Bob Lawrence

A tough year with some silver linings

Posted: 18th December, 2020

BIAZA’s acting Directors, Dr Cerian Tatchley and Nicky Needham reflect on an extraordinary year.  

2020 got off to a strong start!  Our members had reported some of their best ever visitor numbers for 2019.  Our taxon working groups were beavering away at new husbandry care sheets and training workshops. We had some fantastic conservation projects, pioneering research publications and inspirational education work underway. And in the BIAZA Office we were planning exciting new campaigns and partnerships. 

This terrible pandemic put paid to much of that, and (along with most of our members) we were forced to abandon much of our ‘normal’ work, furlough staff and cut our budget. It’s with significant relief that we can now start to pick up some of that where we left off, but it seems likely that this has fundamentally altered BIAZA and how we operate and support you.  

Earlier this year we sadly said goodbye to Aliide Murphy, John Pullen and Madelon Willemsen, and welcomed Andrew Hall to the team. With our members’ support we effectively transformed BIAZA into a predominantly public affairs-focussed organisation, lobbying the highest levels of Government to give zoos, aquariums and safari parks a path through this unprecedented pandemic. 

At the forefront of our work have been the BIAZA members, big and small who have all faced their own Covid challenges, and will continue to do so, into 2021 and beyond. We have been under no illusion of the magnitude of the challenge and the reality is we are bracing ourselves for more closures, redundancies and budget cuts across the community.  

But together, we have also managed to achieve some significant wins and demonstrate our resilience. Despite everything, members continued to supply us with valuable input and financial statistics to inform our lobbying, which has been critical in allowing us to take the case for supporting zoos, aquariums and safari parks to Governments across all our five nations, securing support from across the political parties. Through the newly formed Public Affairs Working Group we have held hundreds of meetings with relevant Government departments, Ministers, officials and partners, coordinated campaigns that captured the public and political imagination and penned hundreds of letters to Governments. 

As a result, we were able to secure the early reopening of our members, more favourable restrictions on the sector, and several truly unprecedented support packages from Government. The significance of this should not be understated – Governments have recognised the value of zoos and the need for their support when they could have so easily overlooked our relatively small sector.   

In recent weeks these newly strengthened relationships have also proved their worth in other areas – achieving important concessions for us and involvement in legislative decision-making around non-Covid work such as Avian Influenza, Brexit and zoo licensing issues. 

As an organisation we have also made many new friends from across different sectors. Without their support some of our achievements would have been impossible. Over the year we have met with ALVA, ASVA, Visit Britain, NFAN, Tourism Alliance, ICCF, CIEEM, Wildlife and Countryside Link, IUCN, EAZA, WAZA, and BVA. We hope that we will continue to grow these relationships and position our members at the heart of the best visitor attraction and conservation organisations in the world. 

In the political sphere we have new allies too. The energetic work of the APPG for Zoos and Aquariums has made zoos an active issue in UK Parliament and the newly established cross-party Group for Zoos and Animal Attractions in the Welsh Senedd sets an important model for BIAZA’s work across other nations. 

The achievements of our members has also been remarkable in the face of adversity. Who can forget the thousands of would-be visitors stuck home but enthralled by the digital engagement taking place at BIAZA sites? As ever BIAZA is proud to represent you and to count you as our members. 

There is no denying that this year has brought significant hardships and innumerable losses to our community.  

But there are learnings to take forward and silver linings to be found. Together we finish this difficult year with a renewed relevance. This pandemic is a direct result of our dysfunctional relationship with nature; our sector must not only recover, but must ensure that it plays a leading role in addressing the issues that brought us here. 

It has been our pleasure to lead BIAZA on an interim basis and we look forward to working with incoming CEO Dr Jo Judge, in continuing to build on this year’s significant achievements.