Black Country zoos facing financial uncertainty

Financial uncertainty lies ahead for Black Country zoos due to the threat of another lockdown and problems accessing financial aid, it has been said.

Derek Grove of Dudley Zoo said it is looking “highly doubtful” it will benefit from support and it is now having to use cash reserves
Derek Grove of Dudley Zoo said it is looking “highly doubtful” it will benefit from support and it is now having to use cash reserves

Zoos and aquariums across the country are yet to receive financial lifelines from the Government - despite a £100 million grant scheme being announced in June.

And attractions in the Black Country are gearing up for another drop in visitors, with the threat of lockdown looming as coronavirus cases continue rising in the region.

Dudley Zoo and Brockswood Animal Sanctuary, both based in Dudley, are planning to apply for a slice of the Zoo Animals Fund - which the Government has admitted has so far delivered no money to attractions.

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Derek Grove, director of Dudley Zoo, said it is looking "highly doubtful" that the Castle Hill-based attraction with receive a slice of funding due to issues with the "criteria" of the scheme.

He said: "After the 12-week closure, the reopening of the zoo to paying customers over the summer months gave us much-needed lift to the bank balance, but we’ve still got a long winter ahead and we don’t know what challenges that is going to bring, especially with any potential localised spike in Covid infections.

Dudley Zoo director Derek Grove

"We were not granted assistance from any of the Covid resilience funds and we’re currently in the process of applying for the Zoo Animals Fund, but looking at the criteria we doubt very much we’ll be eligible to receive any support.

"We’ve been forced to use up all the cash reserves we had set aside for development work to survive these last few months and we’ll need to continue using these until at least next Easter.

"But we’ll still need to replenish this money as we’re still determined to carry out the work, although the implementation programme is unfortunately going to be slowed down over the next few years."

Neil Swann, who owns Brockswood Animal Sanctuary in Sedgley, said the process of applying for a grant is "convoluted" and revealed the site failed to qualify for a previous round of Government funding.

Brockswood Animal Sanctuary

Mr Swann said the Catholic Lane-based attraction is down 30 per cent on its profits, adding: "This is why we are looking at [applying to the] Zoo Fund."

He said the attraction will looking at applying for cash later in the year so they can assess their finances more thoroughly going in the Winter period.

"We are looking at things we can do like get extra money. It is definitely a concern."

A spokesman for West Midland Safari Park said: "The Government scheme is eligible to those who are in catastrophic financial difficulty. We have been fortunate to have modest reserves and the support of the public in visiting the Park, which has enabled us to continue to deliver the high standards we set maintaining the wellbeing of all our animals on-site. And for this we are very grateful."

Issues with receiving cash from the Zoo Animals Fund has been raised in the Houses of Parliament.

In response to a written parliamentary question, environment minister Victoria Prentis said only four applications had been received since the Zoo Animals Fund was launched on August 3, all of which are still under review.

The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) said the scheme was too restrictive and many zoos would miss out as a result.

Dr Cerian Tatchley, the BIAZA's acting joint director, said zoos and aquariums now face their worst winter in living memory, describing the challenge as "existential".

He added: "Without urgent changes, the Government is putting at risk some of the UK's best-loved zoos and aquariums.

"Our zoos, aquariums and safari parks are reliant on admissions to keep going, and so the lockdown earlier this year has wreaked financial devastation that will be felt for years to come."

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