A dream that really is set to come true - amazing story behind Wolds Wildlife Park in Horncastle

This is what the entrance and car park could look like. Picture: AM2 Architects. EMN-181214-091736001
This is what the entrance and car park could look like. Picture: AM2 Architects. EMN-181214-091736001

‘When we moved into this house about 12 years ago, I looked out of the window and said... ‘One day, all I want to see are wild animals’.

That was Andrew Riddel speaking in June 2017 about his and partner Tracy Walters’ dream to create a wildlife park.

This is what another building at Wolds Wildlife Park could look like. Image: AM2 Architects.

This is what another building at Wolds Wildlife Park could look like. Image: AM2 Architects.

The dream started four years earlier when they welcomed their first zebra.

No-one really took them seriously.

However, June 2017 saw a major addition - Syas, a fully grown Bengal tiger.

The Horncastle News was the first media outlet invited to ‘meet’ Syas... and 200 other animals on land adjoining the couple’s home in Hemingby Lane.

It was an amazing experience.

I can still remember Syas’s whiskers ‘tickling’ my face, fortunately through the gaps in a very sturdy fence!

Seconds later, I was standing in an enclosure when a couple of wallabies hopped by.

After that article, people began to sit up and take notice.

At the time, Mr Riddel stressed it was a ‘private collection’ but admitted he was open minded about future plans.

The couple added to their ‘family’...lions, wolves, monkeys etc, etc.

This summer, that ‘private collection’ tag was discarded.

The couple held an open weekend.

Hundreds of people attended while 2,500-plus pledged their support via Facebook.

A wildlife park really was coming to Horncastle... yes, Horncastle.

The open weekend was a major success and offered more encouragement to the couple (if any were ever needed) to press ahead with that dream.

Perhaps no-one should be surprised by the level of determination.

Mr Riddel is a man you underestimate at your peril.

He might have made his money out of scrap metal but he’s a shrewd businessman.

As he himself says: “The more someone tells me I can’t do something, the more determined I am to do it.”

Public support or not, the way forward was littered with obstacles.

They were locked in negotiations with planners, anxiously waiting for permission for animal enclosures.

Critics (including a housing developer who had bought an adjoining field) took a swipe to say much of the work had already been completed, without permission.

Mr Riddel stood his ground. His application was for retrospective permission. He’d not broken any laws. He hasn’t hidden anything.

Anyone who drives along the A153 between Horncastle and Louth could testify to the amount of work taking place.

Then there were the Facebook posts, updating a legion of fans.

Now, those initial plans have well and truly been blown out of the water.

As revealed in the News last week, the couple are proposing what could be one of the county’s biggest tourist attractions.

Yes, there will be animals - and associated enclosures and shelters - but you can also add in the likes of:

•An education centre - styled on a circus big top

•A reception building

•A cafe and shop

•Meeting rooms

•Four units for local business

•Parking for almost 200 cars (plus coaches)

•Toilet blocks

The list goes on... just like the number of different animals.

Bears and giraffes are the next scheduled arrivals.

Those animals who will attract the visitors and not just to the park itself but also to the town.

As Mr Riddel points out, everything will be top notch from the toilet fittings to the pathways winding through the actual park.

Architects’ drawings give a hint of the scale and style of the project.

All the plans are presented in an impressive and comprehensive array of documents, available for viewing on the ELDC website.

The plans have been drawn up by AM2 - one of Europe’s if not the world’s leading architects for this sort of development.

Already, there are enquiries from schools and colleges.

If everything goes to plan, Mr Riddel and Ms Walters hope to hold at least half a dozen open days in the first half of 2019.

By July, they hope to open to the public at weekends.

They are keen to make it clear the park will be open to everyone.

For example, paths will be built with the very young and the disabled in mind.

There will be opportunities to become a zookeeper for the day

There are plans for water ways through the grounds hat will house endangered wildfowl.

Suggestions of crocodiles brings a smile to Mr Riddel’s face.

There will be a botanical garden and a breeding programme which, if successful, will see animals handed on to other parks and zoos.

Work has is underway on the gamekeepers’ accommodation. Someone has to run the place.

All this has not come cheap.

Mr Riddel won’t reveal how much money he has spent, or how much he will have to spend before those gates are flung open.

Such an enormous project has taken its toll. There are a few more wrinkles. A few more grey hairs. He can’t remember the last time he slept for four hours, let alone eight.

“Some of these animals will probably be here longer than me,” he quips.

He is not in it for the money. “If I was,” he says, “I’d have sold the land for housing, moved to a villa in Portugal and put my feet up.”

The key words are education and conservation.

The driving force? The couple’s burning passion for animals.

The couple are full or praise for the support from so many people - from planners through to architects and the public.

That dream, of course, is still in the hands of planners.

How could they say no?

Why camels might be noisy neighbours - but only when they mate!

When it comes to noise issues, it’s a fair bet members of East Lindsey District Council’s planning committee will have never dealt with the potential impact of a Bactrian Camel, a Brazilian Tapir...or a Ring Tailed Lemur for that matter.

They are three of the animals included in a noise survey prepared as part of the new planning application for the Wolds Wildlife Park.

Leading experts from Clover Associates have put together a comprehensive report on behalf of the applicants and it covers the majority of the animals - and birds - expected to be included among the park’s attractions.

Noise could be a contentious issue, but the report concludes traffic on the adjacent A153 is likely to be louder than any of the animals.

The report mentions two female wolves but says they ‘rarely howl’ because there are no other wolves to ‘talk to’ in the vicinity.

Six African lions might be heard at around 9.30am - when they are let out - and for the same length of time when they are fed at about 5pm.

Anyone expecting to hear Syas - a Bengal Tiger - will be disappointed as the report states he will probably only ‘call’ for five minutes when put away in his indoor enclosure.

Clover Associates visited the site earlier this year to collect data for the report.

Surprisingly, the report reveals the loudest of the animals is likely to be a donkey or a zebra.

However, their noise levels could be challenged by a Bactrian Camel...but only when it mates!

A leading objector to the Wildlife Park is housebuilder Larkfleet Homes.

The company had secured permission for a 80-home development in an adjacent field, BEFORE plans for the wildlife park were first revealed.

When the Horncastle News first revealed details about the park, Larkfleet confirmed they had objected to the park on a number of issues, including noise and smell - and the fact some of the proposed enclosures would be less than 50m from the new homes.

“We are pressing on with our plans to build new homes for local people in an area of housing need, and aim to start work on site as soon as possible.”

Wildlife Park owners Andrew Riddel and partner Tracy Walters offered to buy the development field from Larkfleet.

Work on the homes has yet to start.

In an interview last week with the News, Mr Riddel said he did not want to comment on the Larkfleet proposals.

• The News contacted Larkfleet for a comment on the new plans for the park but the company had not responded before deadline (Tuesday lunchtime).

• Horncastle Town Council’s planning committee were due to discuss the application at their monthly meeting this week.