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Keith and Jackie's flight of fancy
Owners Keith and Jackie with Carl Hester
Owners Keith and Jackie with dressage rider Carl Hester.
Last updated: 03 February 2005 0931 GMT
line The National Birds of Prey Centre, just outside Newent, is home to around 180 birds of prey including eagles, owls, falcons, vultures and hawks...
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Secretary Bird
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Listen to BBC Radio Gloucestershire's Anna Pidgeon as she visits the National Birds of Prey Centre Audio

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Snowy Owl

The centre, which was recently relaunched under new management, is now hoping that people will flock to see some magnificent birds of prey close up. New owner Keith Beaven explains:

"We have nearly 30 species of owls ranging from ones that weigh three or four ounces through to ones that weigh eight to ten pounds. We have another 20 of the large species - eagles, hawks, buzzards, kites - so it's a huge, wide spread. Some of the larger species will eventually become what we hope will be our breeding projects, part of conservation. Then we have the birds here that we have rescued and that have been rehabilitated in our hospital unit, being cared for prior to being released."

Photo Gallery
(Official relaunch photos)

Photo Gallery
(These Birds Bite! - Part 1)

Photo Gallery
(These Birds Bite! - Part 2)

Impressive collection

It's one of the most impressive collections of birds of prey in Britain with numerous species of owls, eagles and hawks. The Centre has also plays a major part in the captive breeding of many species and continues to be involved in breeding and conservation of many important species. Keith explains their future plans and which species they're going to be focusing on:

"I think all zoos are involved in conservation in some form or other. In our case we will breed to replace some of our own birds. We'll breed species that we'll give to other zoos and they'll have different species which they'll give to us - that also keeps the gene pool nicely mixed.

We're going to try and get involved with the sea eagles. Another zoo might be involved with breeding African White Back Vultures or Indian White Back Vultures, which are endangered. I wouldn't say the species we're dealing with are necessarily endangered, but they're rare enough species that they warrant conservation status.

There was already a rather large [breeding] programme here but it does take a long time if you think that an eagle doesn't really breed until it's four or five years of age. They're dreadful parents so you can have a fertile egg and they'll smash it. Even if you take the egg away and put it back; once the egg has hatched, they could ignore the chick and not take it out and feed it. Then it doesn't survive as well. So there's all those sort of considerations. Conservation is a long, long term project."

Changes

Eagle

Since taking over, Keith and Jackie Beaven have introduced some changes at the centre, including a new pets' corner and upgraded aviaries to make the birds more comfortable in their environment. Keith reveals their new additions to the place:

"We've put stones and shingle, plants and climbers that really replicate where the birds were living. In other words we haven't put a desert dwelling cactus species in the Amazon rainforest and vice versa! The aviaries we've done probably replicate more their own natural environment - taking off the roofs, making them more airy, more light so the birds can sit in the rain if they want. They can sit in the sunlight if they want and yet give them shade if necessary.

They probably won't care as long as they're fed but I know that when my wife and myself walked down, we would feel happier that we've done our bit for the birds. I hope the visitors go away with exactly the same thoughts."

Relaunched

Secretary Bird

After three months preparing the centre for reopening, Keith is relieved that it's now open and the visitors are coming through the gates. He says:

"I think it's a relief after three months of being closed, making the alterations, trying to make a difference - for, really, my wife and I to put our stamp on the centre. Most of it was cosmetic in the environment and replicating their natural habitat, so it's not huge differences.

To see the people walking around is great. Of course, some of the people walking around are long-time members and supporters of the centre. Some have been members for 30 plus years. The great thing is that they'll go away and say to people 'yes, there are differences there'.

That's not to imply that prior to my buying the centre that the birds were in any hardship - they were well fed, well kept and well housed. But I needed to change the environment primarily also because of the requirements of a zoo licence, which is what we are. Now the demands are that the birds have to be kept in a specialised environment.

That's really what I hope we've done and the people walking around now should be able to appreciate it."

Life changing

Keith with an eagle

Taking on the centre has meant Keith has had to say goodbye to his previous business, which was running his own stable. You could say it was a life changing decision but it was something he was keen to do, he says:

"Having sold my original business, which was horses, I've effectively changed hooves and hair for feet and feathers. I've always had an interest in birds of prey, then the opportunity came. We hadn't come out to see it. We actually drove out for Sunday lunch, my wife and I, then we saw that this place was on the market in the paper. We turned the car around, came back for a look and here we are."

It's a bit of a change to swap horses for birds, but, as he says, he'd always had an interest in birds of prey. Keith explains:

"Previous to this I attended some falconry days, I watched it with interest when I went to county shows and that. I'd always intended, because I had the land, to have some birds of my own but the problem was that birds are seven days a week - they're rather like horses. Horses are seven days a week, 24 hours a day so to have had that running in tandem with the birds was not really an option. For me it was better to leave it until I had time so now it's going to be full time."

And does Keith have any regrets about changing horses for birds of prey? He replies:

"None at all. I think the quality of life here will be better for me than what I had to do before."

Photo Gallery
(Official relaunch photos)

Photo Gallery
(These Birds Bite! - Part 1)

Photo Gallery
(These Birds Bite! - Part 2)

Birds of Prey video clips

Little Owl   Little Owl - Clip One
Watch the video

Little Owl   Little Owl - Clip Two
Watch the video

Eagle Owl   Eagle Owl - Clip One
Watch the video

Eagle Owl   Eagle Owl - Clip Two
Watch the video

Eagle Owl   Eagle Owl - Clip Three
Watch the video

Secretary Bird   Secretary Bird - Clip One
Watch the video

Secretary Bird   Secretary Bird - Clip Two
Watch the video

Secretary Bird   Secretary Bird - Clip Three
Watch the video

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AUDIO
Anna Pidgeon visits the
National Birds of Prey Centre

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More information

The National Birds of Prey Centre, just outside Newent, is open seven days a week from February until October 2005.

For more information about opening times and what's on offer there, check out the Centre's website.

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