House of Commons: Zoos, Aquariums and Wildlife Sanctuaries: Reopening

– in the House of Commons at 3:16 pm on 11th June 2020.

Listen to Andrew Selous in debate in

Andrew Selous:

“I congratulate both my hon. Friend Andrew Rosindell and Christian Matheson on their fantastic speeches. It is a testament to how important this issue is that the Chamber is this full on a Thursday afternoon.

“When people ask me where I am the Member of Parliament for, I normally say Whipsnade zoo, because it is by far the best known part of my constituency. It occupies 600 stunningly beautiful acres of the south Bedfordshire countryside and it is a part of the Zoological Society of London, which is joined with Whipsnade zoo, so London zoo and Whipsnade zoo are both part ZSL, the same organisation.

“I wish to start with a big thank you to the Minister. I have said on a number of occasions that her Department, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has been—if I can put it this way—on the side of the angels in this debate. It has been standing up for zoos and doing the right thing, so I would like to pass on my thanks to her and the Department for what they have done. Monday will be a great day. At 10 o’clock on Monday morning, Whipsnade zoo will open. There is a morning session and an afternoon session. I urge people to please go on the website and book. If they are going in the morning, they should go early so that they can make the most of it—they should not turn up in the late morning as they will not get full enjoyment from the experience. They should go on the website and book because normally in the Easter and May bank holiday periods Whipsnade will take in just under £8 million of income, so that is £8 million of income that it has lost. It costs the zoo £2.3 million a month to run London and Whipsnade zoos and do all the vital global conservation research work. They are in a £25 million black hole.

“As the hon. Member for City of Chester said absolutely rightly, it is the vital conservation work that will be first to go. Of course London and Whipsnade zoos will put the animals—their 20,000 animals—first, as they should, but no one here wants to see that vital conservation work go, because it is so important. The ZSL research provides the Living Planet Index, which tells us of our indescribably awful biodiversity loss. Members will know from the United Nations report last year that 1 million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction, many of those within decades. Since the 16th century, we have already lost 680 vertebrate species, and I do not want us to lose any more on our watch. It is too important: we must stick up for nature and the glorious animal kingdom.

“Whipsnade does so much. It has reintroduced tigers to Nepal, Kenya and Indonesia, and rhinos to Nepal and Kenya. It has helped restore coral reefs in the Philippines, and it has helped get angel sharks back off the coast of Wales and even seals and eels in the Thames right next to this building. And these zoos mean so much. I spoke to a lady in my constituency last week who has given all her holiday money to the zoo; it meant that much to her. People really do care about this in this country.

“However, the costs are huge and ongoing, and the income has been eliminated. That is why I say to the Minister that the first part—the reopening—is excellent and fantastic, and thank you so much, but we need a multimillion pound package so that we do not lose the vital global conservation work. The research by Whipsnade led to the Dasgupta review, which played quite a significant part in helping to bring COP26 to the United Kingdom.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, it is a little irritating to Whipsnade and London zoos that they see institutions such as Kew and the Natural History Museum regularly getting significant amounts of Government money, whereas I do not think any of the zoos we have talked about today are in receipt of Government funding. These are institutions that are normally financially self-sustainable and do not come cap in hand to the Government, but they have had their income taken away and their costs have continued. That is why I have one more request, please Minister, for one more final shove: let us get this multimillion-pound package to help all our zoos survive and not lose that vital conservation work.”

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