MUCH loved hippo, turtle and whale could be on their way back to their Poole home.

The wooden animals which are part of the childhood of many residents who climbed all over them in the town’s shopping centre, are the subject of a Facebook campaign to return them to their natural habitat.

John Grinnell, manager of the Dolphin Shopping Centre said: “We cherish the heritage of the wooden animals and understand that they hold great sentimental value with the people of Poole.

“The hippo, whale and turtle are still in very good condition, safely tucked away until next year when we plan to feature them in an exhibition within the centre. We will notify everyone of the dates in due course.”

However the campaign aims not just to reinstate them but let them be played on, as before. When they returned in 2008 centre bosses said children were not allowed to climb on them because it was not safe.

The Reinstate the Dolphin Centre Wooden Play Sculptures page was created on November 8 by Steve Baron of Poole Photography and has 1,365 likes, with one of the photos gone viral, being viewed 50,000 times.

Many people have shared their memories of playing on the sculpted wooden beasts.

“I loved these,” Nicola Partridge posted. “Many happy times playing on them.”

The Facebook campaign has been backed by Poole People town centre councillor Mark Howell.

“Poole People believes the town centre (including the Dolphin Centre) needs to become more community orientated and develop an individual character, if it is to attract more visitors in the future. Returning the play sculptures would be a step in the right direction,” he said.

History of the sculptures

The mahogany animals were introduced to the then Arndale Centre when it opened in 1969.

Made by artist Peter Hand, they withstood nearly 30 years of children climbing on them, before being removed in 1997.

They then went on an extended holiday before being lovingly restored and displayed in rotation in a specially designed enclosure in 2008, where they collected funds for local charities.

But snake sadly did not slither back, being removed a number of years before the others, stored in an open area in one of the service bay and then disposed of as rubbish.