Staff at Newquay Zoo have been busy preparing for another busy season of school visits and launching some primary school workshops about wartime life and what happened in zoos in WW2. The zoo has also recently been accredited or recognized again in two national education schemes for schools and family learning, the Children’s University and Learning Outside The Classroom quality badge scheme.
Back to the Future?
One recent school who usually go to a local museum visited to find out the answer to an unusual question. The children asked their teacher – “What happened to animals during the war?” so a trip to Newquay Zoo was the answer. Other schools book in as the start or finish of their wartime history classroom topic or alongside their more traditional animal studies of rainforest or habitats.
Along with the schools workshop, a wartime zoo trail around the zoo is quickly set up on special days for visiting schoolchildren, a trail that’s also been shared with visitors during Armistice weekends and wartime garden weekends.
History might appear an unusual topic for a zoo as a conservation and education charity. However Mark Norris, Education Manager says “By looking at how zoos coped in the past with big challenges, we can hopefully learn for tackling future issues such as climate change and food or fuel security”.
Talks and workshops cover different topics such as the outbreak of war and closure of places of entertainment like zoos, preparing for or repairing air raid damage, feeding zoo animals when they had no ration books and coping with the call up and casualties of staff. Enlarged photographs, newspaper headlines, adverts, posters and artifacts from our collection to illustrate our talk or answer questions.
Mark Norris, Education Manager says “Through telling the story of how we are researching wartime zoos and showing the students many of these original source materials, we’re sharing with them an idea of the process of how history is written and researched, an important skill for future historians. We sometimes have the help of older zoo volunteers who bring in their ration books and talk to the students about wartime life.”
“We use many of the techniques that we use in our more traditional topics for our more usual rainforest or habitat workshops. In place of live animals or biofacts like shells or skulls though we try to engage all the senses such as the weight and roughness of uniforms, shrapnel, sandbags and helmets.”
“We visit our recreated wartime allotment near the Lion House to harvest (in season) fresh animal food and herbs. Sound is easy with noisy artifacts like gas rattles for air raid warning. We even rustle up the odd batch of wartime potato biscuits if there’s time, to greet our wartime workshop groups on arrival!”
Apart from looking at displays and trying on some of the headgear, another popular activity at the end of a workshop is a quick demonstration outside of ‘fire bomb drill’ that older children and zoo families would have learnt on firewatch or fire guard duty.
“We use our battered leaky but still working original stirrup pumps. Young arms soon tire from pumping these and thankfully there’s no fire involved but it’s a chance to soak your friends. Many gardeners made use of civil defence ‘war surplus’ stirrup pumps after the war as handy garden sprayers, as I still do on our zoo allotment plot.”
As a result of interest in the project from schools, community groups, garden societies and 1940s events, Mark is now working with other zoos and botanic gardens across Britain to research further back about what happened to gardens and animal collections during the First World War in time for the centenary commemorations 2014-18
New discoveries are shared through our project blog
Wartime workshops and talks are run by staff at both Newquay and its sister Zoo, Paignton Zoo, which was operational in wartime and briefly served as a camp for GIs before D-Day.

Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge
“We’re also really pleased to have been re-awarded a Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge for the third time since the scheme started in 2007. This is a biannual award scheme ensuring that learning venues provide high quality, safe learning experiences for schools.” 

Quotes Throughly enjoyed our visit to Newquay zoo, there was plenty to see! Quotes