One of the South West’s largest conservation charities has announced initial results for the year – shaped in no small part by the weather.

The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust is the charity that runs Paignton Zoo, Living Coasts in Torquay and Newquay Zoo in Cornwall, as well as several nature reserves in Devon.

In the twelve months to the end of October 2015 Paignton Zoo Environmental Park received around 450,000 visitors, up around 10,000 on the previous year. Living Coasts welcomed 135,000, also up about 10,000 last year. And Newquay Zoo in Cornwall recorded over 162,000 visitors, up by 4,000.

Paignton Zoo Finance Director Chris Pyne: “Although we haven’t finished crunching the numbers yet, I think the word is “mixed”. We saw our best single day for many years at Paignton Zoo, and the spend-per-head was up, but overall the season was poor. We exceeded our income targets at all three sites, but budgets were set very conservatively, and rightly so. It looks as though we are coming out of recession, but slowly. Leisure spending is not gaining strength very quickly.”

The poor weather benefited Living Coasts. Torquay’s coastal zoo and aquarium enjoyed its best year for visitors since 2004-2005. Clare Rugg, Living Coasts Operations Manager, said: “I think the wet weather brought people in – Living Coasts is 50% undercover, so people see us as a place to go in poor weather. There were more people about generally and more events on the harbour side, which helped.”

The Trust’s Executive Director Simon Tonge says that other zoos around the country have had similarly mixed seasons, with a strong correlation between visitors and weather. The other factor is the economy. He sees few signs of immediate recovery, but the charity is investing for the future:

“At Newquay Zoo there will be a new exhibit called Gems of the Jungle, at Paignton Zoo we will have a major new play area. We will also be making a planning application for our proposed new savannah exhibit which we hope will open fully in 2018. The bigger picture is climate change – we could be facing a future of more unpredictable weather, and it’s a real concern.”

Both the trading arm of the charity, which donates its annual profits to the charity, and the Zoo’s front of house team found the weather made it difficult to plan ahead. Izzy Warren, who manages Paignton Zoo’s front of house team, explained: “There were massive swings in footfall. “This half term we had one day with only 700 visitors because of heavy rain - but the following day we had 3,500!”

The Trust puts about a quarter of a million pounds into conservation each year. Paignton Zoo supports conservation work in the UK with dormice and crayfish and in countries overseas including Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria and Indonesia.

Living Coasts supports conservation work with penguins and bank cormorants in South Africa and seahorses and seagrass habitat locally in Tor Bay. Newquay Zoo is focussed on species such as civets and pangolins in Vietnam.

Quotes An awesome experience. The amount of free space given to the animals was very impressive Quotes