scrummy. There is a small seating area out the back where you can enjoy a coffee, while sampling some of the tasty produce on offer.
An entertaining morning with the grandchildren, near the New Forest
All in all it was a fun-filled morning and was really lovely to visit somewhere that was not on the scale of a large tourist attraction. Liberty’s Owl, Raptor and Reptile Centre is just over an hour drive from our very own Cavendish Park and just over an hour and a half from Merrywood Park, heading straight down the M3 from Cavendish and or via the A31 for Merrywood.
It’s a perfect destination if you’ve gone to the New Forest or Dorset for a break with the family. The centre can easily be found using the full address in your Sat Nav – Crow Lane, Ringwood BH24 3EA. I highly recommend for a half day’s pottering round with grandchildren of all ages…
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