25 Year Diary
Introduction, by Carolyn Screech
As it is was 25 years in June 2015 since the sanctuary began, I thought it would be lovely to produce a diary for you all to see some of our achievements and milestones along the way.
June 1990 – Sanctuary started in our allotment garden at Halgavor View in Bodmin. We had taken on a very young Barn owl named “Sid” or hissing Sid as he was known who was hatched with a deformed leg. We also had a pair of Little owls named “Bonny & Toby” and a disabled Buzzard named “Gemma”. We then acquired a pair of unwanted Kestrels, and a hand tame Barn owl named “Ollie”, and this was where it all started.
November 1991 – Moved from Bodmin with 5 aviaries and 7 birds to Rew Farm at Sweetshouse near Lostwithiel to give us more space to expand.
February 1992 – Our first Tawny owl admission was a very young and sick baby owl that we named Dougal, but later turned out to be a female, and stayed with us at the sanctuary until her death from very old age in March 2012.
March 1992 – We started up the junior owl club for youngsters from the age of 5 to 15 years with the help of our 12 year old daughter Sarah. The owl club was very popular and held every Saturday afternoon, and by the end of this year we had 30 members.
April 1992 – We travelled up to Essex to collect our first baby eagle owl who was just 4 weeks old. Rupert the hybrid Siberian x Turkemanian Eagle owl was the funniest looking gonky thing I had ever seen, and I immediately fell in love with him. Rupert became quite a famous character and lived in our slate floor dairy room for the first 6 months of his life, and his favourite pastime was playing ball with our Collie pup “Timmy” in the stone floor kitchen. Rupert now 23 years old is still a handsome chap and loves having attention at the close encounters area from visitors.
May 1992 – Bonny & Toby the Little owls had eggs, and we were absolutely ecstatic when one hatched and produced a baby. This very special owl being our first breeding ever was kept and named “Mr Blobby” who was with us for many years until he passed away in 2002.
June 1992 – Our first school visit was to Lostwithiel CP School with Dougal the Tawny owl, Ollie the Barn owl and Rupert the Siberian x Turkemanian Eagle owl who was just 2 months old and a big fluff ball with huge eyes. Some of those children have visited in recent years with their own children, and still remember the visit well.
April 1993 – Saw the sudden closure of Truro Wildlife Park due to immediate council enforcement, and we were asked to urgently accommodate 12 Barn owls, 20 ducks and other birds such as Golden Pheasants and chickens.
May 1993 – We acquired our second young eagle owl a female called Charlie, who is quite a large European Eagle owl and still here with us today.
November 1993 – First open weekend to the public and we were delighted with the number of visitors and we raised £270 to convert an old barn into an owl hospital.
February 1994 – We opened our first make shift owl hospital in the old converted barn and this was officially opened by our very dear friend and Patron E.V.Thompson the author who sadly passed away in July 2012.
March 1994 – We admitted a very beautiful grey phase Tawny owl who was brought in from Culdrose Airbase with a damaged foot. Donald as we named him had stowed away on a Chinook helicopter all the way from Kinloss in Scotland, and was found when the naval staff were unloading the helicopter. Donald stayed with us due to his damaged foot and passed away in August 2005.
April 1994 – When we moved to Rew Farm in 1991 we were told by our landlady that we could rent our property indefinitely, so it came as a very sudden and traumatic shock when we were given six months’ notice to move and find another site. As you can imagine it was as if the end of the world had come and there are no words to describe how we felt at that time.
May 1994 – After receiving many Barn owl road casualties coming in injured from some new road developments with no hedges or trees prevent the owls from swooping down near the traffic, I designed a Barn owl awareness road sign which was triangular with a red border and a black silhouette Barn owl in flight. This sign was sadly not taken up by the Authorities in Cornwall, but was used by Somerset and Avon Highways in 1998 for use on the Somerset levels.
June 1994 – Our first group visit was from the BMW motorcycle club with over 70 bikes, and we served drinks and home-made cakes from our old farmhouse kitchen window,
September 1994 – We attended our very first visit outside event at Lanlivery Show with some owls and met our very first sponsors there Mr & Mrs Townsend who still now adopt “Charlie” after all these years.
August 1994 – Between April and August we trawled estate agents and newspapers adverts to find suitable premises to relocate the sanctuary, and after much searching we were relieved to find our current premises which was secured initially on a 10 year lease. Obviously after our previous experience we were very cautious about making the new site more secure. With the help of friends and colleagues we were able to scrape together the deposit to secure our freehold of the property in 2000 which was a huge weight off our minds.
November 1994 – After a major 6 month upheaval of preparations we managed to move to our current location on the Goss moor with 12 aviaries and approximately 20 owls, 2 goats, a peacock and a peahen, 3 cats, a dog and various ducks and chickens. We were very lucky to have kind friends and staff who temporarily cared for the owls during the move and building of the aviaries at our new premises until everyone could be suitably housed.
March 1995 – We were contacted by villagers at Merrymeet near Liskeard to say that there was a Barn owl living in a phone box. Despite several attempts to remove him the owl just kept going back in underneath the door into the phone box, and was looking quite weak and debilitated. We went out and collected this little chap named “BuzzBee” and brought him into care until he was fit and well enough to be released back to Merrymeet. This story was published in the Western Morning News and the Cornish Times and it was noted at that time we had 63 resident owls here.
