When Nature Threatens

Although our daily flying displays do not take place in winter when our flying team are generally in moult, it is usual for visitors to be able to watch a selection of birds flying free in daily exercise sessions with the falconers.

Unfortunately recent visitors have not been able to enjoy that pleasure, as we are currently subject to nationwide Restriction Order put in place by the Government due to spasmodic cases of Avian Flu being discovered in the UK. The disease affects many species of birds including chickens, ducks, turkeys and geese and can be passed between wild and captive birds.

There are many strains of avian ‘flu, most of which do not transmit to humans - indeed no humans have been infected in the U.K. to date. The current strain is an infectious type of influenza which can be spread throughout the native wild bird population by infected migratory birds. Infection is spread from bird to bird by direct contact or through contaminated body fluids and faeces.

As a result of the outbreak, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) issued guidelines back in December on bird flying protocol to minimise the threat to the health of captive birds, which we are actively employing. This means we have put biosecurity measures in place with disinfectant foot baths at key points such as site entrances and entrances to bird houses, and have taken precautions to avoid the transfer of contamination between premises, vehicles and equipment.

In addition we thoroughly disinfect our bird accommodation, wash our clothes after contact with birds, and have sought to minimise direct contact between captive and wild birds - for instance the results of the faeces of wild birds flying over the centre dropping into mesh-topped aviaries - by where possible keeping our birds housed.

Special care is taken when dealing with the injured wild owls and other birds of prey brought into our Raptor Hospital. Their route into the centre is kept entirely separate, they are isolated in the hospital and we are using disposable plastic gloves and aprons on each occasion we handle or feed the birds. When in the opinion of the vet an injured or very sick bird has no expectant quality of life it is humanely euthanised by the vet and a post mortem conducted to clarify that cause of death was not as a result of Avian Flu.


Standby for take-off - Taino starts his fist-jumping exercise
from a perch on the other side of our mews room


The take-off and effort to reach the fist - especially in closed
quarters - helps builds up Taino's strength & stamina in preparation
for the flying display season ahead


The beautiful Ashy-Faced Owl arrives safely at his destination -
the gloved fist of Emily, one of our young volunteers

Of course, the physical and psychological health of the Sanctuary's demonstration birds is of paramount importance and they still need to be exercised, as the team would normally be starting their training regime in preparation for the display season ahead at this time. To achieve this we take every opportunity to conduct daily “fist jumping” sessions with our large mews room as an effective means of building muscle and maintaining fitness levels, jump from perches or vertically from the ground to the falconer’s glove, which helps to increase the stamina and technique they will need when flying free again.

In spite of the restrictions we are operating under at the moment, visitors can still enjoy all of the sanctuary’s birds within their spacious, naturalistic aviaries and falconers are always on hand to answer questions and inform. The restrictions are currently in place until 28th. February and providing no new cases of avian ‘flu are identified within that timescale, normal service should be resumed at the beginning of March!

Meanwhile we apologise for any inconvenience these temporary measures may cause to our supporters and visitors, but trust all will appreciate that they have been introduced in order to protect the health of both birds and visitors. Thank you for your patience and understanding at this challenging time.