A Norfolk zoo said it believes it can attract 200,000 extra visitors to the county by transforming itself into an all-weather destination.

Banham Zoo, which has had a tough couple of years due to rising energy costs and the bird flu epidemic, said it hoped its plans to add new indoor attractions to the park would help keep visitor numbers high during the quiet winter season.

It said the new exhibits would create more than 150 new jobs at the park, with roles ranging from zoo keepers to cafe workers, and extend seasonal jobs into year-round positions.

It comes after more than 70 jobs were cut at Banham Zoo and its sister site, Africa Alive, when visitor numbers plummeted during the pandemic.

The park is set to build on 11 acres of unused land with exhibits including a rainforest dome, butterfly house, and bug enclosure, as part of a drive to include more native species in its animal lineup.

Eastern Daily Press: Plans for Banham Zoo - Picture: Tate and Co Architects (Image: Tate and Co Architects)Plans for Banham Zoo - Picture: Tate and Co Architects (Image: Tate and Co Architects) (Image: Tate and Co Architects)

The plans have attracted criticism from some who think the zoo should focus more on exotic animals, rather than species found in the UK.

But Claudia Roberts, chief executive of the Zoological Society of East Anglia (ZSEA), the charity which operates Banham Zoo, said she hoped the new attractions would help “future-proof” the park.

She said: “We could have added more tiger enclosures, but the future of zoos is making sure you have good representation.

“Looking at your master lineup you want to make sure you have a fantastic local collection too, which is what we’ve been missing.

“People want to see that we’re ahead of the curve, and with one in six species in the UK now endangered, this proves we care about local animals as much as those overseas.”

The proposals have already attracted attention, with the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums nominating the park for the Great British Wildlife Restoration award.

MPs and members of the House of Lords will vote for the winner in January.