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Could Banham Zoo become a tropical research paradise?

PUBLISHED: 09:52 20 August 2014 | UPDATED: 09:52 20 August 2014

Martin Goymour of Banham Zoo. Photograph Simon Parker

Martin Goymour of Banham Zoo. Photograph Simon Parker


An ambitious plan for a new tropical science discovery centre in Norfolk has been unveiled.

The history of Banham Zoo

Banham Zoo started as a collection of pheasants and parrots, and opened to the public in 1968.

In 1991 Africa Alive in Kessingland (formerly Suffolk Wildlife Park) was bought and now both are run by the Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA), a charitable trust formed last year.

The aim of ZSEA is to secure the long-term futures for Banham Zoo and Africa Alive, as well as advancing their roles in wildlife and environment conservation, animal welfare and education.

Now the 50 acre Banham Zoo site attracts about 250,000 visitors each year.

Every January, zookeepers carry out the unenviable task of counting every specimen for the annual animal census.

The annual inventory, a requirement under the Zoo Licensing Act, is submitted to local authorities at the start of the year.

This year more than 120 species were counted – with the total number of animals getting close to 
3,000, including 1,500 cockroaches.

Banham Zoo could be at the heart of research into South American biodiversity and its links to the region under a multi-million pound proposal.

The Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA) and the University of East Anglia have teamed up to create the Germinal project, based around the theme of growth.

And although in its early stages, and without any funding, the visitor attraction could provide on-site resources for academic research as well as encouraging greater interest in the sciences within five years.

At the heart of the plans is an eyelid-shaped tropical house, filled with Brazilian fauna and flora, which will be built on the edge of the south Norfolk zoo site. The South American country was chosen because of its emerging economy and the avenues which could open if the East Anglian region worked with it.

Roots of the Germinal project

The Germinal project is part of a national scheme called the Big Zoo Experiment.

It was set up to link major universities with zoos to forge serious research and areas for visitors to explore and learn.

The broad aims are to encourage greater public engagement in science, provide new research centres and material for universities, promote social economy programmes, and address the conservation challenges of climate change, habitat destruction and biodiversity loss.

Germinal will seek a combination of both private and public sector funding.

And although it is still at the concept stage, a business plan will be completed soon.

The upcoming dualling of the last stretch of the A11 could help make the site a go-to visitor attraction in the region.

That plan will define in further detail the type of scientific research that will be undertaken at Germinal and any other research institutions that may become involved.

The Norfolk partnership will look to select fauna and flora to reflect an exotic Brazilian biodiversity landscape.

The tropical house setting could see giant tropical planting including orchids, gingers, aroids, palms and bromeliads, as well as waterfalls over mangrove swamps, crossing fast-running streams stocked with tropical fish and free flying butterflies and birds.

Invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles and small primates may also be part of Germinal’s animal community.

And the hothouse environment will encourage plants to grow at a spectacular rate.

It is hoped the project will lead to discussions on sustainable food as well as encouraging training and volunteering in the research sectors.

Martin Goymour, the managing director of Banham Zoo, where ZSEA is based, described the blueprint as a “six-figure project” and said although it was in its infancy, he believed it was an exciting prospect for the region. “I wanted to create something that would be unique in Norfolk – a new zoo concept,” he said. “It could be a fantastic resource – not just to our visitors but to the UEA too.”

The Norfolk proposal is part of UK-wide partnerships between zoos, wildlife parks and universities across the UK, known as The Big Zoo Experiment. The partaking universities in Edinburgh, Sheffield, Liverpool and Bangor share the same aims as the UEA, to widen scientific research and get the public involved.

The Germinal’s tropical house could include waterfalls, running streams stocked with tropical fish, free-flying butterflies and birds and more. A hot house environment could aim to encourage plants to grow at fast rates. Sustainable food production would be a priority area of research, in terms of the East Anglian region and global crop development issues across the world.

Mr Goymour said the centre could provide a better understanding of the modern zoo whilst giving a tourism boost to the region.

“Norfolk has numerous other well established and widely respected institutions, such as the UEA and John Innes Centre and so it seemed to me that ZSEA should explore the prospects of co-operation to make our collective resources more available and used by more people,” he said.

A spokesman for the UEA said: “This partnership is part of a wider, national initiative between zoos and universities in the UK. The UEA will be working with the Zoological Society of East Anglia over the coming months to investigate how this partnership can combine scientific research with efforts to achieve a more sustainable future for wildlife and people.”

What do you think? Write (giving your full contact details) to: The Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.

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