Chester Zoo

Setting the Standard - BIAZA Chair, Jamie Christon

Posted: 31st August, 2023

It was way back in May 2021 that the Government published its flagship Action Plan for Animal Welfare, including the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. This wide-ranging proposed legislation spanned policy issues as diverse as puppy smuggling and livestock worrying, as well as, in the form of the revised Secretary of State’s Standards for Modern Zoo Practice, measures designed to drive up conservation standards within the zoo and aquarium sector. 

These new standards, and the move to make them a compulsory part of the zoo licencing regime, represent one of the most significant regulatory changes for our sector in a generation. It is for this reason, through concerted lobbying and ensuring they are at the heart of discussions, that the BIAZA Executive Office and many of our leading conservation zoos have made influencing and shaping this process a key priority over the past two years. 

So, what form have these efforts by the BIAZA Executive Office team on behalf of members taken? Firstly, building on the close working relationships that were developed during the pandemic, BIAZA has maintained direct and ongoing contact with the government officials and advisors responsible for ushering through the changes. In partnership with Defra, they’ve also helped to facilitate a series of roundtable discussions, which several of you will have participated in. Finally, our many working groups provided expert feedback on their areas of specialism and this was used to compile a comprehensive sector response to the formal public consultation on the draft standards. 

Aligned with this has been our political lobbying strategy. As members will know, this has become a real area of strength for the BIAZA Executive Office team in recent years and, with the support of the Public Affairs Working Group (which includes public affairs professionals from Chester, ZSL and RZSS as well as members of the BIAZA Executive Office team), there has been a push to engage with parliamentarians – both as a means of raising awareness and support but also to take the opportunity to highlight the vital role BIAZA zoos and aquariums play in protecting wildlife and tackling some of the world’s most pressing conservation challenges. 

At the core of this were a series of amendments to the Kept Animals Bill, which we BIAZA's Public Affairs Working Group helped to draft and were tabled by supportive MPs in the House of Commons. These amendments, as well as our wider response to the new standards, were promoted in briefing notes, via parliamentary questions, at numerous Westminster meetings and during visits by parliamentarians to zoos and aquariums across the UK. This resulted in them being formally supported by the Official Opposition and our issues dominating several relevant debates in parliament, with MPs lining up to praise the invaluable work carried out by BIAZA members. 

Over two years on, what is the current state of play? To our immense frustration, and despite regular reassurances to the contrary, the Government has announced that they are dropping the Kept Animals Bill and will be pursuing the measures via other ‘non legislative’ means. This has inevitably resulted in delays and uncertainty. 

However, in recent weeks, a new iteration of the standards has finally been circulated and, once again, the BIAZA Executive Office team has been busy coordinating a detailed response. Reassuringly, much of your previous feedback has been taken on board and the current document is much improved. And, following a second set of roundtable discussions, including one specifically with the BIAZA Executive Office, we are confident that we have managed to secure significant further improvements and iron out several remaining issues. 

Over the coming weeks, the team will be continuing to liaise closely with Defra officials and advisors as they work towards a September deadline for submitting the new standards for final ministerial approval. The current target is then for them to be published by the end of the year, with view to coming into force in 2025. Rest assured this remains a major focus for BIAZA and they will continue to push hard for the best possible outcome; ensuring the new standards are both fit for purpose and framed in a way to allow our zoos and aquariums to achieve their full potential. 

Please email me at [email protected]  if you have any comments or questions. 

- Jamie Christon, BIAZA Chair & Chester Zoo CEO

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