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Willow’s tale

NIGEL NELSON explains how a special bird’s rehab was nearly derailed

Willow: now much missed  © Ron ToftWillow: now much missed © Ron ToftIN THE June 15 issue, we visited Nigel and Jo Nelson at Bournemouth Bird Rescue, Rearing & Rehabilitation, and met Willow the tawny owl. Here Nigel tells her full story…

It was in about February last year that I applied to DEFRA/Animal Health at Bristol for an A10 for our tawny owl, Willow. I had been told that by law I didn’t need it, but wanted to be totally honest and above board. Several weeks passed before I got an answer from them and this was only after several emails.

They told me that they would be sending out an animal health inspector and a rehabilitator from Raptor Rescue to assess the bird and our efforts to release it. (Raptor Rescue is a specialist bird-of-prey rehabilitation charity.)

Now, we had already told Animal Health the story of Willow. She was found by a vet’s nurse under a wheelbarrow at her stables. She was very wet and cold and had a nasty respiratory infection, which made her bubble and crackle when breathing. She was half dead and seriously unwell.

We treated her, nursed her and fed her, and despite several close calls, today she is a fine example to her species. However, unfortunately, because of all the necessary handling to keep her going, she has of course become heavily imprinted, as owls generally do.

We also sent to them the letter from the vet saying that we should keep her as she was imprinted. This was apparently not good enough for Animal Health.

Now, as I’ve said, the only reason I asked for an A10 was to be 100 per cent above board. We stated that we had no intentions of selling, exhibiting or breeding from her. Still not good enough.

Another long wait and eventually a man came from Animal Health to inspect her. Long chat and he met Willow and seemed quite happy. Then a letter came from the same girl I’d been dealing with, saying that the inspector considered that the bird should be assessed by someone from Raptor Rescue with a view to being released. This rather got to me, as they were going to take away a bird we had worked hard on and become very attached to and give it to another rehaber, which is after all what we do.

I rang them and we had words. I told them I was not happy about Willow being taken away and that I was quite sure that if she was released she would surely starve!

What, I asked, would happen if they said that she couldn’t be freed? I was told that that would be up to Raptor Rescue. I said: “So they might put her to sleep?” I was told yes, they could do. I said: “So you think that it is better for a perfectly healthy bird to be put to sleep rather than have a good home with someone, just because it’s imprinted?”

Here’s the bombshell! Animal Health in Bristol Licensing Office told me: “Yes, I could show you it to you. I have the directive here in front of me in black and white!”

That was enough. The next day, having been warned that they were going to turn up on Friday 13th (of May) to get her, I took her over to Wessex Bird of Prey Rescue in Poole. This centre is registered with Raptor Rescue and have promised to look after her and let nothing nasty happen to her. So I pre-empted what they wanted, only she went where I wanted her to go rather than to just anyone.

So all’s well that ends well for Willow, we hope. But was it really necessary? I found their attitude appalling and unhelpful to the point of rudeness. The worst thing was that all the way through this they continually referred to Willow as “the disabled bird in your care”, just because she was imprinted.


Nigel Nelson runs Bournemouth Bird Rescue, Rearing & Rehabilitation with his wife Jo. To read more about their work, see: http://bournemouthbirdrescue.webs.com/


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