April 1995 – The Los Angeles Times published in their newspaper that they highly recommend American visitors coming to Britain to visit the Screech owl sanctuary in Cornwall.
March 1996 – I became treasurer for the newly founded Internationally Owl Society which was quite an honour to be asked, and held this position for 12 years until October 2008. I visited many Zoos and Parks during these years and met many interesting people from all over the world who were involved in many outstanding owl conservation projects.
June 1996– West Country Television featured its children’s programme Birthday People here which replaced Gus Honeybun. TV presenter Nicola Davies came along to film five days of these programme featuring different species of owls for the children each day.
November 1996 – Saw our 101st successful release which was published in the Newquay & District Newspapers and was witnessed by Cormac road workers who had brought the Barn owl into our care.
September 1996 – Our first Zoo inspection under Zoo licensing by an official named Mr Cotton. This was quite a scary event but we actually did very well and he was very pleased with our organisation and the care of the owls provided.
April 1997 – Harley and Loveness (previously known as (Dukie) our African Spotted Eagle Owls produced three lovely babies which was reported as being the first triplet breeding of this species in Britain, and it was published in all Cornish newspapers and the Daily Mail. We were also featured on BBC Spotlight News as this pair of owls were thought to be two males, so you can imagine our surprise when they had eggs and then three lovely babies.
June 1997 – Saw the introduction of legislation governing all British and European owls which now required them all to be either close rung or micro chipped, and have an Article 10 certificate (License). This caused quite a major problem for us as 2/3 of the owls at that time fell into this category, and therefore had to be micro chipped and licenses applied for from DEFRA. It was suggested by our lovely vet Angela Kent (now retired) that I undertook microchip training to enable me to perform this mammoth task.
August 1997 – The new legislation regarding keeping captive British owls was causing many problems, as there were countless people obtaining particularly Barn owls which were readily available and cheap and keeping them as pets in their home. With the introduction of the new licensing laws former owners were trying to get rid of these owls or even release them into the wild to fend for themselves which was illegal. This story was featured on BBC Spotlight with ourselves and several other Organisations discussing the current problems.
September 1997 – We were granted our first full planning permission to be open to the general public on a full times basis with 22 aviaries, a garage converted to a shop and entrance, and a portable building as a Tearoom. See how things have changed now with 63 aviaries and ever expanding!!
December 1997 – We received a telephone call from a distressed lady in a local village to say she had a Long Eared owl sitting on her wall. When our staff member arrived at the address she came face to face with an African Spotted Eagle owl which was quite a shock. The owl (Stephanie) was eventually captured and brought back to the sanctuary and even to this day 16 years later this owl has not been claimed by her former owner.
March 1998 – We had our first ever Long Eared owl admission by postal service! Pat as he became known had been hit by a post van on the A30 dual carriageway near Redruth, and had been passed through several postal vans to be delivered safely into our care. Long Eared owls are quite rare, and Pat sadly lost his right wing due to his injuries, but lived a very comfortable life here until his death in December 2007. This story was featured on ITV Westcountry News with the postman that had found rescued him and arranged for the owl to come into our care.
April 1998 – Over a period of several months we had four Barn owl admissions, two of which did not survive, from the new road development at St Mewan dip near St Austell where the owls frequently crossed the road from the church where they lived to get to the fields on the other side of the three lane busy road to hunt. Due to this sad problem we organised a fund raising campaign to purchase and plant trees on either side of this road to help protect the owls from the fast moving traffic. We raised £3,000 for the planting of 72 mature fast growing elder trees, which was undertaken by Cornwall Highways due to Health & Safety regulations.
June 1998 – We featured on The Really Wild Show which was presented by
November 1998 – After a visit to our friend who was a private collector and breeder of owls in Essex where we had obtained our dear Rupert, we were taken to see his father “Boris” who at that time was almost totally blind with cataracts in both eyes, and one of only two male pure bred Siberia Eagle owls in the country at that time. Frank had a dilemma as both the cost and availability of getting Boris’s eyes operated on was impossible, and he was going to be euthanased. I begged with Frank that if I took Boris home with me I would find a way of getting an operation for him. We returned home with Boris and I immediately started an appeal through the media and television, and we raised £4000 with the help of you kind people and sourced an ophthalmologist vet Paul Evans who was prepared to undertake this task.
December 1998 – We had a Turkmanian Eagle Owl admitted after being confiscated from Exmouth by the RSPCA. Doncee as he was named had been kept under a boat and was weak and very poorly, and was not expected to live very long. He had severe Bumble foot to both feet which was operated on by our previous vet Angela on several occasions. Doncee made a remarkable recovery and had a very good quality of life with us here.
January 1999 – On Tuesday 26th January at the Eye veterinary clinic in Hereford, Boris was whisked away to a specially-prepared theatre for his two-and-a-half-hour operation. The anaesthetist inserted a tube into his respiratory tract via a small incision to administer the anaesthetic which temporarily stopped Boris from breathing. His responses were monitored by heartbeat alone on a machine throughout the operation. The removal of the cataracts was performed by making a tiny incision into the 14mm by 7mm oval lenses of the eyes. A device spinning at 40,000 rpm turned the solid cataracts into a liquid, a process known as phaco-emulsification, and this liquid substance was then removed by suction. The operation has successfully restored 60 per cent vision to his left eye, and 90 per cent in the right eye, but his brain and eye co-ordination took a few weeks to adjust properly, which made him slightly disorientated, and he was cared for in a specially adapted environment.
