A PASSION to create a community zoo is keeping a dream alive for animal conservation enthusiasts.

Melissa Mews and husband Ben have re-submitted plans to open Holmes Chapel Zoo and Wildlife Conservation Park at Bidlea Dairy’s site on Twemlow Lane.

The pair were left devastated when their application was refused by Cheshire East Council last year.

Now, they have submitted a much more detailed application, bolstered by support from the local community.

Chester and District Standard: Melissa and Ben Mews setting off to India with daughter Sapphira to talk to officials about collaborative conservation workMelissa and Ben Mews setting off to India with daughter Sapphira to talk to officials about collaborative conservation work (Image: Supplied)

Hundreds of families attended three open days last year and have signed declarations to say how much they enjoyed the experience and would love to have a zoo on their doorstep.

Chester and District Standard: A cute meerkat cadges a ride on a giant tortoiseA cute meerkat cadges a ride on a giant tortoise (Image: Supplied)

The couple have run their animal encounter business, Zoo2u, for 12 years and have more than 30 years’ experience of conservation and animal care.

Chester and District Standard: Melissa and Ben Mews with daughter SapphiraMelissa and Ben Mews with daughter Sapphira (Image: Supplied)

Their mobile outreach project gives schools, community groups, care homes and businesses the chance to meet and learn about a range of small animals.

Melissa, who started working in a zoo at 15, said: “We saw a need for education but we have always wanted to provide something for the community to come to.

“We have a unique opportunity to create this visitor attraction where we can educate people and make a difference.

Chester and District Standard: Kiki, a European kestrelKiki, a European kestrel (Image: Supplied)

“The demand is definitely there. We’ve had lots of people signing to say they are very supportive.”

The zoo is home to around 35 different species including meerkats, a giant tortoise, birds of prey, a kookaburra, reptiles and invertebrates.

Rescue animals, such as a bearded dragon, guinea pigs and parrots have also been taken in.

Chester and District Standard: Beau, a barn owlBeau, a barn owl (Image: Supplied)

Objections, mostly from people in other parts of the country, expressed concern about keeping animals caged.

Melissa said: “These animals were not born in the wild and we cannot put them back out there because they don’t have wild instincts to survive.

“We focus on conservation and research.

Chester and District Standard: Babe, a hog nosed snakeBabe, a hog nosed snake (Image: Supplied)

“We work globally, talking to people in India, Australia and America.”

The couple pride themselves on maintaining the highest standards of animal care.

Melissa, who has a BSc in animal science and MSc in animal biology and welfare, said: “All of my staff are extremely caring and knowledgeable.

Chester and District Standard: Sun beetlesSun beetles (Image: Supplied)

“They go above and beyond to enrich the lives of our animals.

“We use specialist local vets who provide top quality care for our rare breed sheep, birds and exotic animals.”

The couple, who have a six-year-old daughter Sapphira, want to provide families with a learning hub where children can explore and discover.

Chester and District Standard: Merindah, a boobook owl and Shreya, an Indian scops owlMerindah, a boobook owl and Shreya, an Indian scops owl (Image: Supplied)

Melissa said: “We want to be a small zoo that reaches out to the local community.

“This will be an affordable place, accessible to all.

“I’m passionate we do not exclude people because they can’t afford to come.”

Extra staff will be recruited if plans get the green light.

Chester and District Standard: Honey, a laughing kookaburraHoney, a laughing kookaburra (Image: Supplied)

Melissa said: “We will instantly create new jobs once we are able to open, not just in zoo keeping.

“We will need staff in retail, events, marketing, office admin, maintenance and horticulture.

“All our revenue will go into animal care, wages, bills and creating the best possible environments for our animals.”

Chester and District Standard: Jalani, an African eagle owlJalani, an African eagle owl (Image: Supplied)

Looking ahead, the couple have lots of exciting ideas.

“I want to set up a youth board so young people have a voice,” said Melissa.

“I want to engage with the local community of all ages, not just children and families but also older people, and perhaps have a sensory day.

“We are in a unique position starting from the ground and building up.

Chester and District Standard: Melissa, Sapphira and Ben Melissa, Sapphira and Ben (Image: Supplied)

“We can become a modern zoo, one that other zoos globally look up to as the way to operate.

“Our vision is to constantly evolve. We want to put Holmes Chapel and our zoo on the map. This is our life, our dream.”

On the council's planning portal, there have been more than 120 objections, all of which state their opposition to zoos.

Several of the objectors emailed the same lengthy letter of objection to the council.

In it they said: “This application, with all its threat to the countryside and its natural wildlife, should be refused and there is growing precedent to reject applications of this type…

“We urge Cheshire East Council to seriously consider both the practical and ethical impacts of allowing a zoo to expand in an area that will be harmed by it, and a society that has no need for it.”

For more information see application number 24/1108C on the planning portal on the Cheshire East website

The closing date for comments is April 24.