CHESTER ZOO has urged the Government to reconsider its £100 million Zoo Fund so that more venues are eligible for vital cash injections.

The Government set up the fund earlier this year following an outcry from zoos and aquariums across the UK that they may face permanent closure without support.

The zoo fund has now been extended – but very few attractions meet the eligible criteria to apply for a penny of funding.

That has meant only a tiny fraction of the fund has actually been paid out.

It costs Chester Zoo £465k a month to feed and look after its animals and plants, and staff need to be kept on at the zoo to allow that to happen.

Add in the fact that visitors make up 97% of the zoo's income, and it becomes clear why even after the first lockdown, the zoo was facing a £5.5 million shortfall.

In a statement released on Monday, the zoo said: "We welcome news that the application deadline for the Government’s Zoo Animals Fund has been extended.

"This is something we and other charity zoos have been calling for. However, since the fund was expanded back in August, only three grants have been awarded and little over £2 million of the £100 million pot has been spent.

"This is because the eligibility criteria is far too restrictive and the ambition of the funding too limited.

"It effectively requires a zoo to be on the verge of bankruptcy before it can access any funding, while any support for our vital conservation and education work – the reason we exist – is completely excluded.

"We urge the Government to use this extended timeframe as an opportunity to rethink and to make the changes required to ensure the money is put to good use and doesn’t go to waste."

Among the politicians who have called for the zoo fund eligibility criteria to be expanded is Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Justin Madders, who spoke in the House of Commons last week on the need to safeguard Chester Zoo and the Blue Planet Aquarium.