Posts Tagged ‘air raid shelter’

Lend a hand with the sand(bags) …

December 20, 2009

Not a bomb site but redeveloping the old parrot aviary, coati house and tortoise summer enclosure ; old sand for a new use, Richard the Newquay zoo gardener and Robyn from the zoo education team filling sandbags for the zoo keeper's wartime garden. Rubble from the old enclosures forms the base of the new ones in some neat wartime recycling.

Newquay Zoo Director Stewart Muir, being a respected wildlife artist, has an eye for things around the zoo. Sandbags, he declared! Sandbags are what we need to add atmosphere to the wartime garden especially in its winter plumage. 

So at risk of being mistaken for a flood prevention scheme, sandbags were bought and are now being filled using the sand from the surrounds of old parrot, tortoise and coati enclosures being taken down for rebuilding into a larger aviary and home to some rare Madagascan mongoose. So this corner of the zoo might appropriately look like a bomb site but it’s all in a good cause of conservation at

Also in a good cause: waylaying passing members of staff from all walks of zoo life from gardeners to admin staff, education staff and keepers, even the operations manager being asked to lend a hand with the sand(bags) re-enacting on a dark wet afternoon what happened in zoos, gardens and aquaria  all over Britain and elsewhere as vital sections of the zoo such as glasshouses and shelter tunnels were sandbagged for safety. 

A fine album of photographs of zoo staff digging in (or filling sandbags) can be found on the wartime garden’s own Facebook page worldwarzoo worldwarzoogardener, established last week http:// Join up (enlist today!) to see more of our developments. We will also establish a Flickr site for photos of the wartime garden in the next few weeks.   

It’s the perfect sort of gardening job for when the weather is frosty or wet at this time of the year. Our salad crops are still hanging on. The leeks have not needed ‘heeling in’ (laying down slightly with a covering of earth) yet to avoid frost damage. Thankfully no snow or frost has further damaged any more trial plantings in the wartime zoo garden, although it might also help kill off a few more slugs! 

A stock of sandbags still features in many zoo storerooms to prevent flooding, this zoo being built around a stream valley. Zoos still have crisis or disaster plans for fire, flood etc. but thankfully not as worrying as those for wartime zoos on what to do in an air raid! 

Our colleagues in botanic gardens often had the same problems, sandbags and sticky paper to protect their delicate glasshouses. James Wheeler the director of Birmingham Botanic Gardens sent me some pages from Oasis of Delight, the biography of the gardens by Phyllida Barnard. The same preparations had to be made in gardens as in zoos.  Just as many zoos still maintain a botanic garden function, Birmingham Botanic Gardens was not alone in having an animal collection. Both young keepers and gardeners were called up for military service. Dangerous snakes which could not be rehomed were euthanased and the bear enclosures reinforced to avoid animal escapes during air raids. (Ballard, P. (1983) An Oasis of Delight: The History of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens).   

'Sandbags and sticky paper', sign from the wartime garden launch weekend trail in August 2009, Newquay Zoo

 An original November 1939 copy of Animal and Zoo Magazine produced by Julian Huxley at London Zoo shows the preparations there. 

Not just managers and keepers, London Zoo had real team work for their sandbagging; both human and non-human primates doing ARP duties, September 1939

Further research for the World War Zoo project should reveal more about wartime life in zoos, aquaria and botanic gardens, not just in Britain but across Europe and further afield.

Keep following the blog for more stories and news of this garden.
Any comments, relevant links or historical snippets that you know of please send us these via the comments feed.

Feel free to post a link to our site to your own networks – even leeks and salad crops like having friends and getting emails.
Have a happy and peaceful sandbag free Christmas – see our previous Christmas blog for wartime Christmas ideas!
The World War Zoo project team at Newquay Zoo