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  Inside Out - South: Monday June 30, 2003


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Owl on a perch
Inside Out exposes cruelty at an owl sanctuary
Watch the whole story

An Inside Out undercover investigation team exposes the appalling conditions at one of Britain's most popular bird parks.

The New Forest Owl Sanctuary, which claims to house the largest collection of owls in Europe, is visited by thousands of schoolchildren every year.

But Inside Out reveals how birds that have been brought in by the public are mistreated and killed.

Inside Out sent an undercover researcher to work as a volunteer at the sanctuary.

"As a bird lover, I was sickened by some of the secret filming," says Chris Packham.

"This is supposed to be a sanctuary, a safe haven, but we know that they have killed healthy birds."


According to sanctuary manager Chris Milsom, hundreds of birds were killed

Former members of staff told Inside Out that unwanted or injured birds were regularly killed by knocking their heads against a hard surface.

"In the ten years I was there, hundreds of birds were knocked," says former sanctuary manager Chris Milsom.

"The owner used to say, get it done, take it out the back and knock it."

Terry Garrard took over as manager after Mr Milsom and found out about the sanctuary's euthanasia policy.

He was told that two barn owls had been "knocked" on a concrete step because they had conjunctivitis.

"Conjunctivitis is an easily treatable condition," said Mr Garrard. "I couldn't believe it was happening, so I confronted the owner.

"He said that's the way it has always been done."

The owner, Bruce Berry, denies that birds have ever been "knocked" at the sanctuary. He says that birds are always killed by lethal injection with drugs supplied by the vet.

Undercover filming

The BBC's secret filming proves that hawks and owls are still being killed in other ways. One current member of staff admits that he shoots injured birds with an air rifle.

Jemima Parry-Jones who runs the National Bird of Prey Centre was horrified by the footage

Bruce Berry denies all the allegations, but declined to be interviewed for the programme.

In a statement, he said that the sanctuary had recently passed its zoo inspection and that this negates some of the allegations.

The BBC has shown its undercover footage to the chairman of the Zoo Forum, the body which advises the Government on standards in zoos.

Jemima Parry-Jones, who also runs the National Bird of Prey Centre, was horrified by the way birds were treated.

"The whole attitude of these people is so wrong," she said. "They shouldn't be working with birds at all.

"If any zoo inspector had seen the things that I have seen, then there is no way they would ever have passed a zoo inspection. It shouldn't be open to the public."

See also ...

BBC: Nature - Birds

On the rest of the web
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
The National Birds of Prey Centre
World Wildlife Fund

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

I have been rescuing wildlife for over 40 years and run wildlife conservation projects in Northamptonshire. Sadly these incidents are becoming more frequent and sadly it seems to be the so called bird of prey rescue centres that let real bird sanctuaries down.

There have been one or two cases where certain centres have killed injured birds of prey and sold the carcasses on for taxidermy. It will sadly be these so called sanctuaries that put an end to the true sanctuaries.

We do not open to the public, we do not display wild injured birds, our work in the true sense is rehabilitation and release. Many of our aviaries are secluded to give NO human contact to birds almost ready for release, I wish we could see the programme to see if the allegations are true.

Andy Meads AKF
Safewings Wildlife Conservation Projects, Northants

Sarah Williamson
I was shocked and appalled by the hypocrisy of Mr. Berry senior and his 2 sons. When wild birds have "friends" like this, they don't need enemies. I hope these horrible people are banned from running any kind of bird sanctuary for good. Thank you to Inside Out for this exposure.

Wendy Murray
i was a volunteer for the sanctuary within the last couple of years and can confirm some of the birds were not looked after as they should of been for eg an eagle owl called "Chunky" had bumble foot he was just bandaged, the areas where some of the birds were kept were disgusting the smell was awful. the birds were also unfed one day per week and i was told not to tell the public.

Dorothy Williams
Maybe the RSPB could spare a worker/volunteer to monitor what is happening. If Mr Berry is being honest he should have no problems with this type of set-up. Zoo inspecters are only able to attend some of the time what appears to be needed is a permanent person with no financial interest.

