Join our zoo community

Zoos From Northern Britain

Discussion in 'United Kingdom' started by Shorts, 29 May 2017.

  1. Shorts

    Shorts Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    29 Apr 2009
    Posts:
    2,048
    Location:
    Behind You! (to the left)
    Introduction
    Myself and my wife usually visit Scotland (Linthgow) every year (our previous visit was September 2016) and following a visit last week I thought I'd put my thoughts on places visited down for the record, scrutiny and comment.


    Calderglen Zoo (Southern Britain Equivalent -never visited but I suspect akin to some of the small London “free(ish?) zoos
    This was a new collection to me and, at £1.40, by far the lowest sum I've ever paid to enter a zoo. This is a reflection of the size of the place (about one acre) and the fact that it's council run and therefore most likely subsidised to some extent. It comprises of a conservatory with about half a dozen exhibits and an outside, square, walled-garden containing a further dozen or so exhibits. Enclosure-wise it's basic but adequate with a number of similar styled enclosures seemingly able to hold a variety of quite different species through clever fit-out and furnishing. Species-wise there's nothing too spectacular but it was nice to see Fennec Fox (seemingly on the wane in larger collections), Cusimanse (seemingly making a bridgehead in Scotland as also seen at Camperdown), Fischer's Lovebirds and a very vocal pair of White-crested Laughing Thrush. Whilst this place will never be a “must visit” collection it's a great, low-cost, facility for the local community and proved a nice stop-off on our long-drive up to Scotland.


    Five Sisters Zoo (Southern Britain Equivalent -Exmoor, but proportionately less birds and better exhibits/enclosures)
    I always enjoy my visits to Five Sisters and this occasion was no exception. The place has a fantastic, varied (and often unusual) collection housed in mostly very good enclosures and has a dynamism lacking at many other zoos, both large and small. I've had the pleasure of visiting pretty much annually over the last decade and it's been a delight to see it continually growing and improving. I've also witnessed it's popularity increase year-on-year mainly, I believe by ingraining and ingratiating itself with the local public (see also Hamerton) -this is easy to understand given the catchment area (has little competition) and the fact that the competition (Edinburgh and Blair Drummond), though offering different things, prove far more expensive family days out.

    The collections now boasts “over 180 animals” which I believe significantly exceeds Edinburgh's total at present. Since my previous (September 2016) visit Fishing Cats and De Brazza Monkeys have joined the collection. Highlights of this visit included my first ever sightings of American Mink and Bank Voles. As usual, myself and my wife paid extra to go in and feed the Ring-tailed Lemurs (which at £5 each has got to be one of the cheapest such “animal encounters” in the UK).

    If I had to critcise the place it would be the over-abundance of random tacky artifacts (statues, old amusement rides and some of the childrens' entertainments) and that the “Scottish Wild Cat” enclosure seems overly big for the species and wasted on them -in my opinion it could house medium sized cats such as Golden Cats or Clouded Leopards quite adequately.

    As always, I left the collection satisfied and looking forward to my next visit to see what happens next -ain't that enough (to want from any zoo visit)?


    Camperdown Wildlife Park (Southern Britain Equivalent -Birmingham Nature Centre a decade ago)
    Whilst I've always enjoyed visits to here in the past I'd always go away grumbling, “too many domestics, I wish they'd swap some with exotics”. I'm happy to say that this seems to have happened, to a small extent, in the two years since my last visit and there seems to be indications of more changes in this direction in the future. On a general level there's a feel of enthusiasm and momentum throughout.

    On entry there's Ring-tailed Lemurs in an enclosure big enough to house a medium macaque species and the biggest enclosure for Red-bellied Lemurs I've ever seen. One then continues in an elongated oval route with enclosures on both sides until you arrive back at the start. As I said, there seems to have been a movement away from generally European species in the past to a more worldly collection at present -more recent additions includes Hyancinth Macaws (in a fantastically spacious enclosure), Ocelot (in the previous bear enclosure), Cusimanse (the Scottish invasion continues), Visayan Warty Pigs (they've got to be getting near maximum ex-situ capacity now?) and, inevitably, Meerkats (I'll give em a pass as it's a long way from Dundee to the next ones). Amongst other things, there's three young Brown Bears (and an elderly adult), two species of otter, four species of callithrids, along with the (Scottish) regulation Wild Cats and a small number of, fairly choice, bird species. There seems to be a large mixed paddock under development in one of the far corners and new (much higher) posts being fixed along the boundary of the (single) Mouflon paddock suggests more changes along the exotic-axis.