February 1999 – My next important mission was to obtain a wife for Boris and this had to be a pure bred female Siberian Eagle owl. This task proved quite difficult as back then there was no internet or email etc. and I wrote to a little Zoo in Seversk which is in the Tomsk region of Siberia and asked for their help. I was delighted to have a fax back from them to say they were willing to donate 3 owls in return for badly needed breeding equipment, and to cut the very long story short this is what we achieved.
April 1999 – After a lengthy process of acquiring Cites licenses from DEFRA to import these three wild disabled Siberian Eagle owls into Britain, and also setting up a unique quarantine unit here at the sanctuary which had to be approved by DEFRA, we went up to Heathrow Airport to collect our precious cargo (Olga, Tomsk & Nadyezhda). They were being flown in with the help of Aeroflot a Russian airline, and unknown to us at that time with the help of Jeremy Spake (a TV celebrity on Airline) which we found out in September on TV.
September 1999 – In conjunction with the international Owl society we assisted by a conservationist Rolf Krahe from the Society for the Conservation and Research of Owls (SCRO) with the seriously declining Ashy-faced Owl (Tyto glaucops) International breeding program which had been setup by ZOODOM in the Dominican Republic. The distribution of the Ashy Faced Owls are restricted to the island of Hispaniola (76,200 sq.km.) and Tortuga in the Caribbean Sea, and compared to the distribution of many other Owl species, this is a very small living space and, as history has taught us, not without dangerous consequences for the existence of island Owl species. The sanctuary had a fund raising day for this project and raised £1200.
September 1999 – BBC Science approached us with an interest in Boris’ plight, and the fact that this was pioneering surgery. They had filmed the operation for the TV programme Amazing World of Animals which was shown on BBC television on Sunday 19th September with other guests such as Rosemarie Ford, Jeremy Spake, and Robin Gibbs from the Bee Gees who featured as a guest and kept chinchillas.
October 1999 – After our trio of owls had arrived from Siberia it became very apparent that the one female looked very different to the other male and female, and I had to undertake extensive research contacting many Organisations in Russia and visiting Tring National History museum to look at bodies. It was clarified after several months of research that there are actually five sub-species of Eagle owl in Siberia, and we had imported the Bubo bubo sibiricus and the Bubo bubo yenisseensis from two different sides of the Ob river.
October 1999 – I was contacted by Moscow Zoo in Russia when I was trying to source the Siberian Eagle owls and they replied to me in June to say they had a pair of captive bred owls available. I felt that it would be good to have several owls to build up a stock for a breeding programme. We incorporated our trip to Tring Museum with collecting this pair of owls from Heathrow Airport and were delighted as they were a stunning pale pair of Bubo bubo sibiricus (Pushkin & Vladamir).
December 1999 – After conducting a six month study and research project about the Pels Fishing Owl in Africa, and corresponding with many Zoos and Conservation Organisation in South Africa (which was the place of my birth) my work was published by Lynx Edicions in the handbook “Birds Of The World” Volume 5 which I felt very excited about.
October 2000 – We had a Kestrel admitted via the RSPCA which was found at Par Docks and it had a close ring on its leg with contact details. It transpired that this was a young Kestrel which was rung and released in Helsinki, Finland a few months earlier. We were very confused as to whether this dear little thin had cadged a lift on one of the ships or flown over by himself?? After a good feeding up he was released back to English territory.
April 2001- I was asked to represent the International Owl Society for owl legislations and joined the “Sustainable Users Network” with DEFRA where I attended several meetings to discuss European changes in these legislations. One of the meetings meeting was held at Kew Gardens which I had never visited before, and heard how the legislation also affects other flora and fauna.
June 2001- As the Ashy Faced owl project in the Dominican Republic was going well, and they had built their first blocks of aviaries, and also provided hatching facilities we agreed that we would pay for the DNA sexing which was not available in the Domincan Republic.Twelve blood card samples were sent over and the Sanctuary had these done at Avian Biotech International’s laboratory which is based here in Cornwall, and the sexing results were sent back to ZOODOM to enable them to pair their owls for the breeding programme.
November 2001 – We were invited to bring “Sam” the Snowy owl to Waterstones book shop in the centre of London for the launch of the first Harry Potter film. Sam was accompanied by Angie Roberts one of our staff members on the train to London. Sam was quite a celebrity there for the day impersonating “Hedwig” from the books and film. When they arrived at the bookshop Sam’s travelling box was opened, and he immediately leapt up onto a pile of books and looked around the room, and hooted his comical (Aww!!) at everyone.
March 2002 – I was delighted to be invited as a guest speaker at the Owl Symposium at Chester Zoo to talk about my research project on the Pels Fishing Owl in Africa. There were several other Speakers at the symposium on a broad spectrum of topics which included Professor John Cooper reporting on the International Owl Society’s sponsored Owl Project in Uganda. Tony Warburton speaking on the Philippine Owl Conservation Project. John Chitty expert bird vet from Andover on the First Aid Treatment of Owls, and several other speakers on owl related topics including new legislations relating to owls and birds of prey.
April 2002 – Our first breeding of the Siberian eagle owl (Kansk) was the first of his species to have been bred outside of the Russian federation, and congratulations were sent from Seversk Zoo in Siberia who were delighted at our success.
