Having announced back in November 2020 that Bristol Zoo Gardens will have to close its Clifton site and relocate to its Wild Place Project site in south Gloucestershire, the Bristol Zoological Society has now confirmed the closing date. The zoo will shut the doors on the historic site on September 3, 2022, allowing us one last summer of visits before the relocation begins.
It’s sure to be a day charged with emotion, but Bristol Zoo are plotting a series of special celebration events, to give the public a chance to say a proper farewell to the site, which opened back in 1836. They’re expected to take place in the summer, and whilst details have been a little scarce, part of the experience will involve inviting guests to share their memories of the zoo. Further details are expected to follow soon.
There will be a bit of a gap between the two Bristol Zoos – whilst the old zoo will close this year, the Wild Place Project won’t officially relaunch as the new Bristol Zoo until early 2024, once the full renovation works have been completed. The move will, in the words of the Bristol Zoological Society create a ‘world-class zoo and safeguard the future of the organisation’, with a focus on spacious, modern facilities, significant growth in conservation and education work and a ground-breaking, innovative visitor experience.
Dr Justin Morris, Chief Executive of Bristol Zoological Society, said: “This new strategy presents an opportunity to create a world-class zoo that sets the standard for a modern, forward-looking zoo in the 21st century. It will be an inspiring, immersive wildlife experience with conservation and sustainability at its heart, where animals will have the space and facilities to thrive.”
The move was prompted by several factors, including declining visitor numbers to Bristol Zoo Gardens and the organisation having made an operating loss in four of the six years between 2013 and 2019. The lockdowns in England provided a further significant challenge, whilst the limitations of the site space and infrastructure created an “inability to meet the changing needs of the animals”, according to Dr Morris.
As a result, the hard decision was taken to close and relocate the historical provincial zoo after 186 years of operation. It was confirmed in late 2020 that the Clifton site would be sold, but we’ve been given a preview of the future of the site in the meantime – and it’s looking pretty exciting! Plans are in the works to open the site to the public for free, and the space will include an ‘urban conservation hub’; meanwhile, the historic entrance site will house a café and become the new home of the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project.
New, sustainable homes will be built on parts of the site by replacing existing structures, but many of the buildings – including the Monkey Temple, and the theatre on the main lawn – will be preserved and given a new lease of life. The sale will help fund the new Bristol Zoo, and consultations for the proposal are being given a final airing early this year.
In spite of all that, September 3 will still be a melancholy day for Bristolians and all who’ve spent a memorable day at the zoo. The countdown has officially begun, so will you be paying a visit before the final curtain call?