Nostalgia: How Kirkcaldy fought to save its pets’corner

editorial image

Dave Somerville is well known as a former chairman of Raith Rovers – arguably one of the best they have had.

Twenty years ago, he was in the headlines in a different role – he was the man who closed the pets’ corner at Beveridge Park.

As head of community services with Fife Council, he found himself in the eye of a storm which started the moment news broke the hugely popular attraction was doomed.

There was talk of petitions and a public demonstration, while one woman was so outraged she felt moved to write to Tony Blair, Prime Minister.

Who’d have thought relocating a small group of furry animals would have caused such outrage?

In truth, the pets’ corner was very much part of the park’s attractions, and one much loved by generations of children who’d visit on a regular basis to see the guinea pigs, sheep, a llama, goats, bunnies, donkeys and exotic birds.

But, in February 1998, the harmless wee sanctuary found itself on a list of cuts as Fife Council sized up its budgets and spotted a quick saving.

They perhaps should have known better than to rile a nation of animal lovers who reacted with horror.

The bigger picture was to close pets’ corners in Beveridge and Craigtoun Parks, and amalgamate Letham Glen into Silverburn.

At a meeting to discuss the budget proposal, only one Kirkcaldy councillor, Alex Thomson, spoke out on the issue - and he backed the move.

He said: “The condition that the animals are in at Beveridge Park does not lead me to the conclusion that the highest level of animal welfare is being maintained” while also saying he wasn’t blaming the staff.

“I was not impressed with the sorry state of the animals in the area,” he added.

The closures would save some £60,000, which, Cllr David Alexander (SNP) – now co-leader of the authority – pointed out was the same as the council had just found to protect a heritage centre in Lower Methil.

“Some people will not like that,” he noted.

Indeed they did not.

The Press visited the pets’ corner and found plenty of folk far from happy at the closure threat.

Jacqueline Burton, Sauchenbush Road said it was terrible news, adding: “We are here feeding the animals every day, and everyone is talking about it. No-one wants this place closed down.

“It’s dreadful, I’ve got a good mind to write to Tony Blair - it is his Government that is closing it.”

David Burt said he travelled from Cowdenbeath to visit the animals every day, and added: “For the sake of the children, it should not be shut down.”

Several said they were shocked at the lack of notice about the closure proposal, and one proposed an Adopt-A-Pet scheme to help keep it open.

Pamela Dunn, childminder, said: “This attracts people to the park - it is an asset to the town. A lot of people would happily adopt an animal - that is what they do at the zoo, and the scheme would not take a lot of upkeep.”

Fears for the animals’ future were also raised.

Mr Somerville gave an “absolute guarantee” none would be destroyed if it shut, but even as he spoke, campaigners were talking in terms of petitions, while a march was planned for Leven to save Letham Glen.

The FFP editorial came down on the side of the people– and the pets!

It said closure was a “short term saving, long term loss” and criticised the council’s lack of imagination - “another door closing instead of efforts being made to open new ones.”

And it concluded: “Fife Council may well become recognised on a bigger stage as a good housekeeper, but, unfortunately, it doesn’t appear they are a particularly imaginative one.”

In the face of negative headlines, the council did what all councils do - it put everything on hold and ordered a review.

It also scrapped plans to close the facility in Dunfermline and abandoned the Leven merger, but Kirkcaldy’s pets’ corner, alas, still faced the axe.

Not even the offer of Asda donating its left over fruit and veg for the animals was enough to keep the gates open.

Ultimately, the town’s little animal kingdom was dismantled with no fanfare.

There was a neat postscript though.

In June 1998, a llama being transported from Letham to Beveridge Park did a runner and caused havoc in St Clair Street, darted across the then dual carriageway and got stuck in a car park where it tried, unsuccessful, to leap over two cars, leaving a £1000 repair bill in its wake.

One last hurrah for the animals from Beveridge Park!