EXOTIC animal encounters will be just around the corner with plans for a Ponteland zoo.
Monkey business and comparing the meerkats will soon become the norm in the Northumberland countryside as the Kirkley Hall Zoological Gardens gets set for opening to the public.
The new tourist attraction is being created at the Northumberland College campus to improve its learning environment for animal management and horticultural students.
But the facility will also invite the public to meet its animals, which will include more than 100 different species, from emus to wallabies, pygmy goats to marmosets and meerkats to ring tail lemurs.
Visitors will be able to chat to zookeepers, who will introduce them to the animals and tell them more about their behaviour and habitats.
There will also be a river and forest trail, ornamental and walled gardens, an aquatics centre, picnic areas, children’s play areas and a tea room and gift shop.
Kirkley Hall Assistant Principal Marcus Clinton said: “I am very excited about this project. It is the only attraction of its kind in the North East and will be an ideal family day out.
“The developments at Kirkley Hall will prove to be a great resource for the animal management students, from the sheer increase in the number of species alone.”
To support the project, links have been forged with a number of well-known animal parks, such as Flamingo Land, Chester Zoo, Twycross Zoo, Beale Park, which have provided some of the animals for free, while The Wetlands Trust in Washington has offered plants in return for students building it a new pond.
College students have been closely involved in the transformation of the campus to prepare for the new residents and visitors, with construction students laying wheelchair and pushchair-friendly pathways, and others helping to build the enclosures.
Mr Clinton said: “It has been inspiring to see students from animal management, horticulture, arboriculture and countryside management all benefiting from working on a live project and utilising their new skills.
“Students will also be actively involved in running the attraction, as well as providing a great real life educational experience.”
It is scheduled to open in May, with access to the public at weekends and school holidays.
However, there is an opportunity to meet some of Kirkley’s more familiar residents this weekend with a lamb event to celebrate the first signs of spring.
Visitors will be able to hold some of the lambs and look around the purpose-built sheep facility, which is used by agricultural students to carry out practical farm training, learn about livestock production and try out machinery.
The event takes place on Saturday and Sunday, from 9.30am to 2pm. Entry costs £4 per adult, £3 per child and £10 for a family ticket. For more information, call 01670 841235.