Norfolk's biggest zoo, which is known for its vast collection of overseas exotic animals, has unveiled plans to focus more on native species from the British Isles.

Banham Zoo, near Attleborough, has announced details of a multi-million pound, ten year project to create a new centrepiece showcasing wildlife from England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

The attraction says the changes are partly in response to challenges created by Brexit - which has made it harder to bring in animals from abroad - and avian influenza, which has forced it to rethink what bird displays it can offer.

It says the changes will not mean a reduction in the number of exotic animals.

However, the move has been criticised by some supporters, who fear the zoo may lose some of its appeal.

Eastern Daily Press: Claudia Roberts - Picture: NewsquestClaudia Roberts - Picture: Newsquest (Image: Archant 2021)

Claudia Roberts, chief executive of the Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA), the charity which operates Banham Zoo, said it was motivated by environmental concerns for the climate and biodiversity, as well as a desire to ensure its future sustainability.

She insisted the organisation intended to honour its international animal conservation and breeding programmes.

She explained the idea behind the vision was to expand on “the existing DNA of Banham” while transforming it into a “flagship for sustainable tourism”. 

“We are passionate about connecting communities to nature, but also preserving native and international species as well as improving biodiversity to play our part in protecting our planet,” she said. 

“We hope that by developing Banham Zoo into a sustainable tourist attraction, we can encourage more people to get involved and to learn about how we can all protect our planet together.” 

Eastern Daily Press: Giraffes at Banham Zoo at here to stay, bosses confirm - Picture: NewsquestGiraffes at Banham Zoo at here to stay, bosses confirm - Picture: Newsquest (Image: Sonya Duncan)

However, some sceptics have voiced concerns that the proposed ideas would “run the zoo down till the point of closure”.

One long-time visitor, who did not want to be named, said: “I find it hard to believe that the proposed plans would work. I don’t think they would bring anyone new in.”

The main point of contention comes from proposals to rewild and reinvent unused or underutilised spaces on the 50-acre site to create new environments for UK natives such as the endangered white-clawed crayfish.

Eastern Daily Press: Tiger at Banham Zoo - Picture: NewsquestTiger at Banham Zoo - Picture: Newsquest

Those opposed to the plans fear the move could lead to the loss of arguably more “interesting” animals from across the globe.

But Ms Roberts refuted these claims and reaffirmed her commitment to international species, revealing that the zoo would be welcoming more soon. 

She also explained that factors, including Brexit and red tape surrounding how animals are housed in captivity, all affect the current condition of zoos across the county. 

She added: “In 2022, only 211 animal transfers took place, compared to the usual 1,400 transfers per year. 

“This drastic reduction, which is almost 85pc, is a direct result of the new regulations enforced since Brexit and greatly affects the conservation efforts of not only us but also other zoos around the country. 

Eastern Daily Press: Banham Zoo - Picture: NewsquestBanham Zoo - Picture: Newsquest (Image: Archant)

"We are calling on the government to open negotiations with the European Commission to secure a sanitary and phytosanitary agreement to allow the essential movement of zoo and aquarium animals between Britain and EU member states. 

“This is crucial for us and other zoos to continue our conservation efforts and accelerate the preservation of wild and native species for a sustainable future.” 

In addition to maximising the outdoor spaces, the proposed reconfiguration aims to provide indoor conservation education and skills hubs to make the zoo an all-year-round experience. 

Eastern Daily Press: Red panda at Banham Zoo - Picture: NewsquestRed panda at Banham Zoo - Picture: Newsquest (Image: Archant)

Plans to introduce some of the proposed ideas would begin in the autumn, and, if funding was secured, those visions could be realised over the next ten years. 

The charity is seeking to secure more funding and has so far been awarded £1,328,786 from the Zoo Animal Fund and £95,300 from the Green recovery Challenge Fund.