Interview with Jemima Parry-Jones about the International Centre for Birds of Prey

Date of the interview: 23 October 2009

Jemima Parry-Jones

Jemima Parry-Jones

Markus Jais: What is the ICBP?
Jemima Parry-Jones: The International Centre for Birds of Prey is a specialist zoological collection of just two taxa, Falconiformes and Strigiformes. In short we are a collection of raptors, open to the public and trying to achieve the following.

The promotion and conservation of Birds of Prey and their Habitats for both their benefit and that of the public, through, in particular but not exclusively: the advancement of public education and understanding in all parts of the world; continuing research into captive breeding; the accepting, treatment and rehabilitation of particularly but not exclusively, wild injured birds of prey; and research into all those aspects of raptor biology yet to be monitored and or understood

The Centre is to open to the general public for ten months of the year. Education is ongoing to all visitors as soon as they arrive. The Centre also undertakes more in depth education to specific groups and parties and offers off-site lectures and teaching.

The Centre continues its captive breeding aims; to research species; breed from species not previously understood; provide teaching and written information on captive breeding to anyone who requires it; maintain the Collection and provide birds for educational demonstrations.

The Centre undertakes and encourages non invasive research with the Collection, working with colleges and universities to provide access to the birds for research projects. The Centre also works with the National Birds of Prey Trust and the National Aviary Pittsburgh and many other groups and facilities to continue to support worldwide field research projects.

The Centre undertakes international conservation programmes wherever it can be of use with its specialist knowledge.

The Centre accepts and treats injured wild birds of prey on a regular basis.

Markus Jais: You are rehabilitating injured and sick birds. What species do you normally get and how many of them can be released back into the wild?
Jemima Parry-Jones: We take in all raptors brought to us, and on occasion go out to collect injured birds, but generally we don’t have the staff to collect. Usually it is liable to be raptors found locally, Common Buzzards, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels, Tawny Owls, Little Owls and the occasional Barn Owl and Peregrine, more rarely Hobby’s. We have had an Osprey and two Red Kites, and on occasion a Goshawk. I would guess that we get about 40% back to the wild. We have two first class vets, both of whom treat the wild birds for us, which makes a huge difference to what we can afford to do.

Markus Jais: You are doing a lot of public education. How important is this for the conservation of raptors?
Jemima Parry-Jones: Public education is vital for the conservation of anything in this beautiful and badly treated planet, without it we will never achieve anything. Educating the public in every country to appreciate and be proud of their landscapes and wildlife is crucial if we wish to keep them. We have lost so much already; it is only education that will stop the monster of destruction that we have let loose on the world.

Markus Jais: How is education done at the ICBP?
Jemima Parry-Jones: In the tradition of all good zoos, the whole of the International Centre is an educational facility. It is primarily concerned with the conservation of all birds of prey and their habitats in the UK and abroad. To that end, the Centre teaches, by way of example, demonstration and information, all aspects of the conservation, restoration and welfare of raptor populations. In the process, it is expected that more can be learned about the biology of these fascinating creatures than can ever be assimilated from books alone.

The education process is intended to target the needs and interests of a number of diverse groups. These can vary from individual day visitors to school and college groups, young people undertaking work experience, specialist groups and those on specific teaching courses. We assist in the practical education of more serious students of Veterinary Science and Animal Management, as well as in the training of Police Wildlife Officers. In addition, all the staff will learn more about the behaviour and breeding of the many species simply through the process of looking after them, although training of younger members is enhanced by working under the direction of those with greater experience. This knowledge is shared with many who never visit, be they other zoo organisations, raptor breeders, or the general public, through books, TV, radio and the internet. Our education programme aims, in that sense, to be truly global.