David & Madeleine Potter
Ref the Owl Sanctuary report very schocked to learn of this cruelty my wife and i visited this sanctuary in Sept 2000 we also made a three hour video while there. We can't understand how it is possible for any Vet to show any member of the public how to inject animals to kill them, i thought that only a Vet was quallified to do this.

we do hope that the people concerned who are running this Owl Sanctuary are prosocuted and all the wild life looked after properly please keep up the good work and keep us informed.

what a load of rubbish your programme was. you filled us in with a load of outright lies.

the owl sancuary does brillant work and all the staff there are brilliant themselves and ALL the volanteers are dedicated to these birds. stop and ask yourselfs why these volenteers who aren't paid would give up there time to work in a place with birds they love if they where miss treated quite simply beacuse its not true!

Ollie Watts
Both my husband and I work at the Owl Sanctuary as volunteers. There is no cruelty or neglect there. Everyone works hard to ensure the birds have the best possible lives, this may not be perfect but it is the best that the money and time available allow.

You have done your best to destroy something you know nothing about, but I am pleased to say that most people can see through your deceptive ways, and continue to give their support to the sanctuary.

Maureen & Barry Hudd
We watched the programme about the New Forest Owl Sanctuary and were horrified by its content. We are very interested in owls and locally we watch them quietly at night in the wild.

We have visited the NFOwl Sanctuary on a few occasions believing it to be a place which genuinely cared for the birds, we even adopted an owl and get a card from 'our' owl at Christmas and a newsletter.

We hope that there will be an urgent review by RSPCA and RSPB. We are members of RSPB and shall be writing to them with our concern. Thank you for highlighting this serious situation.

As much as I would like to believe these allegations were not true, unfortunatley the camera doesn't lie. I am appalled at what I have seen and suggest that the management of the sanctuary should be taken over by qualified personnel who would care for the animals rather than the profit margins.

Geoff Jones
I was appalled at the contents of Chris' article! Something has to be done to either close down the New Forest owl 'sanctuary' but at the very least the place should be immediately re-inspected by the relevant authorities.

It is extremely upsetting to think that people like this can run a so called sanctuary and treat birds with such ibvious cruelty.

The general public should be informed and if they were I am certain that the 'sanctuary would have fewer visitors.

What a terrible way to treat birds - particularly the way that some are permanently tied up. Surely people should have the necessary qualifications to run these centres and the premisies and birds/animals should undergo regular, rigorous inspections. Something has gone horribly wrong here.

There wasn't enough evidence. I know somebody who works there and we discovered that over half of the things said were not true.?

Michelle Steele
I was extremely shocked to see this article on your program. I actually did work expereince for two weeks at the sanctuary in Februrary this year and I simply cannot beleive how different the staffs attitude was from when I met them.

I understand that the conditions of some of the birds is rather poor, as they do not have a lot of money, but still, I wish something should be done about it.

I also picked up on your point about them not flying every bird every day... a spectalced owl in one of the mews (named Donut) did not fly at all when I was there and I heard he hasn't flown at all up till now.

I do not wish any of the staff or the sanctuary to get into trouble, but I just I had to express my feelings on this matter.

John Lockyer
This is a very serious issue, of much concern to local people, who have been very unhappy about this sanctuary for many years. It was most unfortunate that such an important programme was rescheduled due to the tennis. Numerous friends have phoned us because, although they set their videos, when they cane to watch it, it was just tennis.

Please will you reshow this programme at an early date, because the issues raised are so important.

Inside Out Webteam's response.

In response to reshowing the programme, the entire Owl Sanctuary story can be watched online by clicking the link on this page.

Best Wishes.

I am so pleased you have aired the dreadful conditions of this "sanctuary". I visited there when living locally, and it did not "feel " or "look" right, but did not know why.

Now you have exposed Bruce Berry, can you not get the place shut down legally?It doesn't matter how rare a bird is, we have no right to lock it in a cage for humans to gawp at. Appalling.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald
I think that what you have done was totally unreasonable. You made it look like you have evidence but my brother is working there and knows they are kept well and are excersised regulary.

Mr and Mrs M Mitchell
We have watched the programme tonight about the Owl Santuary( we use this term losely). Thankyou Chris and team for bringing this horrible place to the countrys bird lovers.

These people should be banned for having anything to do with birds wild or tame. And hope that the goverment steps in and removes their rights to be called a "zoo".

Also we hope that these poor creatures will end their days in a better enviroment where they can live out their days.

Gayle Hope
This story is absolute rubbish. I am a regular visitor to the owl sanctuary and the birds are well kept and cared for. I also know 2 current members of staff who often have injured birds at home with them so they are getting 24 hour care.

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