October 2002 – We had been informed that we had been nominated for the BBC UK animal awards for outstanding work in animal welfare and conservation, and the BBC filming took place here in October and was shown on Country File on Sunday 24th November along with film of the other two finalists.
November 2002 – Our new owl hospital was officially opened on Saturday 9th November by celebrity Jeremy Spake, thanks to the generosity and support of everyone who helped to raise the £15,636-33 towards this major project. Many other activities took place on the day and Angela Kent our dedicated vet spent the day in the new hospital talking to visitors about veterinary aspects and showing x-rays of owl injuries from former casualties which have been treated here, and she had personally donated our veterinary examination table for the hospital. A grand total of £1675-20 was raised from an auction on the day towards new equipment, and were also fortunate to receive donations of equipment such as a purpose built lockable medicine cupboard, a treatment table, Intensive care units, a wall heater and an electric insect killer from sponsors. I must admit we had doubts as to whether it would be physically and financially possible to convert this building into suitable facilities for owl care and rehabilitation, but as always with the determination and commitment of everyone involved I can say that nothing is impossible!
November 2002 – The sanctuary has agreed to pledge £500 to fund training workshops which will be conducted by Professor Cooper at the Makerere University in Uganda to education local vets and conservationists with rehabilitating their sick and injured Ugandan owls. We were very impressed by the commitment to this project and the active involvement of the students studying veterinary medicine and other wildlife subjects. Sadly the cultural beliefs locally relating to owls within this area are a difficult barrier, and education will play an important role in this task.
December 2002 – It was a great honour to be nominated and also short listed into the final three for the BBC UK animal awards, but we were extremely surprised when we were actually announced as the winners on the night. The award ceremony took place on the evening of Sunday 2nd December at the BBC studios in London, but we were sworn to secrecy until the programme was shown on television on 27th December. All of the three finalists from the eight different award categories were collected from the hotel by coach and on arrival at the studios we were greeted and taken to a reception room and given champagne and refreshments. There were many celebrities present including our special friend Jeremy Spake who sat beside us at our table during the awards ceremony along with Toyah Wilcocks. The presenters of our award were John Craven and Michaela Strachan, and after we had won our category we were whisked away to another room to have our photos taken with them. It would be difficult to describe the events of that evening, but all I can say is that it was quite exciting and the atmosphere was very electric. Maybe it had something to do with our glasses being constantly refilled with champagne!
January 2003 – The Zoo licensing Act (Amendment) (England and Wales) Regulations 2002 amended the Act which dealt with the keeping of wild animals in zoos. The Regulations came into force from 8 January 2003 which had a significant impact for us with very strict Zoo inspections and masses of form filling and policies and procedures. At the time we found things very daunting and had exactly the same inspections and criteria to follow as all the large Zoos. We were given new guidelines to work on as part of the new license and had been asked to complete ‘Owl Profiles’ due to the new Zoo forum conditions. These profiles were an up to date source of information which recorded the animals behavior including name, species, Latin name, status at the sanctuary i.e. breeding, aviary or hand-tame bird and likes and dislikes etc.
August 2003 – Sam, our snowy owl passed away after a six month illness. Sam came to the Sanctuary on 1st September 1995, aged 5 years from a Falconry centre in Northampton where attempts to use him for flying displays had been unsuccessful as Snowy owls are ground birds. Sam was always a great favourite with everyone due to his unusually placid nature and comical ways. Some of you may remember he was invited to Waterstone’s book shop in London to promote the launch of the Harry Potter book. Sam was buried in our garden next to “Tiggy” our dear old cat and “Timmy” the dog.
May 2003 – We were delighted to have two Eastern Siberian Eagle owl babies bred from parents Olga and Tomsk and two Western Siberian Eagle owl babies bred from parents Boris and Pushkin, and despite the visual similarities between these 2 sub-species, the staff had observed distinct behavioural patterns between them. The Eastern Siberian owls are said to be very ‘laid back’ and placid in nature, and appear to be uninterested in human activity in their vicinity, whereas the Western Siberian owls are far more curious and nosy little chaps! We also had a very busy breeding season that year with other species including the Western Screech owls.
June 2003 – We admit many owls into our hospital due to a variety of different injuries and causes such as road accidents, being tangled in wire and even being stuck in chimneys. We admitted two baby Barn owls which fell into the latter category, and one of these only survived a short time due to a very unusual deformity, this baby had been hatched with three legs poor thing.
September 2003 – Professor John cooper hosted the training workshop in Uganda. The Ugandan people are extremely superstitious and regard owls as birds of ill-omen, and the workshop day aimed to sensitise people to the idea of conserving and caring for owls, and to enlist help and support from interested individuals and organisations. Delegates consisted of Veterinary students, conservationists, commercial bird guides and staff from other organisations. An African wood owl was provided for demonstrations of correct handling and examination, which resulted in several delegates seeing an owl at close quarters for the first time. Ugandans are encouraged as children to take flaming material – wood or paper – outside to scare owls away when they are heard, or to throw stones in the direction of their calls. This comes from the belief that an owl’s call forecasts a death in the family and nests are destroyed. Uganda is a poor country but recognised as one of the most significant locations in the world for birds. A total of 1017 species have been recorded in an area approximately the size of Great Britain. The Ugandan government and tourist board recognise this and were keen to promote avitourism for visiting birdwatchers.
