COVID-19 forces Bristol Zoo to sell historic city site and move to Wild Place

Bristol Zoological Gardens, the world’s oldest provincial zoo, will relocate from Clifton to its Wild Place Project site to safeguard its future.

The Bristol Zoological Society has announced that it will sell its 12-acre inner city site in Clifton. The shock decision comes after a second UK lockdown has decimated already failing finances.

“The impact of Covid-19 has caused us to radically rethink our plans about the future and how we address the fundamental and persistent challenges that we face,” said Dr Justin Morris, Chief Executive of Bristol Zoological Society. He confirmed that 2020 has been the “most challenging” the Society has had to face over its 185 year history.

There has been a zoo at Clifton since 1836, making the Bristol Zoological Gardens the oldest provincial zoo in the world – and the fifth oldest zoo overall. Famous for its breeding programmes, the zoo has made an operating loss in four of the past six years. Now the facility will be absorbed into the Wild Place Project, and rebranded as Bristol Zoo.

The Wild Place

The Wild Place Project is located 20 minutes’ drive from Bristol, off Junction 17 of the M5 motorway. Bristol Zoo has owned the 136-acre site since 1966. The project opened on 22nd July 2013 at a development cost of around £70 million. In 2019 the UK’s largest brown bear exhibit, Bear Wood, opened at the site.

Dr Morris is buoyant about the move, saying the new strategy will allow the Society to “create a world-class zoo that sets the standard for a modern, forward-looking zoo in the 21st century.” The changing needs of animals in captivity are paramount. He promises that animals will have “the space and facilities to thrive” in new environments.

The decision will allow the zoo to “re-invest and deliver a world-class immersive wildlife experience,” added Dr Gráinne McCabe, Head of Field Conservation and Science at the Society.

Bristol Zoo Gardens will remain open until the end of 2022. The new Bristol Zoo is slated to open at the start of 2024.