Work has started on Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery Centre at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s (RZSS) Highland Wildlife Park.
The wildlife conservation charity says the £8m project will inspire visitors and communities in the Cairngorms National Park to protect nature at a time when the world faces a biodiversity crisis.
Ben Supple, RZSS director of engagement and business development, said, “With more than a million species at risk of extinction, we must act now to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity.
“It is incredibly important that governments agree targets to restore nature at the COP15 biodiversity summit taking place in Montreal.
“We all have a role to play as individuals and in our communities, which is why we are developing Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery Centre at Highland Wildlife Park.
“A network of three hubs around the park will bring to life the challenges facing wildlife in Scotland and around the world. Crucially, we will also focus on the opportunities to protect nature and the actions we can take in our everyday lives.”
Beauly-based Simpson Builders have been appointed to build discovery, learning and hilltop hubs at the park, which are expected to open in spring 2024.
“Sustainability and supporting local communities are at the heart of Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery Centre, so we are delighted to be working with Simpson Builders,” said Supple.
“Construction work has started on the main discovery hub, which will use innovative digital technology to immerse people in stories of Scotland’s wildlife of the past, present and future.
“Our learning hub is also underway and will enable visitors, groups and communities to learn about wildlife conservation through STEM, outdoor learning and citizen science, which will promote action.
“Over the course of the year we will develop our hilltop hub, with views of our wildcat conservation breeding for release centre providing an ideal opportunity to tell the story of why wildcats in Scotland are on the brink of extinction and how RZSS and partners are working together to save the species.”
The Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery Centre project will also involve the refurbishment of Highland Wildlife Park’s existing visitor centre and seven dedicated staff delivering on site learning opportunities and community outreach programmes.
RZSS have raised over £5 million towards the development, with funders including the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund led by NatureScot and funded through the European Rural Development Fund, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Postcode Planet Trust, SSE Renewables and the Hugh Fraser Foundation.
“We are incredibly grateful to our funders for their support and for sharing our vision for Scotland’s Wildlife Discovery Centre,” said Supple.
“This support has been even more important in the face of the rising costs of construction, which have increased by over £2 million in the past two years and been a factor in the expected opening date moving from summer 2023 to spring 2024.
“There are opportunities for more funders to become involved in this incredibly exciting project and help people and communities to protect nature.”