September 2003 – A Fun day was held in aid of the International Owl Society towards the Uganda project and we had many activities such as a crazy clown, a magician, swing boats and bouncy castle, pooh corner, Hogwarts Castle and many other games. Tony Turk, the Conservation co-ordinator for the International Owl Society brought along some microscopes and owl pellets to study the contents. All staff entered into the spirit of the day in fancy dress costume, based on our theme of Harry Potter and other storybook characters. We managed to raise another £600 for the Uganda project.
October 2003 – We were devastated by the sudden and unexpected death of Pushkin the female Siberian eagle owl, she was being treated for a minor injury to her foot and the treatment was working well. However, very suddenly Pushkin seemed to lose her balance and became short of breath and in a very short space of time she passed away. A full post mortem examination was carried out at the veterinary laboratory, but unfortunately no apparent cause of death could be established, so this remained a mystery for us all. This was a dreadful blow particularly after the close bonding that Pushkin had with Boris, and after the great excitement last spring with our beautiful babies this caused a setback for the breeding programme with the Siberian Eagle Owls.
December 2003 – After two years of planning and public meetings the new route for the A30 was announced with work due to start in January 2005. Obviously this set alarm bells ringing for us but with compulsory purchase of some of our land, we just had to try and work with the Highways Agencies and our land agent for advice.
March 2004 – The major upheaval of work began in preparation to give up land for the new road. We had diggers and construction workers all over the site digging out a new lake, and filling in the old lake. Rebuilding new aviaries and dismantling the old ones. Digging up and landscaping our old meadow to use the land for a Tearoom, Play area and paddocks. Basically all of 2004 was spent over seeing all these activities and ensuring minimal upset and disturbance to the owls as possible, and filling in paperwork for the highways Department to cover the costs of the work. Due to the huge complications which were carried out we decided it would be best to close to the public until the February half term in 2005.
March 2005 – We held the grand re-launch of the sanctuary to celebrate surviving the gruelling task which was almost accomplished. Areas of the Sanctuary still looked very much like a building site with bare areas of earth but we had to make the best of it all the same. We all said where was Ground Force when you needed them?? That year we have needed to recruit two people to do the gardening and grounds work, but we have been extremely lucky to have our lovely talented neighbours Cheryl and Dane advising and helping with the design and planting throughout the site. The grass lawns finally started to grow during the warmer months, and thanks to everyone’s hard efforts the sanctuary started to be transformed into gardens instead of what formerly looked like a very barren construction area.
May 2005 – For the first time in 8 years our pair of Great Horned owls Micka and Layla produced a very sweet young owl named Jess who was retained for our close encounters area due to her very affectionate and cuddly nature. Also during this year we had four baby Siberian Eagle owl from Olga and Tomsk, four Indian Eagle owl babies from Henrietta and Bubo, and two European eagle owl babies from Amber and Lisa, and one from Victoria and Albert. The latter named Joe was also kept and trained for the flying displays. All of the owls had settled well into their new environments, and any stress that they may have suffered during the winters work with noise and disturbance seems to be long forgotten. It was a traumatic time for all of us and the owls, but at least we could understand why the diggers and the constructors drilling and banging were making so much din!! We were just extremely thankful that they all got through without any major upheavals.
September 2005 – This was the year that saw the beginning of the recession and we found our visitor numbers and spend per person had dropped considerably, which meant that we did not have any excess funds to help with other conservation projects.
February 2006 – We decided to re-launch the Ashy faced owl project last Autumn as we were having difficulty obtaining any females for our three males for the breeding programme, and the cost of importing owls from the Dominican Republic would have been too costly. We were lucky enough this month to obtain a young breeding pair of Ashy faced owls which were bred from Spanish parents, and are unrelated to all of our male trio of Ashy faced owls.
April 2006 – We had a Barn owl admitted from a boat builder in Golant, sadly this poor little chap had decided to take a bath as owls sometimes do, the only thing was he bathed in yacht varnish, and was in a very sorry state. When he arrived we tried to remove as much of the varnish as possible, but this had started to harden on his feathers and we could not use toxic substances to remove it. After four months “Ronseal” as he was nicknamed eventually moulted out all of his varnish feathers, and was released back to his former location.
May 2006 – The Eastern Siberian Eagle owls have again been at the forefront of all the birds which have bred this year, and produced four lovely babies. Also unexpectedly for the first time in three years the African Spotted Eagle owls Harley and Loveness have produced a baby. For the first time our American Barn owls successfully bred this year and had one youngster.
June 2006 – During the past seven years the Siberian Eagle Owl Project had created a great deal of interest, and caught the imagination of the media and some of the star personalities from television programmes. This project would take many more years of work but had been very successful in raising an awareness and interest in the Siberian Eagle Owl plight with many conservationist around Europe and Siberia. There are now more of these owls in breeding programmes which have been paired with some of the offspring that we have bred here at our little Sanctuary. Now Zoo’s and organisations in Russia and Siberia are breeding from wild disabled Siberian Eagle owls, and working with conservation centres within Europe to preserve this species. Not a bad result from just one blind bird (Boris) being rescued and operated on to restore his sight!!!!!
September 2006 – The Sanctuary launched a new project locally to raise an awareness of the decline of the Little Owls in Cornwall. Reports were indicating large drops in the population of Little Owls throughout the U.K. and these cute feisty little birds have never been in large numbers in Cornwall but the numbers had dropped to a worrying level very quickly. The reason for the decreasing numbers of Little Owls is still currently under investigation on a national basis and the project for Cornwall was hoped to have an important impact on the local wildlife.