    The signage and general educational materials are excellent and, at £5 for adults I think the place offers good value for money and a cheap (animal) day out for families in the surrounding area. There's also an excellent, if little pricey, cafe that's part of the entrance building that I'd recommend (just tell yourself you can afford the prices given the very cheap entry).


    Edinburgh Zoo (Southern Britain Equivalent -Twycross about 5 or 6 years ago)
    Unfortunately, in contrast to all the other places I visited on this holiday, Edinburgh Zoo (or should that be “Edinburgh Queue”?) was the only place that failed to enthuse me. Whilst I've always been fairly agnostic about it's recent changes (appreciating that sometimes a place has to take a step or two back to facilitate a future leap forward) I can't maintain this stance any more.

    The frustrations start at the entrance with a glacially slow moving queue to obtain entry. It took almost thirty minutes to get in at around 10.45am. The slowness of the queue's movement was a combination of only three (of four) entrance desks being open and (even worse) the time it took for ticket desk staff to process visitors. One staff member was continually taking five to six minutes letting each person or group of people in (I timed it, I had little else to do) and other staff seemed only fractionally better. I'm really not sure what they were discussing (but it involved some pointing at the map) but would suggest the staff may have been over-trained to be friendly/helpful, sadly at the expense of admitting people in on a timely basis. At ten admissions an hour per staff member (based on five to six minutes an admission) I fail to see how the place would cope in high season.

    Once inside, there's a growing sense of torpor that's reminiscent of Twycross in it's dark “Boardman Period”. Everything about it seems to frustrate and/or annoy and all the changes seem to be in the wrong direction. I could write a fair sized essay (and probably will end up doing so) but I'll try to summarise as best I can:

    Customer Service: Poor, as well as the prolonged delay in entering there's long queues/waits for everything. Ice cream? 15 minutes. Coffee/sandwich bar? 15 minutes (and very little left in the way of sandwiches at 12.45am). Other food areas (“Griller Bar” and “Jungle Cafe”)? Closed. Whilst the weather on my visit was good (the start of a long-telegraphed fine spell) and numbers were perhaps a little higher than usual that's no excuse, for a visitor facing enterprise, in my opinion (no more than it would be a busy restaurant being unable to cope.) It was midweek and term-time -heaven knows how the place would manage in peak summer holidays. Not forgetting the lack of any (mass) transport to the top of probably the biggest hill in a UK zoo -this is hardly conducive to visits by any groups with small children, older people or people of restricted fitness.

    Animal Collection: Seemingly forever shrinking. As well as the abandoning (rather than renovation/re-use) of the carnivore row and other enclosures in the recent past there's been a further denuding of the Monkey House and the “Magical Forest” which was once home to a nice variety of species (including those Cloud Rats) has pretty much reduced to two enclosures of Douroucouli (still a nice, if unshowy species) and three of Goeldi's (seemingly becoming the Meerkat of the primate world). Overall there's not really that much to look at for a “big zoo” in a capital city especially when Brilliant Birds and Budongo interior was closed and the Pandas, as (almost) ever, a no-show.

    Pandas: Now a reasonable time has passed (including admittedly a lower than average visitor drop-off for a while) it doesn't seem rash to conclude that the Pandas have unbalanced the whole zoo. With hindsight the situations starting to look like a down on their luck person spending 6 months wages on lottery tickets. Given that the zoo uses the Pandas so much for marketing purposes I can only imagine that a lot of people are going to be disappointed when they don't get to see them. My last two visits (September 2016 and May 2017) have found the indoor enclosures closed off and (surprise!) nothing to see in the outdoor area. What's the point in renting them for “£1m a year” and then not letting people see them? Additionally, if I remember correctly, the Pandas were supposed to herald a revitalisation (through popularity and monies) for the zoo. This strategy has clearly not worked (how many new exhibits/animals have we seen since their arrival?) and I'd suggest RZSS should be scrutinising their contract for a “break clause” -I'd imagine quite a few improvements could be made with the annual savings of the panda rent and bamboo costs.

