The Chestnut Centre was founded in 1984 by the Heap Family. Since then Roger, Carol and Ed Heap have opened The New Forest Wildlife Park in Hampshire and Battersea Park Children’s Zoo in London.

Carol and Roger’s sons grew up with otters in the bath and baby owls in the kitchen.

So it’s no wonder that Charlie now owns and runs his own bird of prey centre in Helmsley in Yorkshire ( and that younger son Ed is now General Manager of the family’s three wildlife centres.

Ed’s wife Clare is a highly experienced vet with qualifications in exotic animal medicine, and is vet to all three wildlife parks.

Carol Benetto - Retail Manager

Carol has been in charge of the retail side of the Chestnut Centre for 30 years and before we opened she helped lay the concrete floor for the shop! Carol is responsible for the day-to-day running of the park’s retail operations and for stock control. She has a long standing interest in the conservation of otters, which takes her all over the world to conferences for the Otter Specialist Group.

Barry Walker - Assistant Retail Manager

Not only does Barry help run the retail/catering side of the centre.  He delivers our leaflets. is an able guide when needed and always on hand to help the animal staff especially during the winter months. 

Barry has strong connections with the scouting movement and takes particular interest in showing these youngsters around the centre.


Zoe O'Reilly - Partnership Accountant

Zoe joined us in 2016 and has very quickly become part of the Chestnut Centre team. Having always worked in accountant's practise's she is now able to combine her professional abilities with her love of wildlife and nature.  Zoe is married with two sons and the family enjoy camping and the outdoors.  Zoe's interest in good healthy food and living has raised the standard at our daily staff coffee times!

Moira Turner

Moira is the friendly voice at the end of the telephone. Throughout the year she efficiently co-ordinates bookings, events, adoptions and keeper days for all three centres - no mean feat!

Moira has a love and a bond with our tame deer and enjoys spending time with them whenever possible. They wait at the gate for her and the odd carrot.

Kirsty Lee - Animal Manager

Kirsty has been with us since 1999. She is dedicated to the animals in her care and has a sixth sense when all is not well. Over the years Kirsty has taken home otter cubs, fox cubs, polecats, fallow deer and owls when they needed overnight TLC.  Kirsty has been on many TV programmes over the years sharing her knowledge and passion for the animals in her care. Even on cold wet Derbyshire days her sense of humour never fails.


Alicia Bailey- Animal Keeper

Alicia remembers being enthralled by animals from a very young age - encouraged by her grandfather who took her birdwatching at dawn she eventually attended Reaseheath College and then onto to University of Salford to study for her degree in "Wildlife Conservation and Zoo Biology.  It was during this time Alicia came to Chestnut Centre to do her 6 month voluntary secondment.  Alicia fitted in with the team so easily we were delighted to offer her a permanent position.  

Jess Simms - Animal Keeper and Educational Guide 

Jess joined us in 2016 after completing her masters degree "Endangered Species Recovery and Conservation". During this time she became inspired to share her belief that we have the power to change the future of the planet.   In her role at Chestnut Centre with care of the animals and teaching during school visits or keeper days Jess has been able to fulfil her wish.

The  Education Team

Pauline Whitelegg and Patsy Wyles head up our experienced Education and Events Team. They and their staff enjoy the great outdoors and all wildlife but most importantly have the skill and passion to share their enthusiasm with the thousands of school children who visit the centre each year.  

For that unique experience contact

Ed Heap - General Manager

Ed is a wildlife expert and an all-round fixer, builder and handy man. Like his parents Carol and Roger he is passionate about conservation and helps to ensure the smooth running of the park and the welfare of all our animals.

Ed has been caring for wildlife since he was a young boy, when most of the casualties lived in the family home, and usually the bathroom.

Clare Heap BVSc MRCVS

Clare and Ed are married and form a formidable team in caring for our animals and wildlife rescues.

Clare works part time  as a vet at Seadown Veterinary practice in Hythe and Lymington.  She  divides the rest of her time between the New Forest Wildlife Park, The Chestnut Centre and Battersea Park Children's Zoo where her expertise is greatly appreciated.

She is married to the business and always on call. Clare has postgraduate qualifications in exotic veterinary practice.