Zoos, Aquariums and Wildlife Sanctuaries: Reopening

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:43 pm on 11th June 2020.

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Photo of Nicholas Fletcher Nicholas Fletcher Conservative, Don Valley 4:43 pm, 11th June 2020

I thank the Minister and my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell for allowing me to speak in this debate. Like many of my colleagues across the House, this issue is particularly important to me, as the Yorkshire wildlife park is located in my constituency. Since March this year, the gates of the Yorkshire wildlife park and many other zoos have been closed, and the park has had to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds a month while generating no income.

I fully understand the reason for lockdown, and I thank the good people of Don Valley for playing their part in saving lives and protecting the NHS. That said, as we are now coming out of lockdown I am delighted that the Government are finally allowing zoos and wildlife parks to reopen.

The park will open on Monday 15 June, and with the help of its wonderful staff it has managed to get everything in place for a safe opening. It has also been able to invite environmental health officers to carry out an inspection. They attended the site on Tuesday and confirmed that the park has everything in place. I am grateful that the Government have recognised the steps that wildlife parks and zoos across the country have taken, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that such venues are fully prepared to operate in a way that keeps the public safe.

As my hon. Friend is all too aware, children have spent a huge amount of time away from the classroom as a result of the pandemic. They are our future scientists, teachers and zoologists. It is therefore only right that educational institutions such as Yorkshire wildlife park are reopened. After all, such zoos and parks allow children to learn and develop, as well as to appreciate the importance of nature. The reopening of wildlife parks will therefore offer a great opportunity for children to catch up on the learning that they have missed, and to improve their wellbeing simply by being in a wonderful, safe outdoor environment.

As we come out of lockdown, the Government must begin to take urgent action to save businesses. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that, as it was essential that we locked down to save lives, it is now essential that the Government act quickly so that people have jobs and recreational sites to go back to at the end of this. I therefore welcome the recent announcements and I am less anxious about the loss of jobs and educational sites in my constituency.

That said, I will conclude by asking the Minister the following questions. First, can she assure the owners of zoos and wildlife parks that any additional measures introduced for the safe reopening of those facilities will be reasonable and will not overburden such businesses? Secondly, will the Government continue to engage in dialogue with zoos and wildlife parks, and provide them with the extra financial support that they will need beyond the immediate crisis? It will no doubt be in the forthcoming winter months that zoos and wildlife parks will be at their most vulnerable.