    Other: They're now installing a merry-go-round and ferris wheel next to Brilliant Birds, between the Chimps and (lovely) Sun Bears. I understand the need for Children's play areas and secondary spend but despair at the idea of (presumed) fairground noises brutally intruding on the relatively tranquility of the zoo. Those who gnash their teeth at Dinosaurs should take note and remember, it could be much worse!

    Whilst there's still a scattering of good exhibits/species they increasingly seem to be a component of ever thinning gruel. At present I'm struggling to see how either zoo nerds or Joe Public would be enamored with this place at the moment. Like Twycross was a few years back it seems to be treading water (I must see if I can find their annual accounts) supported, I suspect, by the fact it's the only well-known “big zoo” for a considerable radius.


    Scottish Owl Centre (Southern Britain Equivalent -the owl centre coming to “Birmingham” soon, hopefully)
    Another vibrant collection which like most of the others has expanded/improved since my last visit. It would seem a number of extra enclosures have been built largely, if not exclusively, to house some of the exodus from Muncaster. There's a number of obscure and beautiful owls (personal favourites included Black-banded Owl, Vermiculated Fishing Owl and Furruginous Pygmy Owl) and a real bonus is their display of, non-owl, Common Crossbills (a new species for me). The signage and educational material is top notch, as are the flying displays.


    Conclusion

    There's a fair number of zoo attractions for anyone holidaying in the Edinburgh area. In addition to those visited this time there's also Blair Drummond (unspectacular but with very good bird displays), Deep Sea World (one of the UK's better aquariums) and a Sea Life centre at Loch Lomond (it's name says everything). The small places all seem well run with ambition and momentum. In contrast, it's a sad fact that Edinburgh Zoo seems to have lost it's way of late and currently a visit feels, overall, more of a chore than a pleasure -let's hope things improve by my next visit.

    Miscellaneous: We also visited the Surgeons' Hall Museum in Edinburgh which was excellent but probably not for everybody (I wouldn't recommend having lunch mid-visit, which we did).
     
    Last edited: 29 May 2017
  2. FunkyGibbon

    FunkyGibbon Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    11 Jan 2015
    Posts:
    4,293
    Location:
    Birmingham, UK
    What a great write up! Thanks very much :)
     
  3. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    5 Dec 2006
    Posts:
    19,824
    Location:
    england
    Interested to read your in depth and perceptive summary of Edinburgh Zoo in particular. I have not been for many years now and doubt I would make the effort again at present. They do seem very much in a doldrums period like Twycross was a few years ago, the only difference being this is Scotland's major zoo, rather than a smaller provincial one.

    I agree about slow admission queues- they can be dreadfully frustrating for zoo visitors, and so much time wasted before they have even got into the place. I have watched at other places where the ticket person seems incredibly slow and even after the actual transaction, slow in itself, has taken place, then appears to have a protracted conversation with each new entrant- this is entirely unnecessary when there are long queues waiting.
     
  4. Shorts

    Shorts Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    29 Apr 2009
    Posts:
    2,048
    Location:
    Behind You! (to the left)
    I call it the "cash machine effect", the person/people before me always takes forever to carry out what I consider to be a straightforward task which I then manage to complete in a fraction of the time. :mad: At Edinburgh, I cut off the cashier, explaining I'd been many times before, didn't need their explanations and that it'd be better for the remainder of the queue if they didn't bother with whatever they were going to say (obviously I said it more politely than it looks "on paper":)). Sadly, I suspect my action made very little difference to the overall situation.
     
    Pertinax likes this.
  5. sooty mangabey

    sooty mangabey Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    29 Apr 2008
    Posts:
    1,958
    Location:
    Sussex by the Sea
    Thank you for a very enjoyable report (but don't think you can smuggle a Teenage Fanclub reference into Zoochat without anyone noticing!).

    I find the decline of Edinburgh Zoo particularly sad. Like @Pertinax, above, I would have no desire to visit the place at the moment; 30 years ago I chose to go to Edinburgh University precisely because the city offered the best half-decent university / half-decent zoo combination in the U.K. In the subsequent four years I visited the place pretty much every week. Now, it just sounds dull - and, as you describe here, really annoying in its incompetence.
     