March 2007 – The new landscaping and gardens are starting to look more interesting now, and give the impression you were walking around a gardens, and not a building site.
April 2007 – During the winter months we had suffered several owl deaths which all occurred within a short time of each other. After the Avian flu crisis this actually caused us a major panic, but the post mortem results showed that there was no evidence of infections or illness present, and it just appeared to be coincidental that these all happened in a fairly short space of time. The birds we lost were Hibou the hand tame White Faced Scops owl, Indra the original Indian Eagle owl, Pootle (formerly named Jethro) the female Ural owl, Honey the Malaysian Brown Wood owl, and Smudge the male Long eared owl. Several of these owls we replaced quite quickly to prevent further upset and distress.
June 2007 – We were pleased to announce the arrival of two quite rare and special owls to our collection which were the spectacled owl Aztec and the Mottled Owl Brandy.
August 2007 – Dougal, our very elderly Tawny Owl has been showing her age and she has been caught lying down sleeping on the mews more than once this year (much to the old girl’s disgust). We had tried to get her to retire a couple of years previously but she was having none of it. She won her fight and was soon back out in the lime light where she wanted to be with the people.
September 2007 – The sanctuary held an open day in aid of the International Owl Society to raise money to enable them to purchase specially built nest boxes suitable for each species of the British owls. The aim was that these boxes would be allocated to other conservation organisations concentrating on specific areas of the country, and it was important that the correct type of box is erected in each area, this is because the habitats of the British Owls differ greatly. Thankfully we raised nearly £400.00 for this project.
November 2007 – Very early in the morning an artic lorry driver was leaving west Cornwall for his collection in Bristol. To his surprise/horror, not long after he left, a Barn Owl flew straight into his windscreen whilst driving down the A30 at approximately 58mph. The driver pulled in to look for the casualty, expecting it would probably would be dead on the road but thought it best to check. He found the Barn Owl wedged up underneath the plastic sun visor at the top of the windscreen, and later in the afternoon when the driver was passing to return home he brought the owl in for admission. To our surprise once giving the owl a thorough examination, there was very little wrong with him. A small amount of swelling to the right wing which we treated with anti-inflammatory medication and ‘Lucky’ was safely released back to the wild in West Cornwall. Another happy ending to a truly amazing story of how a Barn Owl weighing only about 9oz was hit by an articulated lorry at nearly 60mph and has returned home to the wild in time for Christmas.
April 2008 – We launched a new and improved web site for the sanctuary thanks to our very kind Sponsors Lisa Hutchins and Andy Darley from “OnlineAbility” who kindly offered their services to re-vamp our web page. Many of the new features were put together to make the web site easier to use and find via the search engines.
May 2008 – The new Goss Moor Conservation site which took some of our land was officially opened with a seven mile circular route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The old A30 trunk road was now little more than a track, and surprisingly pleasant to walk along.
May 2008 – The Sanctuary celebrated the first breeding at the centre of the rare Ashy-faced Owl from the Dominican Republic.
June 2008 – We have received a request to help an Indian Conservation Club who needed educational DVD’s and CD’s on owls and other animals. The purpose of the request was to enable them to provide teaching aids for the children in their local high schools, and their second language is English so they could use these materials without any translation. We were able to send them a DVD called ‘Identifying our owls’ and other educational material.
August 2008 – We were delighted to be given Sooty a very unusual black Barn Owl, whose sub-species originates from Eastern Europe. They are not common and are not even recognised as much more than a black European dark breasted Barn Owl. Its colouring is very different, making the owl very striking and beautiful to look at. So as you can imagine we were completely surprised and truly delighted when the sanctuary was given one of these unusual birds as a gift from an owl conservationist in Belgium as a thank you for helping him by providing a male Siberian Eagle Owl so he had a compatible breeding pair in Belgium.
September 2008 –The Ashy faced owls bred for the second time this year. The first two babies hatched were a boy and a girl, and four months later they have hatched another boy.
May 2009 – Under the new Zoo forum we had to setup an Ethical Review Committee to meet on a six monthly basis to discuss all policies and ethics of the owls and how the Zoo operates. The committee had to consist of the Zoo director, a staff member, our vet at that time Rachel Bryant, and a member of the public, and we are lucky enough to have Gareth Emerys-Jones who is a retired GP who has a wealth of knowledge and able to offer practical advice.
March 2010 – We held our 20th Anniversary celebration and were delighted to have over 1200 visitors help us celebrate the day, as well as our very good friends E.V.Thomson the well-known author here with his family, and also Dick Twinney the local wildlife artist.
April 2010 – We were approached by a film company to help them produce an animated owl film “The Legend of the Guardians” which was based on the books by author Kathryn Lasky. She has written and published fifteen books, and the first three were made into the 3D animated film which was released in the cinema in September 2010. The film was made in Australia and distributed by Warner Bros and directed by Zack Snyder with Dame Helen Mirren as a voice over for one of the characters. Simon Whiteley and his family spent two weeks at the Sanctuary filming and photographing the many owl species. They were studying their unique features and characteristics and also the movement and flight of these beautiful creatures. It was important to the filming that they capture the details and personalities of each owl species. Digger the Burrowing owl is one of the main characters in the film and looks very true to life, and fully encompasses his cheeky character along with many other owl residents at the Sanctuary. For those that have not watched the film we are in the special features on the DVD.
