A ZOO boss is weighing up the future of his award-winning attraction after he was denied a licence renewal and has intimated that one course of action could be a move to South Lakeland.

South Lakes Safari zoo's David Gill told the Gazette in an exclusive interview that a move to a site close to J36 of the M6 near Kendal was one option that has been floated by the management team now in charge of the day-to-day running of the Dalton business.

"The benefit to the zoo would be in South Lakeland District Council," said a surprisingly upbeat Mr Gill.

But while SLDC leader Giles Archibald opted not to comment on the idea, Mr Gill was full of praise for the council's operation.

"Everything that has come from them has been very positive and encouraging," he said. "It would be good to work with an energetic and go ahead council."

Mr Gill said the other benefit was that the zoo, which currently attracts 350,000 people a year and employs 100 staff, would be only 45 minutes away from Manchester.

It was acknowledged by Mr Archibald that it would be a monumental effort for something like this to happen.

He said: "I think it would be quite a significant move, they would have to find an area and seek planning permission and everything else. It would be quite something.

"But we would wait until that approach came to us and then look at the possibilities."

But of more pressing concern is to sort out the short-term future of the acclaimed animal park.

Following Barrow Borough Council's Licensing Committee's decision not to renew Mr Gill's terms, a six-month countdown has started within which time the zoo needs to sort a licence or close to the public.

Mr Gill however, does not consider that a likely reality.

"The chances of that happening are very slim because I don't think people want to see animals put to sleep," he said.

At the three-day hearing, which Mr Gill did not attend, inspectors' reports described how they found the zoo was too much under the control of its owner, and there was not a sufficient management team in place to properly run the zoo.

They claimed this had resulted in animal welfare issues, higher than expected animal mortality rates, and placed both staff members and the public in potential danger.

The zoo owner issued a stout defence to refute these claims, saying: "Nobody gives me any credit for anything.

"This suggestion that animal welfare is a concern is absolutely not credible and is simply staggering. You only have to come here and have a look to see the animals have a good life."

A condition was added to the current licence earlier this year stating a robust team needed to be in place and that Mr Gill was not to be in charge of the running of the zoo. At the hearing this was escalated to a direction order.

South Lakes Safari Zoo Chief Executive OfficerBrewer described the 'catch 22' position the directors were in when she spoke at the meeting.

She said: “We have made it clear that David doesn’t appear in the future of the zoo but the licence is in his name so everything has to go through him.”

Mr Gill himself echoed this sentiment, adding that his application to renew had been enforced upon him.

"They've refused to give me a licence – not the company, not the zoo," he said.

"I didn't even want a licence, that's the key thing. I was forced into doing it because the council wouldn't accept the transfer of the licence to the company. They've kept on refusing opportunities to transfer it.

"To keep the zoo going for another six months this was a technical thing we had to do. I had to hang myself out to dry for the sake of everybody else.

"But there's no issue as far as I'm concerned. The zoo is absolutely going to carry on as normal and it will get a licence in the future."

He also accepted that it would be in the best interests of the zoo to recruit another person to take over the management, but the "terrible publicity" it has had means that it could face a situation whereby nobody wants the job.

"We have got some good under managers, we just need that top level one," he said. "We did have some people interested but they are finding it very difficult to commit when the zoo doesn't have a licence for a long period of time.

"Why would you leave one job to go to a similar one with this uncertainty?"

But in a rallying cry he said:"We are going to have a good summer. We are going to make it work, although I will not be involved in it. The staff are very enthusiastic about taking it forward."

"The zoo has recently got two new Mongolian snow leopard cubs and two white rhinos are to be born within a few weeks of each other.

"The support the staff have given me has brought tears to my eyes. They can't believe the way that the zoo has been portrayed."