27 Jan 2020

Not that long ago, in a county not that far away, Mark Hargreaves, our Projects Team Manager, travelled down to London. His mission? To recycle various plants of all shapes and sizes that had been used on the set of blockbuster films such as Star Wars – part of a five star recycling relationship between two major film studios and the zoo. Here’s how the story began…

When you’re watching the latest Hollywood movie what grabs your attention? Is the actors? The cars? The special FX? Something you probably don’t notice too much are the plants and trees that appear in scenes but, if you look carefully, you’ll see a wide range of magnificent flora, many of which are sourced from all over the world.

Many film sets have indoor and outdoor nurseries that house lots of plant species that are needed to create a set but once the film is finished some of them are sadly thrown away. Last year, a company called Green Space contacted the zoo about a very different recycling project. They remove green waste from Warner Bros and Pinewood Studios and, aware of our expertise in botany and horticulture, thought we may be able to utilise any unwanted plants and trees.

Mark went to investigate…


In my forty years at the zoo, I’ve undertaken many strange and unusual tasks but I never imagined I’d be on a Hollywood film set as part of my role! But after Green Space contacted the zoo about recycling trees, that’s exactly where I found myself – inside Warner Bros Studios on the set of Fast and Furious 9.

Mark Hargreaves, Projects Team Manager at Chester Zoo

“Being on a film set is surreal. There are lots of people, equipment, cameras, lights and, to my surprise, plants. I was lucky enough to see a brief glimpse of Vin Diesel but, to be honest, I was more interested in the plants we could potentially bring to the zoo. Many trees and plants are very expensive and we spend a lot of money making sure the zoo has a vast range of horticultural specimens both in habitats and around the zoo, so I wasn’t going to waste the opportunity to recycle plants.

I looked at a large range of species, including a beautiful acer that was used in a scene where a plane crashes in the film. I visited the set again to select more plants and then got a call saying we could also take some that were used in the latest Star Wars film! I’m very happy that we’re giving these plants a second home – it’s a brilliant way of recycling and we can let millions of people enjoy these specimens in real life not just on the big screen.”

This is hopefully just the start of this brilliant recycling scheme and the team hopes to be able to recycle plants from the next big movie set, Jurassic World 3, once filming has finished. Mark has a range of plants he is planning to use around the zoo, including in a new bug hotel located in the Main Car Park, and there’s already some greenery from the big screen on display. The most recognisable plant currently on-show is a Alocasia ‘Portadora’ situated in the caiman habitat in our Tropical Realm, seen in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Next time you venture in there why not take a look and try and spot a piece of Hollywood right here at the zoo.

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