THE director of one of Oxfordshire’s biggest tourist attractions has hit out at the Government for its “illogical” road map out of lockdown after it emerged he would have to stay closed until after Easter – missing out on the busiest time of the year.

The Cotswold Wildlife Park, near Burford, is a popular venue for local families and tourists. But despite the outdoor zoological park being spread out over more than 100 acres, it has been prevented, under the conditions of the roadmap unveiled by the Prime Minister on Monday, from opening until April 12.

The park’s owner Reggie Heyworth – son of the zoo’s founder John – described the move as a “disaster” which would cost the park about £2m.

He said: “We are really struggling with this illogical and unfair decision. We feel strongly that we should never have been closed in the first place. We have acres of space with beautiful countryside and gardens here, just what everybody needs in order to give their natural systems a boost.

“We have proved that we can limit numbers and ensure that people have a safe, relaxing and socially-distanced day out with us. It is not essential for us to have any indoor facilities open, such as shops or other pressure points, and people can spend all day with us, with the animals and the gardens and get away from all the pressures of Covid and everything else that modern life throws at us.

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“We really should be open right now and it is just vicious that we are having to remain closed until after Easter and it is even more mad when you think that all this time, garden centres have remained open. We are more like an arboretum – which can already open – than an urban zoo.

“For businesses such as the Cotswold Wildlife Park, to lose another Easter holiday is little short of a disaster. It is our busiest time of year. I am certain that on current trajectories of hospitalisations and Covid-related death rates, there would be no danger to our visitors coming to a socially-distanced visit here during the Easter holidays.”

The park, which has 145 full time staff, is one of the biggest private sector employers in the county. Even while closed, it costs £10,000 a day to run.

Mr Heyworth said: “We can’t not look after the animals. We are surviving on our reserves, but they are running down.”

 Rare Wolverine triplets finally emerge from their den at Cotswold Wildlife Park.

Rare Wolverine triplets finally emerge from their den at Cotswold Wildlife Park.

Hayley Beer-Gamage, chief executive of Experience Oxfordshire, said other businesses shared Mr Heyworth’s frustration.

She said: “I think from the tourism businesses’ point of view they are disappointed. They would have liked to be able to open sooner and I think to miss the Easter period was a real concern for a lot of businesses. They make a quarter to a third of their annual revenue in the Easter period.

“They are especially disappointed when a lot of visitor attractions and hotels have invested a lot of money in being Covid secure.”

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Ms Beer-Gamage added Experience Oxfordshire was calling on the Government to continue with financial support measures for businesses for the rest of the year.

These include the VAT holiday, the business rates relief scheme, and a form of the furlough scheme which would be targeted at certain sectors, like tourism businesses, which were unable to open for longer than others.

She added: “We have got to remember from a visitor economy point of view we are not just working from March 23 last year; many of these businesses started to see the effect of Covid in January 2020. This was the first sector to be hit by the pandemic and it will be the last to reopen.”

A four-step programme for unlocking the country was laid out by Mr Johnson, who told MPs that the ‘end was really in sight’.

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He said he hoped the unlocking would be ‘slow and irreversible’. However, he added the dates in the four stages were guidelines, with the plan being driven by ‘data not dates’.

He also said he could not rule out regional lockdowns in the future, like the Tier system used last year.

Reggie Hayworth at the Cotswold Wildlife Park by Heidi Crundwell

Reggie Heyworth at the Cotswold Wildlife Park by Heidi Crundwell

The first stage begins on March 8 with schools reopening. People will also be allowed to meet up with one other person socially. A further easing will take place on March 29 when the school Easter Holiday begins – with larger groups of up to six people or two households allowed to gather in parks and gardens but non-essential retail, libraries and outdoor hospitality businesses, such as beer gardens, zoos and theme parks won’t be able to open until April 12 at the earliest.

In step three, which will not begin until at least May 17, the rules will be relaxed so groups of 30 people can meet outside or up to six people or two households can meet indoors.

Indoor hospitality venues can then reopen, including stadiums and theatres with limited crowds

In the final step, which will not be before June 21, all limits will be removed and clubs can reopen.