The founder of a controversial Cumbrian zoo - where a damning report revealed hundreds of animals died - wants to run a western-themed horse riding business.

David Gill, who ran the former South Lakes Wild Animal Park at Dalton from 1994 to 2017, has submitted a planning application to the Lake District National Park Authority under the name David Rivera for permission to offer horse riding and carriage drives from his Wasdale farm.

An application to renew Mr Gill’s zoo licence two years ago was rejected after a report from inspectors revealed nearly 500 animals had died on site in four years.

However, Mr Gill said he had never been convicted of any wrongdoing and was “proud” of what he had achieved with the zoo.

He added that the number of animal deaths at the zoo, which is now run by Cumbria Zoo Company Ltd, was at an “average, normal level”.

Mr Gill now keeps animals including Herdwick sheep and cattle at his farm, but said he had been struggling to make ends meet so came up with the idea as his family were “building a new life”.

“It’s quite a recent idea I’ve had, probably in the last eight or nine months,” he said.

“It’s very difficult making ends meet on a hill farm; in fact, it’s impossible.”

Mr Gill said he owned a ranch in the United States for many years so had “vast” experience and hopes the business could create “two or three” jobs.

Copeland Council officer Kevan Buck said the council had no objections to the application from an environmental health point of view and confirmed that Mr Gill had applied for the relevant licences to run horse riding and hackney carriage businesses.

Mr Buck said: “It is anticipated that this council will award both respective licences, pending the successful granting of planning permission.”

Mr Gill added: “I’ve got a fantastic record with horses; I’ve got a fantastic record full stop.

“I’m still working like crazy for wildlife and conservation.”

The website of the Wasdale Riding Centre says it would offer a “western-style world heritage horse experience”.