Bristol Zoological Society has revealed plans to close and sell off its Clifton site and relocate Bristol Zoo to its Wild Place Project, based off junction 17 of the M5, to safeguard the future of the organisation.
The annoucement follows years of declining visitor numbers to Bristol Zoo Gardens and the organisation having made an operating loss in four of the last six years.
The plans have been announced after the second lockdown forced Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place Project to close, after months of closure during the peak spring and summer months.
Now Bristol Zoological Society, which owns and operates both Bristol Zoo Gardens and Wild Place Project, plans to take action to ensure a new Bristol Zoo can continue to exist for generations to come, offering millions more people the opportunity to experience a new, transformed Bristol Zoo.
Bristol Zoo Gardens is the fifth oldest zoo in the world. It opened to the public on Monday 11th July 1836 and has welcome more than 90 million visitors. It has helped save more than 175 species from extinction in human care and in the wild and is currently working on conservation and research projects across the world, from the Phillipines, South Africa and back to … the River Avon.
Dr Justin Morris, Chief Executive of Bristol Zoological Society, said: “This year has been by far the most challenging year the Society has faced in its 185-year history.
“But for many years Bristol Zoo Gardens has been struggling with fundamental and persistent challenges. Namely an inability to meet the changing needs of the animals within the available space and infrastructure, and declining visitor numbers.
“These challenges have had an enormous impact on our finances and the impact of Covid-19 has caused us to radically rethink our plans about the future and how we address the fundamental and persistent challenges that we face in order to save Bristol Zoological Society.
“We know that Bristol Zoo Gardens has a special place in the hearts of many, and lots of people have fond memories of visiting the Zoo. But a lot has changed and many of the animals associated with these memories are no longer at Bristol Zoo Gardens, for very valid reasons.
“This new strategy presents an opportunity to create a world-class zoo that sets the standard for a modern, forward-looking zoo in the 21st century.
“It will be an inspiring, immersive wildlife experience with conservation and sustainability at its heart, where animals will have the space and facilities to thrive.
“New exhibits will link visitors to our conservation projects around the world and provide the tools for visitors to become conservationists themselves.
“The new Bristol Zoo will also be a beacon of environmental sustainability, demonstrating and promoting how together we can save wildlife in the way we live our lives.”
Bristol Zoological Society, which is a registered conservation charity, has 178 active shareholders who elect a board of 12 independent trustees to govern the Society. All 12 trustees recently voted unanimously in support of the Society’s new strategy.
The Zoological Society will be leading a planning permission process to ensure that the future of the Clifton site is something that the organisation will be proud of and leaves a lasting legacy of Bristol Zoo Gardens.
It will include an ‘urban conservation hub’ in the zoo’s iconic main entrance building to ensure the heritage and story of the Clifton site will continue to be told. This would also become the base of the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project community and conservation programmes, an exhibition of Bristol Zoo Gardens’ heritage and a café.
New housing will be created in areas of the site where there are already built structures, and the existing gardens will be largely unchanged.
Bristol Zoo Gardens will remain open until late 2022 and visitors will not see an immediate change while plans are developed further. Wild Place Project will remain open throughout this time, until it becomes the new Bristol Zoo from early 2024.
Charlotte Moar, Chair of Trustees for Bristol Zoological Society, said everyone at the Society recognises the significance of the decision.
She said: “This decision has not been taken lightly and follows a rigorous process of assessing the strategic options over several months, as well as taking independent professional advice from a range of sources to ensure we are doing the best possible thing for the Society’s future.
“Over the next five years, even if we were to sell all our property in Clifton, except Bristol Zoo Gardens, and raise £7 million through philanthropic fundraising, we would still have a capital funding shortfall of £8 million.
“Over 20 years this shortfall increases to £44 million and as a result we would not be able to sustain our two zoos, our education programme and our UK and international conservation programme.
“This new plan ensures that Bristol Zoo continues to exist for generations to come, offering millions more people the opportunity to experience the magic of a new Bristol Zoo.”
Dr Bryan Carroll and Dr Jo Gipps, the former Chief Executives of Bristol Zoological Society, have been supporting and providing advice on the organisation’s new strategy.
Dr Carroll said: “Bristol Zoo has always been at the forefront of leading the transformation in the way animals are cared for, protected and understood. We want to be able to continue that legacy, now and for decades to come.
“But Bristol Zoo Gardens is only 12 acres in size and over many years the number of large animal species has reduced significantly and this trend will only continue. As much as we all love the Clifton site, it is no longer the best place to achieve our ambitious vision for what a modern-day zoo should be.
“The best place to progress our forward-thinking vision is at the Wild Place Project site, which is more than 10 times the size of Bristol Zoo Gardens and offers such a fantastic opportunity to continue the world-class work we have always been known for.”