Plans to build a new zoo on site of Billericay garden centre

Hilltop Nursery in Ramsden Heath aerial photograph

Article by Hannah Brown: Plans have been revealed to transform part of an Essex garden centre into a small zoo.

An application has been submitted to Chelmsford City Council to create a new "zoological visitor attraction" at Hilltop Nursery in Ramsden Heath, Essex.

The scheme is being headed up by former Colchester Zoo employee, Ryan Shorter.

The nursery is currently closed to the public and has been for the last 10 years, but the garden centre is hoping to reopen this year or next.

The proposed ‘Call of the Wild Zoological Park’ would be located on land to the rear of the Hilltop Nursery that the garden centre would not be using.

If the change of use application is approved, the new zoo would be home to a range of small animals, birds and reptiles.

In a post on the Hilltop Nursery’s Facebook page, it said it would not be home to animals such as lions, tigers, giraffes, or elephants, highlighting that the land would not offer enough space for animals of that size.

The new zoo is being proposed for Ramsden Heath would include animals such as meerkats.

In a statement included as part of the planning application, Ryan Shorter said:

“The venture was originally created in March 2020, when I left my full-time position as a member of the tiger team at Colchester Zoo. The aim was to run my business as a mobile zoo for a few months whilst in search for a suitable land/property to develop the site on, as well as growing a collection of exotic animals to exhibit. However, the Covid-19 pandemic affected these plans to operate but did still allow the expansion of the collection. This recreational venture already has a collection of, but not exclusive to, owls, parrots, meerkats, skunks, rabbits, guinea pigs, hedgehogs, small-medium snakes, invertebrates, lizards and tortoises. These would relocate to the zoological park. In addition to the animals already within the collection, there would be the addition of some other species such as small mammals and some other species of reptile.”

Mr Shorter also said in his statement that in the first few years of the park being open, he would expect around 14,500 visitors to the park.

The application is currently pending consideration, and can be viewed on Chelmsford City Council’s planning portal, with the reference number 21/00226/FUL.

Article by Hannah Brown, EssexLive