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Kera and Hasani western lowland gorillas at Bristol Zoo Gardens

The future of Bristol Zoo Gardens & Bristol Zoological Society – Our response to the OurWorld Bristol concept proposal

In late 2020, we announced our plans to safeguard the future of our 185-year-old charity, by relocating Bristol Zoo to the Wild Place Project site.

This decision followed an extensive process to explore a number of options as well as taking independent professional advice to ensure we are taking the best possible course of action.

For many years Bristol Zoo Gardens, at only 12 acres in size, has been struggling with the size of our site, declining visitor numbers and restricted parking.

On a site of 136 acres the new Bristol Zoo will offer an extraordinary opportunity. Visitors and animals will be immersed in the natural landscape – the zoo in nature and nature in the zoo.

However, the new Bristol Zoo will be much more than an exciting visitor destination. Animals will be chosen to ensure that we can achieve the greatest conservation impact; our education and scientific research programmes will grow significantly to form a new conservation campus; and our conservation action in the field, saving wildlife from extinction, will increase at the Zoo, in the South West and around the world.

All of this will build on the existing strength of our network of partners and collaborators, locally and internationally, to deliver our mission of saving wildlife together.

In order to realise this exciting new vision, we must sell the Clifton site. This decision has not been taken lightly; however, it is vital to safeguard the future of Bristol Zoological Society, and ensure an exciting new beginning for Bristol Zoo.

In May 2021 a concept was launched by an independent group of people for an alternative future for the Bristol Zoo Gardens site involving an augmented reality experience, called OurWorld Bristol. We were not involved in the development of these plans, however clearly we endorse many of the same values – we too will create a “connected, welcoming and inclusive place that represents the best of us”. It is also important to us to “safeguard the zoo’s future and secure a lasting, inclusive legacy for the whole of our city”.  

Our plan will ensure that Bristol Zoo continues to offer millions more people the opportunity to experience the magic of a new Bristol Zoo, in its new home at the Wild Place Project site.

Our vision for the Clifton site is very ambitious – to create an exemplar of how much needed homes and public places can be designed to be fit for the future we face. That future requires us to find a new and profound relationship with nature.

“We will lead a planning application for a residential-led scheme to redevelop the Bristol Zoo Gardens site given its central and sustainable location in Bristol. Fundamental to the development of a scheme for the site will be the importance of good quality, eco-friendly low-carbon homes, largely in areas where there are already built structures on the site.

Bristol Zoo Gardens will become a remarkable place for a variety of people to live, for nature to thrive, and for Bristolians to continue to enjoy.

In addition, the green space at the heart of the site will be enhanced to encourage greater biodiversity with consideration of public access to the gardens beyond the Clifton Conservation Hub that is already planned. The Society has not at any point stated that this will be a “private residential development” and it is incorrect to say this.

A period of public consultation will begin over the summer when Bristol Zoological Society will be meeting with, and listening to feedback from, a range of interested groups including near neighbours and Clifton residents.

We realise the significance and importance of the Bristol Zoo Gardens site, which is why we want to ensure that we create an exemplar for environmentally and socially sustainable development that Bristol can be proud of and showcase to other cities across the UK.

Bristol Zoological Society remains confident that our plans for the new Bristol Zoo at our Wild Place Project site should continue to be the focus for our organisation. As part of our extensive strategic review in 2020, we explored other options for the Clifton site, which included other types of visitor attraction and different types of zoos. Working with professional advisors, we identified that these options were not viable financially or operationally sustainable.

We have received a range of proposals for the site from interested parties. We remain committed to our exciting new strategy and our thoroughly-considered plans. It is not clear how the OurWorld proposal will safeguard the future of Bristol Zoological Society.

The recent appointment of a team of leading architects, designers and heritage experts, led by award-winning Penoyre & Prasad architects, represents the beginning of a conversation to ensure that the future redevelopment of the site is the best it can possibly be for Bristol.

Bristol Zoo Gardens will remain open until late 2022 and visitors will not see an immediate change while plans are developed further. Wild Place Project will remain open throughout this time, until it becomes the new Bristol Zoo from early 2024.

Dr Justin Morris, Chief Executive, Bristol Zoological Society