London Zoo Lease — [Dame Caroline Dinenage in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 14 March 2023.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 9:30, 14 March 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the matter of the lease for London Zoo.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Dame Caroline, in this debate on extending the lease for London Zoo. I am pleased to see colleagues, including Jim Shannon—no doubt to talk about Londonderry’s zoo, but unfortunately it is London Zoo that we will be talking about—and Ms Buck and my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken, both of whom have a direct interest. I am also pleased to see Stephanie Peacock, speaking for the Opposition, and my hon. Friend the Minister. I look forward to hearing their contributions.

London Zoo has been a staple tourist attraction since it opened to the general public in 1847—of course, none of us was around at the time. For centuries, tourists have flocked to the 36-acre site in Regent’s Park to get a closer look at some of the world’s most exotic creatures in the oldest scientific zoo in the world. Today, 176 years later, London Zoo continues to be one of London’s most popular attractions, despite covid, welcoming more than 1 million visitors a year, including 80,000 schoolchildren. For many, such a visit provides a unique experience and a unique opportunity to see up close some of the 20,000 animals to which London Zoo is home and to learn more about unique species and species at risk of extinction in the wild.

I am sure Members here today would agree that London Zoo is a childhood memory for many of us, and I vividly remember my first visit—the excitement of seeing in the flesh those huge animals that had previously been confined to the television, which in my case was a black and white. Additionally, over the years, some of London Zoo’s most notable residents are said to have further influenced our childhoods: the likes of Winnie-the-Pooh and Dumbo the elephant originated from the animals of London Zoo.

Recently, I was lucky enough to be welcomed back to London Zoo by Matthew Gould, Vicky Godwin and the team, and I am pleased they are here for today’s debate. Whatever someone’s age, London Zoo is a fantastic day out, and even on a cold January morning, the array of diverse species and educational areas provides a fantastic outing.

London Zoo is run by ZSL—the Zoological Society of London—which is an international conservation society established under royal charter in 1826. The charity is driven by science, and there are 140 scientists working on site to protect species, restore ecosystems, collaborate with communities around the world and inspire positive change for biodiversity. The work they carry out across the globe is led by evidence, and they produce the hugely beneficial data for the Living Planet Index, which is the world’s leading dataset on global wildlife.

London Zoo provides a huge number of benefits, both for local communities and for the animal kingdom at large. Each year, tourists from London, the wider United Kingdom and across the globe visit the zoo. That contributes to the funding for the zoo, but also to the wider United Kingdom economy, as visitors are much more likely to spend money in the surrounding areas, particularly as the zoo is only a stone’s throw from some of London’s many cultural hotspots. Each year, the zoo is responsible for contributing a huge sum—more than £24 million—to the local economy.

Community outreach projects are instrumental within the philosophy of the zoo. On my recent visit, I was impressed by the new garden area, where volunteers with complex needs can spend the day gardening and visiting the animals for much-needed respite and wellbeing. I know that you, Dame Caroline, take a particular interest in that area.

The zoo has also recently implemented a community access scheme to enable those on income support and other benefits to visit for as little as £3. During February half-term alone, more than 50,000 visits were facilitated through that operation. It is essential that everyone, regardless of where they live, has access to nature and outdoor space. I am pleased, therefore, that ZSL is committed to providing access for those who need the extra help, so that no one is left out.

Further, the educational offerings provide a critical supplement to classroom working for many children. Workshops are tailored to cater for all age groups and learning needs, educating children on hugely important topics, including wildlife, conservation, climate change and the impacts of pollution.

The zoo’s research has perhaps benefited animals the most, shaping the future of many previously endangered species. Many animals at risk of extinction have participated in the zoo’s breeding programmes, to ensure that they are saved for future generations. In 2021-22 alone, more than £17.4 million was spent on conservation science and field conservation programmes, with £38.5 million spent on conservation animal care, breeding programmes and conservation translocations. I am pleased that the zoo will, in the coming months, be returning the previously endangered Guam kingfisher into the wild.