Spring/Summer 2010 – Despite being adamant that we wanted to concentrate and care for owls which was our expert area, we have found ourselves needing to diversify into acquiring other birds and animals to increase visitor interest. After a lot of research and discussion we decided we would like to have some Emus, and travelled up to Devon to meet a breeder of these funny little characters, and totally fell in love with a trio of lovely baby Emus she had been hand rearing in her kitchen. Skippy, Humbug & Bruce. Sadly Bruce died from a neurological condition when he was only four months old. Also in May whilst we were out on a fund raising event in west Cornwall we noticed an advert for some miniature Shetland ponies and went along to see them. We then acquired two very sweet ponies called ‘Daisy’ and ‘Malteser’. Daisy was a fifteen year old white pedigree pony, and Malteser a one year old multi-coloured brown pony with a cheeky nature. Then in July after saying how great it would be to have some Meerkats and not knowing where we could obtain some, we were contacted by a gentleman here in Cornwall that had a private collection he was selling due to retirement and moving premises he offered us his five Meerkats which included an elderly Male and Female with 3 of their offspring, a boy and 2 girls. Sadly now the elderly parents have both passed away due to old age and also one of the offspring females. We are currently having some difficulties obtaining a new group, and introducing others to an existing group can be very problematic.
February 2011 – After asking our sponsors for suggestions on a name change to reflect the diversification the most popular suggestion was “The Screech Owl Wildlife Park”. We continued to trade under the name Screech Owl Sanctuary but felt that “Wildlife Park” on our advertising would give visitors a better feel for the new animals we had introduced to the site.
March 2011 – We were very pleased to announce our new vet Chris Gardner from St.Clements Veterinary Clinic in Truro, and he has also joined the Ethical Review Committee. We felt he would be a great asset to the sanctuary as he has had lots of experience with birds of prey and different animals, and as we were diversifying this experience would be invaluable.
April 2011- Our first review was written on Trip Advisor and we are currently very proud to hold a certificate of excellence with Trip Advisor, and currently ranked at number 2 of 394 attractions in Cornwall.
April 2011 – As our other animals were settling nicely and we had obtained sufficient expert knowledge to care for them we decided to make use of the other excess paddocks and found some young male Pygmy goats which we named Billy and Casper, or the naughty boys as they are known here. We then found three male Alpacas named Eddie, Giovani and Guiseppi.
May 2011 – Rachel one of our staff members has been working with a BTO ringer to have all of the wild sick and injured owls rung with a unique number which is held on a database at the National History Museum.
October 2011- We had another particularly unusual admission a short eared owl which was found injured in the road in Hughtown, St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly. It was treated for a broken wing by the local vets and after contacting us to see if we would admit it to our care, was flown over to Penzance by helicopter and brought in by the vets mother who lived locally. This owl was retained in our long-term care due to the severity of the wing injured, but was paired with another Short-eared owl which could also not be released.
March 2012 – Dougal was our special Tawny owl who passed away quite suddenly one evening whilst she was eating her supper. She was a ripe old age of nearly 21 years, and was in prime condition in her old age and hardly ever had a day’s illness in her life. It was a very sad day when she died, but we have many happy memories of her when she was young playing with Rupert the Eagle owl as youngsters in the garden at our original site at Sweetshouse.
May 2012 – We were delighted to have bred two male Ural owls which were our first breeding ever of this species due to the parents Jethro and Pootle not previously sitting and incubating the eggs. We used Bubo & Henrietta the Indian Eagle owls to sit and hatch these two eggs, and act as surrogate parents until these twins were two weeks old. One of the males named Rory is still with us for our close encounters, and other male went to The English School of falconry near Biggleswade.
June 2012 – We had our first visitors to stay in our new on-site Hooty Owl Cottage which was finished at Easter to help with the Sanctuary finances.
July 2012- We were extremely sad to announce that our very special friend and Patron E.V Thompson the historical novelist died at his home at Launceston, Cornwall aged 81years. Ernest will be very sadly missed by us all and he was such a kind and lovely man as well as a brilliant author. Ernest had been a keen supporter of the sanctuary since it began in 1990, and his son Luke was a regular member of the junior owl club during our early years. A bench and plaque has been placed here at the sanctuary in his memory.
September 2012 – The International Owl Society had been supporting a conservation project for the Blakiston’s Fish-Owl (Ketupa blakistoni) which is a little-studied endangered species endemic to northeast Asia. A scientist working for the wildlife conservation society in Russia had initiated a project to study and protect this rare owl. I have always had a great fascination for this Fish Owl which is one of the rarest and most magnificent owls, and studies have shown it to be the largest living species of owl. When I visited Tring National History Museum I made a point of looking for bodies of this species and there was only one body in the collection which proves how rare it is, but enthralling to see it for real. The sanctuary held a fund raising day with many activities and managed to raise £400 towards this project.
September 2012 – We had our 1000th owl or bird of prey admission to the hospital since we started our record keeping on rehabilitation in 1994.
February 2013 – Another big success this month was when a Short Eared Owl was admitted with a fractured wing. Thanks to Chris Gardner our dedicated vet who operated and pinned the wing. This owl spent several months in rehabilitation, and eventually made a full recovery, and was released back to its former location at the Lizard Peninsula.
