Outside the British Wildlife Centre in Lingfield there is a hedgehog the size of an elephant. It is probably the most impressive over-large thing I’ve seen and I’ve seen the world’s biggest thermometer. The hedgehog isn’t real obviously but it is so splendidly well-rendered that it’s actually difficult to tell. There isn’t a prickle out of place; it’s so realistic you can almost smell the milky bread on its breath.
The hedgehog is probably the main attraction at the Centre so its position in the car park is slightly unfortunate. Every animal which follows it seems slightly insignificant in comparison, even if they are more animate. In fact the hedgehog is visible from the road so it’s possible to sample the best bit of the British Wildlife Centre and keep zooming on by. Essentially the hedgehog is the A22’s answer to the Angel of the North.
There’s nothing exotic about the inhabitants of the Centre, most of them you could probably meet on a particularly ambitious ramble. But there are treats within if you look hard enough, although you might first have to pass through what appears to be a section dedicated to vermin. This is mainly rats, who’ve colonized a grubby transparent drainpipe.
Sometimes the Centre resembles more of a sleep institute; a lot of the animals appear to hibernating out of sight in a bush. Or just lying in. At one point it felt like we were the victims of an audacious scam in which we’d been tricked into walking around pointing at hedgerows. We did see about a second of an albino squirrel which made all the traipsing through empty shrubbery worthwhile.
The Centre offers a solid selection of squirrels, of varying shades. The red squirrel enclosure is plastered with several images of Dame Judi Dench, who appears to have some association with the Centre. We did not see Dame Judi Dench while were there. It may have been that she had snuffled down in the foliage with a lazy weasel.
I should stop focussing on the amount of shiftless animals at the Centre. We saw a massively high-octane stoat. I’d never really given the stoat much consideration before, but this one was quite striking. It looked like a tiny lion with a ferret’s head, with an amazing furry extravagance at the end of its tail. It spent its entire time entertaining us by pelting up and down its chicken wire play tunnel.
We also came across a family of foxes strutting around their pen, smug in Tory-proofness. Nice wholesome foxes, not like the scabby ones near our home that look like they’ve been scraped together from pipe cleaners. We also saw a parade of fat owls, a very still heron that might have been a garden ornament and a troupe of otters wrestling on the bankside.
But still nothing as magnificent as that hedgehog. It’s worth the admission fee alone. Except that technically you don’t need to pay the admission fee to see it.