  6. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

    Joined:
    1 Dec 2007
    Posts:
    6,892
    Location:
    Abbotsford, B.C., Canada
    Thanks very much for your informative and honest write-ups. Keep them coming. :)
     
  7. Shorts

    Shorts Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    29 Apr 2009
    Posts:
    2,048
    Location:
    Behind You! (to the left)
    Good spot, there's two references for the (very) eagle-eyed. :D

    Dull is probably about right, I found myself visiting because, "I'm in Edinburgh so I might as well" rather than, "brilliant, let's go visit a good zoo". There's still a few highlights but I'm not sure I would have bothered if I'd not had reciprocal (free) entry. I'll be seriously considering whether to give it a miss next year, words I never thought I'd say -it's not like Edinburgh and the surrounding area's short of things to do (animal-related or otherwise).
     
  8. TeaLovingDave

    TeaLovingDave Moderator Staff Member

    Joined:
    16 May 2010
    Posts:
    15,863
    Location:
    Wilds of Northumberland
    I have never seen American Mink - the only mustelid present in the wild here in the UK which I am yet to see - so I must admit this makes me tempted to revisit Five Sisters sometime!

    There is a very nice little collection which displays Bank Vole a lot closer to your home area, incidentally - the Tropical House at North Anston.

    Having visited Twycross during the aforementioned time period, I would suggest that Edinburgh is in a *worse* state.......

    As do I; prior to the dark days of the Giant Panda the collection ranked as my second-favourite in the country.... it's not even top twenty now.

    Similarly, I had been so dismayed by my last visit in April 2013 that I just stopped bothering - the only reason I have visited more recently than this is because I was keeping @ThylacineAlive company! Sad to say, the resulting visit made the 2013 visit seem like a fantastic day.......
     
    ThylacineAlive likes this.
  9. robmv

    robmv Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    12 Aug 2007
    Posts:
    571
    Location:
    Shrewsbury
    My recent visit to Edinburgh followed a similar pattern:
    • Visiting out of convenience/duty rather than desire or anticipation
    • Painfully slow entrance queue
    • A depressing air of stagnation
    For the second consecutive visit, I was done and dusted by lunchtime: unthinkable ten years ago. I've never failed to see the pandas though.
     
  10. Pertinax

    Pertinax Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    5 Dec 2006
    Posts:
    19,824
    Location:
    england
    What a sad situation. You have just put me off wanting to make a return visit even more...:(
     
  11. mattmcg83

    mattmcg83 Member

    Joined:
    2 May 2010
    Posts:
    17
    Location:
    Lanark, Scotland
    I completely agree with the comments about Edinburgh. As a lifetime member I have seen the place slip further and further into a hole with many cutbacks across the zoo. My visits have become pretty non existent this weather opting to use my Five sisters membership instead.
     
  12. sooty mangabey

    sooty mangabey Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    29 Apr 2008
    Posts:
    1,958
    Location:
    Sussex by the Sea
    I'm soon to be spending a couple of days in Scotland. Is Deep Sea World worth a detour? I visited shortly after it opened (early 1990s?) but not since, and truth be told I don't remember a great deal about it. Is it anything more than a glorified Sealife Centre? If I were to go, I would have less time at Five Sisters / the Owl Centre....
     
  13. Shorts

    Shorts Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    29 Apr 2009
    Posts:
    2,048
    Location:
    Behind You! (to the left)
    It's nice enough (plenty of sharks and the novelty of being transported round the main tank on a conveyor belt) but I've not visited (except to pick up new guide books) in about four years and in that period I haven't missed a visit to Five Sisters or the Owl Centre. So, no need to go -time better spent at the other places.
     
    Giant Panda and sooty mangabey like this.
  14. kiang

    kiang Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    12 Aug 2007
    Posts:
    6,249
    Location:
    Argyllshire
    Do you have next week's lottery numbers by any chance? ;)
     
    Shorts likes this.
  15. Dylan

    Dylan Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    12 Mar 2016
    Posts:
    455
    Location:
    Edinburgh
    Edinburgh is so depressingly empty now, I prefer going to FSZ and Calderglen (I love small zoos and rarities).
     
  16. littleRedPanda

    littleRedPanda Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    22 Sep 2014
    Posts:
    2,023
    Location:
    In the middle
    I'm hoping to pop up early July to see Hamish and will probably give Edinburgh a miss this time.
     
  17. Shorts

    Shorts Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    29 Apr 2009
    Posts:
    2,048
    Location:
    Behind You! (to the left)
    I wish :D. I'd always thought Camperdown had good potential if it shrank back the domestics and got more exotic --it seems those running the place have (eventually) come around to a similar conclusion.