Zoos, Aquariums and Wildlife Sanctuaries: Reopening

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:29 pm on 11th June 2020.

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Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South 4:29 pm, 11th June 2020

I thank my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell for the opportunity to speak in this very important debate. I want to talk about a place that could be far, far away: a tropical rainforest where people can mingle with a meerkat, tickle a tarantula, sit with a snake or mix with a marmoset, while seeing butterflies of all shapes, sorts, varieties and colours. This tropical rainforest is not the Amazon, but up north, on the banks of the Tees. Butterfly World is a beyond-unique place; an independent, family-owned business, which has educated and entertained families from across the north-east for years—and it enjoys a solid 4.5 on Tripadvisor.

I am sure that all will appreciate and agree—even Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin—the important role that our zoos and aquariums play, from helping with the conservation of some of our most endangered species to educating children on breeds and behaviours. I welcome the measures that the Government have put in place to support zoos and aquariums, as well as the decision to reopen outdoor zoos on 15 June.

However sunny Stockton might get, it would be a stretch for me to describe it as tropical, so unfortunately, this amazing venue is indoors. Despite the greenhouse-like building maintaining its own ecosystem, it is understood to fall in the indoor zoo category, so it will not be able to open. Like many zoos, Butterfly World is reliant on seasonal income and it is open only eight months of the year, so such a long period of closure threatens the future of this regional treasure. While to us this pandemic seems like it has gone on for ever, to some breeds of butterfly, it has gone on a lifetime.

The owners of Butterfly World remain ready with a comprehensive plan to open safely under a series of social distancing measures. The public are ready to visit, and such is the appetite and feeling of support that they have donated to a fund to try to secure the future of this regional gem. Other non-essential venues will open their doors to the public on 15 June. I ask the Minister, my honourable butterfly brooch-wearing friend, whether she might consider the case of Butterfly World—and, should she visit the north-east when things change a little, I would be delighted to welcome her and her brooch to Butterfly World to meet Barry the blue-tongued skink.