The Rt Hon George Eustice, MP, Secretary of State for the Environment
2 Marsham Street
Wednesday 10 March 2021
We are among the leading charity zoos with the greatest impact on conservation, working in the UK and overseas to protect and rebuild wildlife and biodiversity.
Like many organisations, we have experienced major financial losses during the pandemic, but unlike many others, we are unable to furlough many of our staff because of our commitment to animal welfare and husbandry, whether we are open or closed to the public.
We operated during last year as COVID-safe, outdoor destinations for millions of people in Britain who were desperate to engage with nature as they emerged from lockdown. Not a single case of COVID transmission has been reported in our zoos, and we will continue this excellent track record as part of a safe and responsible reopening plan from 12th April.
Botanic gardens are allowed to open right now, while zoos are not. Yet as recently as December 2020, both were accepted by Government as being outdoor venues that people could enjoy safely during the strictest lockdown measures. While we are devastated that zoos remain closed, we do recognise the Government’s strategy must be to proceed with the utmost caution. However, this cautious reopening comes at a crippling cost; the UKs most important and iconic charity zoos are losing a second crucial Easter trading period, where they would normally make up to 15% of their annual income.
Last year the Government assigned £100 million to help zoos through the Zoo Animal Fund. But the criteria attached to this fund render it impossible for the larger UK zoos to access. The majority of this fund lies un-distributed and un-spent, while Britain’s major not-for-profit conservation zoos have had to lay off staff, apply for expensive commercial loans and ask for public donations to help survive what is an existential crisis.
The Government has supported the arts sector with the Cultural Recovery Fund, enabling museums, theatres etc as cultural institutions to be compensated for losses made due to COVID. By contrast, the Zoo Animal Fund provides no such support, focusing as it does solely on welfare of animals rather than looking holistically at supporting zoo recovery. This is a manifestly unequal approach.
Britain’s charity zoos are important employers, are institutions supporting the visitor economy and are part of the country’s effort to conserve wildlife and safeguard our natural world for the future. We are allies for many of the objectives you will be aiming for in the Environment Bill and we contribute to the UK’s efforts around biodiversity and climate change, so vital in this year of UK Presidency of COP26 of the Climate Change Convention.
After the worst year in our histories, the time to act is now. We need the Zoo Animal Fund criteria changed to be similar to the Cultural Recovery Fund, so that Britain’s outstanding and carefully managed zoos can also be supported as institutions, accessing the funds we so desperately need to support the welfare of the species we hold and to continue with our global conservation work.