A NEW woodland area is being planted at Marwell Zoo as part of a groundbreaking initiative to provide a source of food for its animals and expand the native habitat for local wildlife.

In collaboration with the Woodland Trust, Hampshire conservation charity Marwell Wildlife is planting more than 7,000 trees on its farmland to benefit its zoo animals and British wildlife.

Once the eight-acre woodland begins to mature, animals such as giraffe, okapi and bongo will enjoy a supply of twigs and foliage known as ‘browse’ which they naturally eat in the wild.

Dr Ollie Szyszka, animal nutritionist at Marwell Zoo, said: “Browse has a number of health and behavioural benefits for animals. It provides the much-needed fibre required by these species to maintain a healthy gut and efficient digestion.

“It helps promote healthy teeth and gums and stimulates the natural process of rumination in ruminant species.”

The project has been made possible thanks to the Woodland Trust’s flagship MOREwoods scheme. This began in 2010 and has seen the creation of more than 2,075 hectares of woodland and the planting of more than two million trees across the UK.

In a first of its kind for the Trust, outreach adviser Luke Everitt has guided Marwell through the process of design, ordering and planting the native woodland.

The woodland conservation charity has supplied 5,825 trees, a mix of alder, field maple, goat willow, small leaved lime, oak, silver birch and wild cherry, and 1,450 hazel shrubs plus canes and spirals for protection as they become established.

Luke explained: “There’s a growing interest in planting trees and shrubs for browse, partly because of the savings that can be made on feed but mainly because of the nutritional and medicinal benefits it brings to the animals.

The trees will benefit the environment, helping to improve soil stability and air quality, slowing the flow of flood water and providing a home for wildlife.

Dr Martin Wilkie, conservation biologist at Marwell, said: “Not only will the production of forage for the zoo be a huge benefit, the creation of woodland will generate diverse woodland habitat. The varied species mix and structure will benefit insect pollinators, birds and other wildlife communities.