Wolds Wildlife Park is putting Horncastle on the map

Paws-ing for thought: Syas, a Bengal tiger, who is one of the many attractions at the Wildlife Park.
Paws-ing for thought: Syas, a Bengal tiger, who is one of the many attractions at the Wildlife Park.

Rumour has it the last time Horncastle was headline news on national radio, petrol was threepence a gallon and you could enjoy a night on the town for two-and-six...and still have change for the journey home by steam train.

If you’d popped into the Bull Hotel and asked for tapas, the landlord would probably have pointed in the direction of the nearest sink!

Centre (left) Sean Tucker, MD of Evergreen  (Design and Project management for the park)  with owners Andrew Riddel  and Tracy Walters.

Centre (left) Sean Tucker, MD of Evergreen (Design and Project management for the park) with owners Andrew Riddel and Tracy Walters.

In those days, there was no talk of tigers, lions, lemurs and wolves...not in a field off Hemingby Lane at any rate.

Andrew Riddel has changed that.

Up until last year, Mr Riddel was best known for his scrap metal business.

Calls to his office were usually connected with wrecked cars and skips.

A popular place: Some of  the people who attended the open weekend at the Wolds Wildlife Park last month. The park has been inundated with messages of support and thanks since the event.

A popular place: Some of the people who attended the open weekend at the Wolds Wildlife Park last month. The park has been inundated with messages of support and thanks since the event.

Now, the caller is likely to be a reporter from a national newspaper...or the producer from Radio Two’s Jeremy Vine programme.

Mr Riddel’s wildlife park has certainly put Horncastle on the map.

There is no doubt Mr Riddel would have preferred to shun the limelight.

However, it was always going to be difficult to keep a collection of more than 200 animals - including a Bengal tiger - quiet.

Throw in the fact a company wants to build houses in an adjacent field and it’s easy to see why sleepy old Horncastle has suddenly become the centre of attention.

It’s the stuff a Coronation Street scriptwriter dreams of.

The animals are already living at the park...some of them in impressive looking enclosures that Mr Riddel is still awaiting planning permission for.

It must be pointed out he has not broken the law.

There are plenty of examples of people submitting requests for retrospective planning permission - albeit perhaps not for a tiger enclosure.

Larkfleet/Allison Homes are far from happy. They have objected to Mr Riddel’s application for three enclosures.

They have raised issues about safety, noise and smells, claiming their new 80-odd dwelling development would be within 50 metres of the enclosures.

Mr Riddel has not taken their criticism lying down. He’s the type of man who calls a spade a spade...or a skip and skip for that matter.

He made his views crystal clear during an appearance on the Jeremy Vine show a couple of weeks ago.

After suggesting Larkfleet/Allison were rude for not coming on the programme - or speaking to him - he suggested that if they were that worried, they could buy the 42-acre site of the park and he’d ‘move somewhere else.’

“They could put 42 acres of houses on the land...see how people in Horncastle would like that,” was Mr Riddel’s parting shot.

Mr Riddel admits he can understand the concerns about his park.

Apart from safety, smell and noise, there’s the lobby that animals should not be behind bars.

Those concerns are genuine...even if a number of the animals would not be alive today if Mr Riddel and his partner Tracy Walters had not stepped in to save them.

It appears everyone - Mr Riddel included - has underestimated the wave of local support for his venture.

•Almost 3,000 people have signed an on-line petition;

•An open weekend proved to be a success. More than 2,500 people attended on the first day’

•The News has received countless emails, letters and phone calls of support.

Two weeks ago, I spoke to 50 people in the town centre. Only three were against the park, and they did not live in Horncastle.

Paul Thompson was one of the park’s fans saying: “It’s a brilliant idea. Hopefully, it will create local jobs, bring people into the town. That’s what we need.”

Similar views were expressed time and time again.

Lee Taylor added: “We had friends round for a barbecue. Suddenly one of them said; ‘I swear I’ve just heard a lion roar.

“I looked them straight in the face and said; ‘Yeah...that’s Andrew Riddel’s wildlife park.’

“It’s all we walked about for the rest of the evening. They (the friends) were disappointed it wasn’t open!”

It must be said, not everyone is so supportive. Martin Lacey, a renowned and respected wildlife expert, has written to the News (and ELDC), expressing his concerns.

Mr Lacey says he has been involved with wild and domestic animals for 59 years, and questions whether the park should be open to the public.

Mr Riddel is pressing on.

The rumours are continuing...a ‘new’ hole in a field is definitely a pond for crocodiles, giraffes will soon be grazing on the sycamore trees along Hemingby Lane, gorillas will be arriving shortly...

Then, there’s Mr Riddel’s long-term vision....could the private park be registered as zoo? What about a hotel, an education centre?

The speculation and the controversy will continue.

Not even a long-awaited (and some would say long overdue decision) by East Lindsey’s Planning Committee will change that.

But, given that tidal wave of support, how can the council say no?