David Sutton has been involved in the estate management for Howletts Wild Animal Park and its sister park, Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve, for 14 years. The parks are breeding sanctuaries for rare and endangered species, and work with world leading conservation charity, The Aspinall Foundation. The Kent based parks are two of the county’s leading visitor attractions, with profits from visitors helping to fund the charity’s conservation work.
When David started at the parks, he immediately identified that he would need to develop a change in culture regarding horticulture and the value that it can bring, not only to a visitor attraction and family estate, but also to the animal world, through zoo pharmacognosy.
David has implemented in house training for all horticultural staff, as a first step to help develop the knowledge and skill base within the team. This not only resulted in improving team members’ confidence, but also helped raise the profile of the department’s role within the organization.
The Horticulture Team are actively encouraged to liaise with the Animal Keeper Teams, whilst keepers are encouraged to develop their ideas with the horticultural team.
David also developed a strategic plan to guide the development of the Horticulture Team, which encompasses not only plant collection development, but also a planting strategy document for trees on the estates, to further develop the range and improve the collection.
Now, horticulture has been embedded into all aspects of the wild animal parks, ranging from plantings to make the working areas of the parks more interesting and appealing, to improving the quality of the horticultural work, both around the parks and in the private family gardens.
David and his team have established zoo horticulture as an important part of the animal care process, encouraging working relationships with animal staff to develop planting ideas for animal areas that replicate their natural habitat. Plus, developing the use of plants for animal nutrition and diet, by creating herb gardens and plantations. Today, over 150 acres of coppice woodland is managed for the provision of animal feeds and timber products.
As the wild animal parks have grown, so has the Horticulture Team’s budget and the scope of work. With new accommodations at Port Lympne Hotel & Reserve, the team has had to develop further skills to create interesting and relaxing outdoor spaces, whilst at Howletts, the private gardens, designed by Russell Page in the 1970s will continue to redevelop.