Found next to the River Thames in the Borough of Wandsworth, Battersea Park is an 83 hectare space which opened in the mid-1800s. Within its grounds you can find its iconic and much beloved Battersea Park Children's Zoo; home to monkeys, lemurs, meerkats, otters, birds and farmyard animals. When the zoo, formerly run by Wandsworth Council, was threatened with closure in 2003, the Heap family- Carol, Roger and Ed - stepped into save this bastion of the local community and they have been the zoo's guardians ever since.#VillageLondon spoke to Carol to find out more about what makes the zoo such a valuable asset to Wandsworth.
Tell us a bit about what you do.
We are a family business Carol and Roger Heap and son Ed Heap (General manager) Ed's wife Clare is also our vet.
How did it all start?
We opened the Chestnut Centre in Derbyshire in 1984 although we had been involved in otter conservation for many years and had our first pair of otters in 1976. In 1997 we took over the New Forest wildlife park so could concentrate on doing more conservation work with more species.
In 2004 - we heard that Wandsworth Borough Council was looking to privatise Battersea Park Children's' Zoo as it was not paying its way. Our bid was successful and we took over later that year, closing it down for 6 months whilst we revamped the enclosures etc.
What's the zoo like?
The zoo's primary focus is through enjoyment to introduce young children to some of the animals/birds who share our planet. Therefore we ensure none of the animals are too big or scary - although the children are fascinated by the snakes (which scare me!). The farm animals are all happy to be stroked.
How did you learn your trade?
We learnt how to look after otters by hands on experience, contact to other collections via membership to BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria) and reading everything available.
How has Battersea played a role in the business?
Local support from Battersea residents has been vital to us and Friends of Battersea Park have supported us throughout the years and hold an annual BBQ at the zoo each June.
What are your intentions for the future of the zoo?
We hope to continue bringing an awareness to all our young visitors in the hope they may in turn contribute and understand the importance of caring for the environment and its creatures.
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