Stewart seeks early opening and financial support for Highland Wildlife Park

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, asked today if the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig in his region could be permitted to open early and also be given financial support to weather the COVID financial storm.

After the Ministerial Statement on COVID-19 and tourism was delivered by Fergus Ewing in the Chamber this afternoon, Mr Stewart said “One jewel in the crown for tourists is the Highland Wildlife Park at Kincraig.

“They are desperately looking for two things; early opening such as is planned in England, and financial support. Will the Cabinet Secretary look urgently at these two matters?”

The MSPs intervention came after he was contacted by the Park’s owners seeking support for their drive to safely reopen and prevent the ‘financially disastrous’ implications of being closed over the summer months.

The Park authorities advise that a wide range of safety measures to protect visitors and staff is being put in place by the wildlife conservation charity, which has had to borrow £5 million due to the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of the Highland Wildlife Park and it’s sister operation, Edinburgh Zoo.

Chief Executive, David Field, advised that Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park have large outdoor spaces and they can re-open safely by introducing social distancing, closing indoor areas, limiting visitor numbers and selling tickets online with time slots.

The Cabinet Secretary said in the Statement that an ‘indicative date’ for some tourism sectors to reopen would be 15 July however this won’t apply to all tourism related ventures. The Highland Wildlife Park was hoping to open by the end of June.

The Cabinet Secretary responded to Mr Stewart’s questions that his colleague, Rosanna Cunningham, is looking urgently at providing financial support and that there was a very strong case which has been accepted in England. He said there are very strong animal welfare reasons, the Highland Wildlife Park has a wide, attractive collection of different species of animals and we need to consider the animal welfare considerations as well as the need for reopening.

He said “I would stress that our judgement and our cautious approach in Scotland is that it is not right just yet to open all visitor attractions to have people from all over the county travelling to enjoy them. That’s the predominant reason that the opening can’t happen sooner than it is.”

Speaking after the statement, Mr Stewart said “I welcome the fact that financial support may be forthcoming and I hear the animal welfare considerations that must also be taken into account. However there is support for early opening of animal parks in England and I will continue to press for this in Scotland in a bid to ensure the Highland Wildlife Park in my region makes it through this financial crisis.”