Bristol zoo to leave its city site after 185 years amid Covid crisis | Bristol

The world’s oldest surviving provincial zoo is being relocated from the prime location in Bristol that has been its home for almost two centuries as a result of the financial shock of the coronavirus crisis.

Bristol Zoo Gardens, a 12-acre plot in the Clifton area of the city, is to be sold off and animals and staff moved to its satellite Wild Place Project site over the border in South Gloucestershire.

Visitors to the zoo gardens have been declining in number for some time and the charity that runs the sites, Bristol Zoological Society, said it had made an operating loss in four of the last six years. But the stresses of Covid appear to have been the last straw.

The charity’s chief executive, Justin Morris, 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 and how we address the fundamental and persistent challenges we face.”

Morris said the charity planned to create a world-class “modern, forward-looking zoo” on a much larger site with conservation and sustainability at its heart.

Houses will probably to be built in areas of the Clifton site where there are already built structures while the existing gardens will be largely unchanged.

The animals will be moved to the new site, which will be rebranded simply as Bristol Zoo, or rehomed to other zoos and aquariums. Its most famous animals, the western lowland gorillas, will transfer to the new site.

Generations of Bristolians have visited the site and its loss will be keenly felt in the city but its mayor, Marvin Rees, said it also provided opportunities.

“The move presents Bristol with a unique opportunity to develop homes on the site, and I am reassured about the zoo’s commitment not only to working with the council, but also ensuring that any potential developer understands the need to retain and protect the gardens, only builds where buildings have stood and includes affordable housing on the site – something which is hard to come by in Clifton,” Rees said.

Toby Savage, the leader of South Gloucestershire council, said he was “really excited” by the relocation plans. “The new location offers far more space, which is more suitable for a modern zoo and will help the society continue to develop their conservation and education projects.”

It is anticipated that the Clifton site would close to visitors in late 2022. The plan is to open the new Bristol Zoo in 2024 and Wild Place Project will remain open throughout.


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