“Here we go again…” we all, no doubt, thought as the Prime Minister divulged the world’s worst kept secret to us on the evening of 31st October, and a new English lockdown was announced commencing on 5th November. But, on reflection, this time around it isn’t the same. For a start we have come off the back of a very successful Indian summer with our best ever September and one of the best ever October half terms.
We have also borrowed £3 million under the Government’s CBIL scheme so we know that we have enough cash to get us through the winter, regardless of lockdowns, bad weather, or anything else that life may throw at us. This is very different from the scenario we faced in May when our cash was bleeding away and we had no idea how we were going to save ourselves.
The fact is that we have saved ourselves by borrowing money; by making massive cuts to our operating costs; and, more positively, by a heartening resilience in our visitor numbers, and the amounts that people have been willing to spend in our shops and restaurants. We said early on after the first lockdown that all we needed was for people to visit us and to buy stuff, and they have, so we are very grateful to everyone who visited one of our zoos over the summer.
So what happens next? Well, as I write, we have made our plans for the lockdown, decided things like who can work from home, who needs to be on furlough (and some of our staff have only come back from the previous furlough earlier this week!), and what work we can get done while the zoos are shut. But as well as those short term plans we are starting to think about the bigger picture about what we should do next, when we get through the winter? We aren’t sure how much money we will have but, assuming the best, maybe we can start cautiously reinvesting in our sites and our people?
One thing becoming increasingly clear is that the pandemic has not been a good thing for nature conservation overall. From the increased disturbance of natural habitats and wildlife in this country, to the complete collapse of ecotourism-based economies around the world, there is going to be a massive job necessary to support the natural world in the years to come. We think that Governments are going to be under such huge economic and medical pressure that there is a danger that conservation will drop down their agenda. This will place a big onus on organisations like ours to pick up the slack. We need to get ourselves match-fit quickly to play our part once again.