February 2013 – After a joint effort from staff this month we repaired our Education Centre building, and it had a lovely makeover by volunteer students from the local art college who painted some exciting owl murals on the walls to brighten up the building. This has been great for school groups and also for the public during bad weather.
March 2013 – Our pair of Emus hatched two youngsters named Taen and Pippin who we kept for the season as part of our animal encounters, and later re-homed them locally as we were afraid of being over stocked with Emus when Skippy and Humbug bred again.
June 2013 – It is not unusual for us to get several enquiries each year from overseas from people seeking help and advice about owls in the wild. We had an enquiry from a lady called Martina in Croatia who had rescued a small owl during the very hot weather in July. This owl became entangled in netting on a church tower and had become very weak and dehydrated. After receiving an emailed picture, it was found to be a European Scops Owl. Advice was given during regular correspondence on care and rehabilitation, and the owl was eventually released back into the wild much to the delight of the lady who found it and also by ourselves.
September 2013 – We were required to rehome seven Barn owls at short notice as their elderly keeper fell ill. Sometimes we feel just like the NHS with bed shortages, but on this occasion the care of the owls took priority and Kevin our poor maintenance person has been required to build an emergency block of aviaries to accommodate these owls in the area adjacent to the shop. This block of aviaries was built using some of the salvageable recycled materials from an old aviary.
October 2013 – Another wonderful bit of news we had applied to join Cornwall Association of Tourist Attractions (CATA) to help boost our visitor numbers. We were very excited to be accepted on a unanimous vote by all of the other large attractions and feel quite proud to be members as others attractions throughout Cornwall such as Eden Project, Crealy, Newquay Zoo and the Minack Theatre just to mention a few who will be promoting us at their attractions in the future.
November 2013 – At the end of November we received a Long Eared owl named ‘Rio Marley’ and a Vermiculated owl named “Dottie” from a lady in Somerset who had to give up her collection. It is lovely to have both these species back in our collection again.
May 2014 – Chris Brown the Bondi vet from Australia came along to the sanctuary with his team to film and perform some minor surgery. He decided to remove skin tags from Boris the Siberian Eagle owl’s eye. Now Chris our own vet has kindly taken over Boris’s care as he still has ongoing problems with eye ulcers.
December 2014 – We held our bi-annual Ethical Review meeting and “Harley” our dear African Spotted eagle owl was discussed. Sadly, Harley has suffered with arthritis in both of his feet for several years now and was closely monitored. We discussed that over the previous few months he had been spending most of his time on the floor in all weathers at the front of the aviary looking quite miserable, so the decision was unanimously made that the time had come for him to be peacefully put to sleep by our vet Chris. It was a very sad day and Rachel has buried him in the garden with all our other special creatures.
March 2014 – We were made life-long honorary members of the International Owl Society for our fundraising efforts of the past.
May 2014 – We held a big fund raising day for the Cornwall Hospice Care and managed to raise over £2000 which was great as this is a very important Organisation.
June 2014 – A nice new addition to our species is Kookie a young Laughing Kookaburra arrived to be trained up to join our falconry team, and was quite a character last season.
June 2014 – As some of our owls are now becoming quite elderly we decided at this year’s breeding season to keep several youngsters to be trained up for close encounters and the falconry team to give some of the old timers a little rest. These included “Di” a Boobook owl which we hadn’t bred for several years, “Kinniki” a British Barn owl and “Angel” an Ashy Faced Barn owl.
May 2015 – We held another big fund raising day for the Cornwall Hospice Care, and managed to raise over £1800 which was great as this is a very important Organisation.
June 2015 – We held our 25th celebration which was well attended by sponsors, invited guests and visitors and the day was hosted by Ian McNeice (Bert Large from Doc Martin). The Anniversary day was a huge success, and was attended by over 500 people including sponsors and long term supporters. The weather was glorious which was a great relief to us all, after all the preparation and hard work everyone put in beforehand.
November 2015 – Our most exciting achievement was to have won the gold Award for the small attraction category with Cornwall Tourism Awards. We also received recent notification that our entry for Screech Owl Sanctuary has been selected as one of the Winners in the Small Attraction of the Year category of this year’s South West Tourism Excellence Awards, as well as being selected to represent the region in the Small Visitor Attraction of the Year in the national Visit England Awards. Wow what a way to celebrate our 25th year we are so thrilled.
I really hope you have all enjoyed reading about our 25 year journey, and it has been very difficult to condense all of the exciting events along the way, and I have tried to give an over view of some of the highlights and milestone along the way.
We haven’t been able to mention all of our lovely owls which we have cared for over the 25 years, as this diary would be long enough to go around the sanctuary several times. So please don’t be disappointed if your favourite owl is not mentioned, it does not mean they are any less special or loved.
We very much hope to continue with our rescue and rehabilitation work and progress with the rebuilding of the older aviaries as time and funding allows. We are always trying to improve the site to give all our visitors a unique and special experience with us.
We would also like to take this opportunity of thanking all our sponsors and supporters, as without your help and support this Sanctuary would not be reaching this special milestone.
We would also like to say a special thank you to all of our staff both past and present who have been dedicated to the owls and our work we have tried to achieve.
Also a special thank you to our family who have made many sacrifices over the 25 year period whilst we have been engrossed in trying to make the sanctuary a success.