It can sometimes be difficult to find activities and places to entertain children in the winter months. But there are farms, animal centres and wildlife parks open most of the year round, offering visitors the chance to get up close with some magnificent creatures and learn more about nature. Here are some of the best examples within travelling distance of Oxford, ones worth a visit and your support.
There are a number of working farms near Oxford that offer insight into how farms work, and the kind of animals that call them their home. Cogges Manor Farm offers both a resplendent manor house (as seen in Downton Abbey) and also pygmy goats, pigs, ducks, Shetland ponies and guinea pigs, with 'meet the animals' sessions every weekend and bank holiday.
The Earth Trust Centre is not only a beautiful green space in the Oxfordshire hills but a working, visitable farm. It is particularly worth checking out during Lambing Weekends (usually mid-March), where the staff and volunteers organise a range of activities all around the site. They also have additional locations spread across the county, each offering a natural nirvana.
For many families, Millets Farm Centre will be most familiar as the place with the terrifically huge play barn. But it also offers an animal walkway (including goats, sheep, cows and alpacas) and a falconry centre, which is home to over 100 birds of prey, as well as meerkats, ferrets and reptiles.
Further afield, there's Farmer Gow's near Faringdon, which offers trailer rides, adventure play and daily hands-on sessions, where you can bottle and hand feed lambs, pigs and chickens. Then there's the 44-acre Green Dragon Eco Farm, which contains a menagerie of animals, from cattle and sheep to reindeer, owls and bearded dragons.
As well as farms, there are several animal specialists who do terrific work in caring for their animals, and are good causes to discover. Island Farm Donkey Sanctuary is a registered charity that cares for abused and ill-treated donkeys. Open daily, you can go along and meet their residents, who also include goats, chickens and a pig called Percy.
Tiggywinkles, nestled in the heart of the Chilterns countryside, is one of the world's leading wildlife hospitals and its visitor centre doubles as home to some of its permanent animal residents. With regular events and tours, this is a cause Daily Info thinks you should all support.
The Bucks Goat Centre is home to a whole host of friendly goats, as well as alpacas, rabbits and a silver fox. An open farm, this is a site well worth a visit, particularly on the 1st Saturday of the month, where you can get a free BGC balloon!
Lions and Tigers and Bears
Then there are the animal parks that cover a whole host of unexpected animals. If you can find a group of people that know more about crocodiles, alligators and caimans then they surely must have worked at Crocodiles of the World. Home to 17 of the world's 24 known species of the toothy reptiles, this is one of the widest collections, all lovingly cared for by the centre's team. There are also a variety of birds, mammals and other reptiles to check out too, including snakes, otters and meerkats. But really it's all about the crocodile.
Situated on the River Thames near the village of Pangbourne, Beale Park is a sprawling 30 acre wildlife park. Highlights include the brown-nosed coati, capybaras and black crowned crane, plus there are ample gardens and play areas to keep little tikes entertained, and a really terrific miniature train around the park.
One of the most famous and renowned animal parks in the country, Cotswold Wildlife Park is the home to a wholes host of creatures, big and small. The park seems to cover every major animal, with extensive collections of birds, mammals and reptiles. These range from giraffes, camels and lions to iguanas, chameleons and leaf cutter ants. You really need the whole day to do it justice and get around the whole park. Oh and for the super curious, why not check out their web cams?
Less animal-focused then some of the other places to visit on this blog, nevertheless The Living Rainforest offers a terrific few hours of wildlife-based fun. Amongst the blooming flowers of their greenhouses you can find the likes of sloths, monkeys, toucans and armadillo, with many of them freely flying around or walking by your feet. The Living Rainforest is a terrific spot to introduce children to the natural world and all of its wonderful inhabitants.