The Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks are owned by The Aspinall Foundation, a well known charity that helps protect animals from extinction and makes a major contribution to worldwide conservation. Located 17 miles apart in Kent, they operate independently of one another and have their own gardening teams.
As each Animal Park attracts thousands of visitors every year, keeping them looking at their best at all times is an important task for the gardeners.Both parks have chosen to use Kubota tractors and mowers to deal with the large amounts of grass cutting required, together with a variety of other tasks.
The Howletts Wild Animal Park, near Canterbury, covers 90 acres of amenity parkland, most of which is flat terrain. Horticulture manager David Sutton and his staff of eight use a Kubota BX2350 sub-compact tractor for over 90 % of the grass cutting. It replaced an elderly John Deere lawn tractor which has been retained as a back-up. The BX2350 makes light work of everything from coping with rough areas of grassland to car parks, lawns and picnic areas, and its compact size makes it ideal for getting into tight spots such as areas around the animal enclosures.
"With an extended grass growing season, possibly caused by climate change, the mower does a full day's work every day, with some areas needing cutting twice during the peak growing season," said Mr Sutton.
During winter months the Kubota acts as a general workhorse, pulling ¾ tonne and one tonne trailers loaded with tools and materials for the gardeners, including hauling leaves, mulch and compost. Whilst it was on demonstration the Park was hit by a heavy snowfall and the tractor's bucket came in very handy for snow clearing duties.
The BX2350 is a rugged and extremely versatile sub-compact tractor featuring a powerful 23hp 3 cylinder diesel and 4WD traction for wide ranging multiple uses. Equipped with hydrostatic power steering, cruise control and mid-mounted deck boasting three widths, it is designed to deliver unparalleled productivity and optimum operator efficiency for all-year-round, cost effective working.
As well as the BX2350, Howletts' Carnivore department use a smaller Kubota G2160 garden mower for grass cutting in and around several animal enclosures. With a 21hp Kubota ETVCS diesel engine and heavy duty chassis, the G2160 is built for the most demanding use. Standard equipment includes an hydraulic mower lift, electronic power steering, easy reach dial type adjustment for cutting height and a quick attach mower.
In sharp contrast to the mainly flat ground at Howletts, the 600 acre site at Port Lympne covers large areas of extremely hilly terrain. The animal park was developed around Port Lympne, a mansion that was the former home of the Sassoon family.
The garden staff use a 21hp Kubota B2110 tractor to keep the grass down in most of the public areas, which are both flat and hilly, including two large car parks that cover a total of 15 acres. It also works inside some of the smaller animal paddocks and in areas around trees. Horticulture manager Jeremy Edmond said that as well as grass cutting, his team of eight gardeners use the B2110 to pull trailers full of tools and materials such as grass cuttings and wood chippings. It also replaced an elderly John Deere machine which had become unreliable, with around 30% downtime.
"I have used Kubota machines over the years on other jobs - the first I had was back in 1977 - and I consider them to be highly reliable and efficient tools," said Mr Edmond. "In the peak grass growing period the Kubota can work for up to three days at stretch It works as well on sloping ground as it does on the flat and never lets us down; it just goes on and on." The mowers were supplied by local Kubota tractor and groundcare equipment dealer Lister Wilder of Ashford.
The horticulture managers at both animal parks agree that Lister Wilder delivers a good after-sales service, helped by staff with a highly professional approach and a wealth of valuable product knowledge.