Wildwood Escot celebrates reopening, but criticises Government over lockdown guidelines.

The two lynx. Picture: Wildwood Escot

The two lynx. Picture: Wildwood Escot - Credit: Archant

Wildwood Escot has reopened to the public with careful precautions in place to protect visitors and staff from Covid-19.

Two of the wolves. Picture: Wildwood Escot

Two of the wolves. Picture: Wildwood Escot - Credit: Archant

The wildlife park near Ottery St Mary held a members’ day on Monday, June 15, and opened its gates to the general public the following day.

It had been closed to visitors since Monday, March 23, when coronavirus lockdown came into force.

Now, visitors are able to roam around the park again and see the animals in their natural habitats, but with social distancing markers and one-way systems in place, hand sanitisers ‘everywhere’, individual portable toilets and a takeaway-only service at the café.

Wildwood Escot’s general manager, George Hyde, said the permission to reopen had come as a relief, after a period when information from the Government was unclear and inconsistent.

Red squirrels come up close at Wildwood Escot. Picture: Wildwood Escot

Red squirrels come up close at Wildwood Escot. Picture: Wildwood Escot - Credit: Archant

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He said: “It’s been a long struggle with zoos and wildlife park lovers pushing the Government, as they would not give a clear answer as to why we could not be allowed to open, along with places like Ikea, for example.

“Up until Sunday 31st May we were allowed to reopen to the public as part of ‘phase two’ of the Government’s lockdown exit strategy. So, we were ready to open on the 5th of June.

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“However, as of midnight on the 31st of May, an emergency amendment extended our lockdown by a minimum of one month.

“Then finally on June 10 we were told that we had the go-ahead for Monday June 15, as long as any indoor attractions remain closed for now.

“The extended lockdown has definitely taken its toll on us, though.

“We still don’t understand why it took all this pressure for the Government to acknowledge that many zoos could open safely, and that the work we do simply doesn’t allow us to just shut down and wait it out.

“We always prioritise our animals and their care and would not put on hold the important conservation work to carry out.

“We want to thank all the fantastic members and supporters who stood by us through this.”

A spokesman from Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) said: “We understand the challenges faced by zoos and aquariums during these unprecedented times. We have now allowed the outdoor areas of all animal attractions to re-open to the public, subject to the appropriate social distancing measures.

“We have provided a £14 million support fund to ensure zoos have been able to continue to care for their animals, and we will continue to liaise with any zoos and aquariums struggling during this time.”

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