“THE DUCK zoo” is what my kids used to call Martin Mere when they first visited as young children.

There are thousands of waterfowl within the Martin Mere Wetland Centre, hundreds in the ‘zoo’ part, dozens of different breeds each with their own enclosure.

I say enclosure, but they are far from enclosed: no cages or roofs, and of course they can fly away anytime they want.

While some like to stay within their own zone, many of the ducks and geese mix happily as they swim in each other’s ponds or share the winding paths and lawns with human visitors.

Martin Mere, near Ormskirk in Lancashire, is a paradise for birdwatchers, with acres of unspoiled wetland and a bountiful supply of hides where people can spend hours watching the flocks and trying to spot rare birds dropping in.

We went along not as dedicated ‘twitchers’ however, as we’re not specifically interested in birds above any other animal: this was more a general visit in the same way we might visit a traditional zoo.

We spent a while in the hides, but our interest was more in the ‘duck zoo’ – and there were lots like us, couples or families with young children, spending a fascinating couple of hours wandering around the site.

There’s just about every waterfowl you can imagine, certainly all the ones you’d find in England and probably Europe.

Highlights of our wander were otters, flamingos, and a bevy of strangely shaped and coloured waterfowl.

There’s an eco-friendly garden, a chance to feed the ducks, in nature trail, and boat and canoe trips around a safe part of the wetlands.

We didn’t visit them, but there’s also a new Own Zone where children can use nets, charts and identity cards to find underwater wildlife.

There’s also a giant Bug Hotel, and a Wild Walk letting children bounce over wobbly bridges, reedy rambles and wetland track, an adventure play area.

All in all, there are more than 2,000 different species of birds, mammals, insects, fish, amphibians, reptiles and mini-beasts living in and around the mere.

Added to this are many thousands of migrant wild ducks, geese, waders and swans which over-winter including flocks of pink-footed geese, wigeon and whooper swans.

Martin Mere is seven days a week, 364 days a year. The cost is £30 for adults, £11.04 for concessions organisations, and £7.65 for children.