VISITORS to Chester Zoo will be able to explore a huge grassland savannah and trek across treetop forest walkways under ambitious new plans.

The top attraction – said to be worth £50m a year to the regional economy – unveiled its new long-term vision this week.

The plan is designed to enhance Chester Zoo’s position as one of the world’s best conservation, animal and leisure attractions, between now and 2030.

Building on the success of the zoo’s ground-breaking Islands habitats, which bring South East Asia to life in Cheshire, the remainder of the zoo will be transformed through the creation of large scale themed zones.

From immersive forests to expansive grasslands, these zones will reflect the zoo’s vital global conservation work in the field.

By creating environments for the conservation of highly threatened species not currently at the zoo, from pygmy hippos to Western lowland gorillas, new habitats will help the zoo make an even more positive impact on the living world. Then changes will continue to allow the zoo to develop in the vision of its much loved founder George Mottershead by embodying his “always building” philosophy.

Chester Zoo – a centre of excellence renowned for breeding some of the world’s most endangered animals – is already the UK’s most visited tourist attraction outside London, according to figures from the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA).

The new developments will provide significant additional economic, social and environmental benefits not only for Chester but at a regional, national and global level.

Dr Mark Pilgrim, the zoo’s chief executive officer, said: “Welcome to the future of Chester Zoo.

“The zoo is internationally recognised as a leading centre for animal conservation, education and science.

“It is already the UK’s premier wildlife attraction, welcoming over 1.9 million visitors a year.

“Our vision is to evolve from a national success story into a truly world class showcase for the wonderful, yet often threatened wildlife, and fantastic, but fragile, habitats on Earth.

“As a beacon of excellence here in the North of England – we are creating an internationally renowned centre of the highest quality, providing a wide range of employment, education and economic benefits.

“At the same time the development will inspire millions to appreciate and treasure the rich and remarkable biodiversity of our planet.”

As part of the development plan, a proposed grasslands area will be inspired by a variety of African habitats – from scrublands to deserts – characterised by large, open landscape habitats containing multiple species.

A forests zone will be a dramatic experience for visitors, full of vertical layers with views not just from the ground but at a high level too.