£100 million rescue package for England’s zoos and aquariums

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ZOOS and aquariums in England are set to receive up to £100 million to help mitigate the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

This is a major expansion of a £14 million initial relief fund announced in May and will run until the end of March 2021 to ensure the necessary long-term support is in place to help with severe financial difficulties.

Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith commented on the announcement: “We have a world-leading zoo and conservation sector, and I know how hard zoos have been working to safeguard the welfare of their animals in the face of real financial hardship and uncertainty.

“Allowing zoos to reopen has taken off some of the pressure, but the coronavirus pandemic has left them facing long-term financial problems.

“This funding will therefore be a lifeline for our zoos and aquariums and ensure the quality of animal care continues over the coming months.

“I will continue to work with the zoo and conservation community to ensure they get the support they need.”

In England, zoos and aquariums have been able reopen outdoor areas since 15 June, subject to social distancing measures being in place.

From 4 July indoor areas such as cafés and exhibits will be able to follow suit.

Allowing these businesses to fully reopen is a vital step towards enabling them to cover some of the cost of animal care.

Throughout the pandemic zoos have continued to ensure animal welfare standards are upheld and animals’ health needs are met.

This funding will help zoos cover costs relating to animal keeping such as feed, heating and security.

Dr Simon Girling, Chair of the Zoo Experts Committee, added: “The Zoo Experts Committee is pleased that the UK Government has listened to the scientific advice of the Committee and not only provided an animal welfare fund at the start of the pandemic for zoos in financial difficulties associated with the lockdown, but they have now made the move to open all parts of zoos from 4 July with appropriate social distancing for public and animal safety.

“The Committee welcomes these moves and believes this funding will ensure zoos are able to generate much-needed income to fund the ongoing care of their animals and much of their valuable conservation work at this challenging time for everyone.”

Establishments covered by the Zoo Licensing Act will be able to bid for a portion of the £100 million that has been made available.

There are already a number of support schemes already available to zoos, including the Job Retention Scheme, VAT deferral, Business Rates Relief, the Business Interruption Loan schemes, the option to reclaim the costs of Statutory Sick Pay and grant funding of up to £25,000 available through the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund.

The measures will help the sector recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and follow ‘an unprecedented’ package of financial support already announced by the government.

Still, it seems like the funding will not reach all zoos affected by the pandemic.

In a statement, Chester Zoo has commented: “Whilst the announcement of a £100 million rescue package for England’s zoos and aquariums is welcome, Chester Zoo are unable benefit from it, making public support more important than ever.

“We of course welcome any extension of financial support for the zoo sector.

“But once again, from the details we have seen, Chester Zoo is unlikely to benefit given the current parameters applied to the fund.

“After significant time spent in lengthy, and what have been seemingly very positive discussions with Government representatives in recent months, this is extremely disappointing for us.

“While the Government has recognised the high running costs of caring for animals at zoos across the country, it must understand the far-reaching and long-term implications of COVID-19 on our critical work to protect threatened species globally.

“As a conservation and education charity working to prevent extinction in more than 30 countries, Chester Zoo’s valued conservation projects in the wild, vital scientific research, and education programmes both in the UK and overseas are at risk of being lost – putting animals at further risk of extinction.

“We urgently call on the Government to make changes to the scheme and ensure financial help also reaches large charity zoos.

“Currently, with no tailored funding or support from the Government, we will need to continue our fundraising efforts whilst opening to limited visitor numbers – once again calling on the goodwill, compassion and amazing actions of the public to Save our Zoo.”