Plans still underway to make Bristol Zoo Project bigger and better

The Bristol Zoo Project says that accessibility for disabled people and those with sensory processing needs is "a priority" and work is continuing to improve.
-Credit: (Image: Bristol Live)


The Bristol Zoo Project says that improving accessibility for those with disabilities and sensory processing needs is “a priority” as it builds on its existing site in South Gloucestershire. The conservation zoo, which was formerly known as the Wild Place Project, is located on a 136 acre site just off junction 17 of the M5 motorway near Cribbs Causeway.

Last year the Wild Place Project was rebranded following Bristol Zoo Gardens move from the old site in Clifton, which is now earmarked for housing. The South Gloucestershire site is more than 11 times the size of the Clifton site and developments are ongoing to make the new site bigger and better.

Currently 78 percent of animals are the zoo are endangered or critically endangered and are part of conservation programs. The Bristol Zoological Society, who runs the zoo, wants to increase this number to 90 percent by 2035.

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Whilst work to improve the site and add more exhibits, including the new Central African Forest, continues to come to fruition, work to improve accessibility for those with additional needs or disabilities is also growing and continuing. This is included in new projects due to open within the next few months, including the new play area.

CGI image of what the 'Explorers Basecamp' will look like when it opens before the summer holidays.
CGI image of what the 'Explorers Basecamp' will look like when it opens before the summer holidays. -Credit:Creating Adventurous Places Ltd - CAP.CO

The ‘Explorers Basecamp’ is a multi-level adventure play area for children of all ages which includes specialist trampolines suitable for wheelchairs, a wheelchair accessible roundabout and slides. Set over three levels, it will offer children the chance to play and explore, whilst learning about conservation.

Rio Whittaker, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Officer at the Bristol Zoo Project, said: “We are extremely excited about the opening of ‘Explorers Basecamp’ this summer. We wanted to create an accessible adventure play area that children of all ages, needs and abilities can enjoy.

“It will include ground trampolines, a wheelchair accessible roundabout and family swing. The main structure will also be wheelchair accessible up to the first level, where children will find sensory games, a guess the sign game and companion slide, that can be transferred to from a wheelchair.

“Further up the structure are more sensory activities, a wobbly bridge and hammock which will provide a wonderful opportunity to relax and enjoy nature at height. We hope to continue to increase our accessible play offer with our future development, with feedback from disabled visitors, families and community partners.”

The initiatives will improve the experience for all visitors as they traverse the 136-acre zoo.
The initiatives will improve the experience for all visitors as they traverse the 136-acre zoo. -Credit:Bristol Zoological Society

The site, which consists of wider footpaths and is without concrete, has also been designed to be more accessible to everyone. Rio Whittaker said: “Continuing to improve accessibility across the site is a priority for us as we build a new conservation zoo at Bristol Zoo Project and it’s a work in progress and we have clear plans to achieve this, with work being delivered in phases.

“This includes creating wider footpaths and gravelled walking surfaces that are firm, smooth and even for all users. Rest areas will be added at regular intervals to support visitors with limited mobility.

“A range of seating options will also include seating with armrests and backrests at different heights, as well as seating that enables wheelchair users to move onto a bench. Seating and other furniture will be placed away from access routes where possible, to avoid creating hazards for people with impaired vision.

“Signage around the zoo will be designed to be as accessible as possible, with simple, legible fonts and clear information, using different formats such as text, symbols and pictures. In our car parks, designated accessible parking bays will also be located close to the main pedestrian access onto the site, with pedestrian routes provided between these bays and the zoo entrance.”

Currently a sensory map is available which highlights areas of the site which may impact those with sensory needs as well as quiet areas, an accessibility guide is available upon request and sensory bags have also been recently introduced.

The sensory bags contains the likes of ear defender headphones, fidget items and the sensory map.
The sensory bags contains the likes of ear defender headphones, fidget items and the sensory map. -Credit:Bristol Zoological Society

The sensory bags are designed for those who are neuro-divergent but can be requested by anyone. Rio Whittaker said: “The bags are designed to provide ways to improve focus and create relaxation for children and adults who are neuro-divergent or have sensory processing needs. The bags include a range of items including ear defenders, binoculars, fidget and sensory items, as well as our sensory map and social story [which helps families plan their day].”

The Bristol Zoo Project is also partnered with 53 local community groups and charities to help everyone, even if they are unable to get to the zoo, to experience nature. The Access to Nature scheme provides funded educational visits, community visits and community membership.

In the first six months of the scheme, more than 350 children attended via an educational visit and more than 250 adults and children visited from a community visit. More than 550 people benefitted from community membership so far.

The scheme works with organisations such as the Bristol Children’s Hospital and Teenage Cancer Trust to fund experience for vulnerable people. A school who has worked with the zoo, Easton CE Academy, said: “The children have a better understanding of the animal groups and how humans are impacting and trying to improve outcomes for animals.”

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