Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

Zoo announcement "a nightmare" for small animal park

Chew Valley Animal Park team
Ian Humphreys

An expected announcement by the PM that zoos and safari parks can reopen is "a nightmare" for us, a small animal park has said.

Chew Valley Animal Park is a six acre site near Bristol where visitors are encouraged to pet and get close up to the animals.

Curator Mark Hammill said when he first heard the news he thought "brilliant, that will take all our pressure off, but the reality is that's not the case".

"It's not possible for us to keep people 2m apart and 2m from our animals, we don't have the room," said Mr Hammill.

"Everything here free runs but if we have to have 2m stand-off barriers we can't open most of the site.

"Does this mean Defra is going to take back the money it's just awarded us to keep going?"

Mr Hammill said he and the team "want to make it work" but called on the government for clarity over how smaller concerns make social distancing between people and animals possible.

"If we're forced to open we could end up in negative quickly," he said.

The park has been costing £4,900 a week to tick over during the lockdown but closer to £9,000 with full staff.

"We're not a big enough player with a big enough site to make the revenue balance and if we change our model, it's not us and we fought so hard for this," he added.

The park was awarded a Defra grant on 2 June to enable it to survive lockdown.

Camels at Chew Valley Animal Park
Chew Valley Animal Park

Colchester MP writes to government to help zoo reopen

Sarah Jenkins

BBC News

The MP for Colchester has written to two government departments to inquire about reopening the town's zoo.

Will Quince said the zoo "is hugely important" to the area. No reopening date has been set for zoos and wildlife parks as lockdown restrictions are eased by the government.

The Conservative MP has written to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma and George Eustice, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Mr Quince said he has asked for a "timeline for permission for zoos to reopen" and will share the response he receives.

View more on facebook

The zoo released a statement yesterday saying that it was "scraping the bottom of the barrel" in regards to its financial situation, as it has been closed to the public since March.

"Whilst furlough has helped zoos with wages, a zoo still requires a huge number of staff to deal with the welfare of the animals, the maintenance to ensure all the systems, including life systems, remain in working order," the statement said.

View more on twitter

Animal park curator 'humbled' by response to cry for help

Liz Lewis

Broadcast Journalist

Left to right Taylor Belcher with Verity the barn owl, Ziyaad Abdul with Casper the donkey and Dave the chicken, Mark Hammill with Widget the capybara, Hannah Forest with Bella the dog, Amy o'Reilly with Shakira the armadillo, Lucy Stalker with Basil the skunk, and Gary Hunt with Chewy the donkey
Ian Humphreys

The curator of Chew Valley Animal Park says he's "humbled" by the response to a Facebook post where he said the park's future was in doubt.

Mark Hammill wrote that he and the six other keepers who are in lockdown on the site are "completely burnt out" and "sick to the stomach with worry about the future".

A GoFundMe page set up at the start of the lockdown provided £17,000 but the park costs about £4,900 a week to run.

After being inundated with fresh offers of help Mr Hammill said he is "humbled beyond words" by the "level of support out there".

"We've been able to keep some of our costs down as we've had fresh fruit and veg supplies throughout lockdown from (local food distributor) Arthur David and from Sainsbury's and Morrisons."

This morning a letter from Defra confirmed the park would receive funding to help it keep ticking over until the end of July.

"They've been superb," said Mr Hammill.

"They really understand what we do and the ethics of our care.

"All of our animals enjoy interacting with people - we had one boy with autism who had never spoken before and then he talked while he was holding one of our tortoises."

The grant means the park will be able to keep all the animals' welfare up to "the high standards we're renowned for and all our keepers employed".

Camels at the park
Chew Valley Animal Park