Man forced to stop walking owls by busy Plymouth road

A 74-year-old Devon man is "gutted" after being asked to stop walking his owls by a busy Plymouth road.

A Devon man has been asked to stop walking his owls in a town centre after someone reported him.

Police referred the matter to Plymouth City Council who said Russell Burt's pets could be a danger to the public and traffic.

For the past few years, the 74-year-old from Plympton has regularly taken the birds to the local shopping area at Ridgeway.

"I really feel a bit gutted," Mr Burt told BBC News.

"The owls enjoy going out and about and everybody loves seeing them," he said.

"Now because somebody thinks they shouldn't be out by day I can't do it any more."

Start Quote

Unusually loud noise, as is entirely possible at the very edge of a busy highway, could distress the animal”

End Quote Plymouth City Council

Mr Burt's collection includes barn owls, spotted eagle owls, a tawny owl and an African white faced scoptail.

He usually takes one, or occasionally two, to the pedestrianised St Stephen's Place on the Ridgeway, where people can stop to look at the owls.

Any donations he receives are given to the local Woodside Animal Sanctuary.

Mr Burt has a licence, the birds are tethered, he has public liability insurance and the owls have never been involved in an accident.

Despite this, the council has asked him not to walk them on the Ridgeway after a member of the public told police the owls should be sleeping during the day.

"The council told me 'you're not allowed to take them on the public highway because they're a danger to the public and also to traffic', so that was that I can't do it no more cause I don't want to go to jail," he said.

He will, however, be able to continue taking the owls to visit residential homes or local shows and fetes.

Mr Burt with one of his owls The council insists its concerns are over the birds' welfare next to a busy road

More than 100 people have signed an online petition which has been set up calling on the council to overturn its decision.

Plymouth City Council said owls in the wild are normally nocturnal and there could be welfare issues about exposing them to city environments.

In a statement, a council spokesperson said: "The real thing to clarify here is that we have in no way imposed a ban upon the activities of this gentleman.

"Instead we have simply asked that he find a different way to transport his owls rather than walking them directly alongside one of the busiest roads in the city.

"The core issue for us is that our animal protection experts are worried that a sudden and unusually loud noise, as is entirely possible at the very edge of a busy highway, could distress the animal."

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