Culture: It's a hoot at Suffolk Owl Sanctuary
Looking for something to do this summer? Look no further than the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary – fun for all the family, while conserving
some of the most stunning creatures on earth. . .
Suffolk Owl Sanctuary, with its range of owls, birds of prey and meerkats, is a must-see for families this coming summer holiday.
Enjoy flying displays, take a peek inside the Raptor Hospital, quiz the falconers and explore the Discovery Centre where youngsters can take part in a Safari game.
See a number of captive-bred owls and other birds of prey which illustrate the diversity of species and highlight the need for the conservation of such beautiful creatures.
“This is best demonstrated with the flying display we give daily throughout the summer, which allows our commentary team to explain the lifestyle and character of each type of bird being flown – owls, falcons, hawks, buzzards,
eagles and vultures – while the birds fly free to show off their aerial prowess,” explained SOS trustee Chris Astridge.
Open daily throughout the year from 10am until 5pm (4pm in winter), it holds three flying displays daily between Easter and September at its Stonham Barns base near Stowmarket.
But creatures at SOS are not only of the feathered variety, make a visit to Meerkat Kastle where feeding sessions are held daily in the summer at 11am and 3pm (10am and 2pm in winter).
There’s always plenty for youngsters to see and do, with daily activities and competitions throughout the summer, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays there’s free face painting and magic events.
And while it provides a great family day out, the sanctuary is also playing a vital role in the conservation of endangered species.
Starting life in 1995 as the British Birds of Prey Centre, it changed its name to the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary (SOS) and registered as a charity five years later, in response to the growing need for support of injured or traumatised owls and other birds of prey in the region.
Drawing on the experience of falconers and The Raptor Trust, it’s aims were threefold.
> To rescue and rehabilitate injured birds
> To inform and educate the public about the need for conservation of endangered species like the Barn Owl
> To introduce youngsters to the importance of wildlife conservation by providing educational resources.
Not only has it fulfilled these aims, it continues to expand and develop them.
From barn, tawny, little and long-eared owls to peregrines, buzzards, kestrels and harriers, all are given a generous helping of TLC at the sanctuary. Ailments treated range from starvation and malnutrition, disease, poisoning, traffic accident injuries, being shot or trapped. Following rehabilitation, as many birds as possible are returned to their natural habitat.
Sadly, during the owl breeding season, SOS receives a steady flow of orphaned owls. But
they’re the lucky ones, because they get the care they need to nurture them to adulthood when they can be released.
Conservation is paramount, as Chris explains: “Conservation through propagation is also within our remit. When our colony of captive-bred owls or other birds of prey produces offspring surplus to requirements, these can be exchanged with other centres similar to our own.
“This is to ensure bloodlines can be preserved for breeding programmes designed to secure populations of endangered species for the future.”
The sanctuary also comes to the rescue of birds trapped in awkward situations, including slurry pits, fireplace chimneys and empty warehouses.
Its expertise on all things to do with the bird world mean its online advice service is always in demand. It’s had calls from South America, Burma, Russia and the Middle East, including a request from the captain of an oil supply vessel in the South China Seas with an injured bird which landed on its deck.
While much of its work is centred on its base, SOS also provides safe and secure roosting sites for birds whose natural habitats are threatened by modern land management, putting up nest boxes throughout mid-Suffolk.
Now, together with the Thornham Owl Project, it maintains and monitors 300 nest boxes.
But perhaps education is one of the sanctuary’s most important roles, ensuring the younger generation are made aware of the importance
of wildlife conservation to safeguard species from extinction.
The sanctuary hosts school visits throughout the year as well as taking its Wise Owl Roadshow out to schools and care homes. Teachers can also download packs with quizzes, tests and projects which are aligned to the national curriculum.
“Many people visit the Sanctuary not knowing quite what to expect, but once they see our birds in flight during the demonstrations and learn more about the lifestyles of their cousins in the wild, we feel our visitors leave enthused by what they’ve seen and with a better appreciation of the role wild birds of prey play in biodiversity and how very important their conservation is.”
Suffolk Owl Sanctuary is at Stonham Barns, Stonham Aspal (Call 03456 807897)
Suffolk Owl Sanctuary is funded entirely by the donations of visitors and supporters. For more information about what the sanctuary is all about, visit owl-help.