Discarded birds add to animal rescue centre's workload
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
CHICKENS, geese and ducks are being dumped at a dale rescue centre as a result of the recent outbreak of bird flu.
Poultry is being left at the gates of Wetheriggs Animal Rescue and Conservation Centre, near Greta Bridge, on an almost daily basis.
This has sparked concern for the safety of the birds and motorists alike because it is feared some of the fowl could stray onto the nearby A66.
Under current regulations all poultry across all England must be housed indoors.
Centre operator Terry Bowes said: “We have had two outbreaks [of bird flu] close to us at Northallerton and Hawes. We have had to bring all of our fowl indoors.
“The outbreak has given rise to people dumping chickens, ducks and geese on us. It is one problem after another.
“We had a number of cockerels dumped on us – they don’t know where they are going and they could wander onto the A66.”
He believes a combination of factors may have led to people leaving their poultry at the centre, including not having facilities to bring their birds indoors in line with regulations, or finding themselves on hard times because of the coronavirus pandemic and not being able to afford to look after the animals.
He said the outbreak had come from waterfowl migrating from Scandinavian countries and was likely to continue until they leave again in late winter or early spring.
The outbreak is just another problem faced by the rescue centre, which has seen its income cut severely because it was closed for much of last year.
Of the six open days it is allowed to stage in any given 12 months, it was only been able to host one in 2020.
Open days are the only time that the public is allowed to view the centre’s more exotic animals such as meerkats, birds of prey, reptiles and foxes. Mr Bowes said: “They are a big fundraiser for us.
“We were closed for the school holidays – we get 75 to 80 per cent of our income during school holidays.
“The big thing is the cash – we still have rent to pay, we still have vets to pay, we have the wages for two full-time staff, our head keeper and our administrator, and we still have the costs of running our two vans to rescue animals.”
Fortunately, the 1,000 animals housed at the centre have been well nourished thanks to donations of fresh vegetables and fruit from Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Tesco supermarkets, and animal feed from the public.
Mr Bowes said: “It was costing us about £2,500 a week to operate, but with that help we need just over £1,800. It has knocked a hole in what we need to find each week.”
Another source of income – the sale of rare breeds of poultry that are incubated at the site – has also taken a knock during the winter months as hens lay fewer eggs.
Among the breeds incubated are one of England’s oldest variety, the red Dorking, and one of the country’s rarest, the Sicilian buttercup.
Even with a monthly Government grant of £667 while its doors are closed, the centre continues to limp financially from month to month.
Mr Bowes said: “It doesn’t even cover the wage bill for a week. At the end of this month [December] we have enough to last until the end of January – that is not bad considering where we have been some of the time.”
To help visit wetheriggsanimalrescue.co.uk or ring 01833 627444.