Verreaux's Eagle

Verreaux's Eagle, © Linda Wright

Aims

At any one time, the Centre will be catering simultaneously for the interests of different groups. School parties may be mingling with Day Visitors and the opportunities for learning must, as far as possible, meet the needs of all. In addition, our outreach to the wider public involves any strategy for which we have the resources, to enthuse, inform and encourage understanding of the conservation and welfare of raptors. The methods by which this is achieved are, of necessity, diverse.
  • For each and every visitor to the Centre to leave with a greater understanding of birds of prey
  • For all students on work experience to appreciate not only the birds they work with but the enormous amount of time and effort required when managing birds in captivity
  • For those who are going to be working in the medical or scientific fields with raptors to gain valuable experience, understanding for birds of prey.
  • To provide where possible written information to be available to all who need it whether or not they visit the Centre
  • To constantly be aware that management and staff at the centre always need to keep an open mind and keep learning
  • To regularly monitor all teaching methods and the visitors to see that we are achieving our aims.

Methods

Within the Centre itself:

Flying Demonstration

Flying Demonstration, © Jemima Parry-Jones

Flying Demonstrations:

All visitors have the opportunity to watch the three daily flying demonstrations, accompanied by a lecture given by several members of the bird staff. This may cover the biology and behaviour of the species being flown, any allied species, some training methods, and perhaps information on the individual animals. Extempore commentary on behaviour is inevitable since this cannot always be predicted, and it undoubtedly adds to the excitement of these events. Each demonstration is different, there being at least four groups of raptors showing their different flying techniques, and during any one day, visitors will see many more than this. The birds normally fly over an outdoor arena, but there are going to be facilities for indoor demonstrations if the weather is inclement. In either case, visitors see the birds quite closely.

Supporting school and college visits:

Account is taken of the age of the children and guided tours are provided on request so that specific topics may be emphasised, and the Centre staff are ready at all times to talk to visitors and answer questions.Later we intend having downloadable material for schools to be able to utilise once they have completed their visits

Centre Guide Book

Centre Guide Book, © Jemima Parry-Jones

The Centre Guide Book:

This is intended to be of general interest, including information about the Centre itself, but mainly containing information about the different family groups of birds of prey and owls, their geography and natural history. It is written in such a way that it continues to be useful and informative long after the visit is over.

Signs:

Each enclosure displays information about the species within it. This includes its specific and common name, its conservation status, some details of its breeding and feeding habits, and an indication of its global distribution by way of highlighted maps. Each group of enclosures houses a different family group of birds of prey or possible two family groups, and a large sign located close by will give more detailed information about the group, with illustrations and full sized silhouettes of the largest and smallest of the family. Other signs may indicate areas of special interest within the grounds, particularly concerning in-situ conservation measures such as nesting boxes and wild flowers.

Education Room

A building containing permanent displays is available for delivering more formal and structured teaching. This may be given by visiting teachers or Centre staff, although the displays are self-explanatory and to some extent interactive, and are available for all visitors. Covered veranda for class room experience in warmer weather is planned for the future.

Support for Work Experience Programmes:

Young people over 16 wishing to gain work experience are able to spend a week or more working at the Centre. They are supervised and trained by the permanent staff that looks after them.

College and University Students:

The Centre accepts students engaged in a number of different courses. Those studying animal management may come for one day a week for an extended period, while more advanced courses involve placements for up to a year, or they may stay for a shorter but more intense period of a few weeks to gain invaluable experience. They are encouraged to fulfill a written study while they are there. Veterinary and research students are also accepted, and they gain valuable practical experience by direct contact through looking after the birds, feeding and handling them, as well as visits to the specialist vet when needed.

Courses:

  • One and two day photography courses and days
  • One day falconry experience days for the completely uninitiated.
  • Two Day handling courses for Police Wildlife Liaison Officers, RSPB, RSPCA, Customs CITES officers and AQS staff.
  • Three Day Owl courses to teach people enough information to handle and keep owls without damaging the young birds.
  • Five Day training courses for those wanting to learn to train birds of their own.
  • Three Month training courses for Zoo staff
  • Three Month training courses for foreign staff working on conservation projects insitu

Outreach:

Visits to schools and colleges:

On request, we visit educational establishments to give talks, lectures and flying demonstrations. These are tailored to the needs of the students and the facilities available. They may range in content from the biology and behaviour of birds to the various conservation projects which we support and run, both here and abroad. Flying demonstrations may also be given at other public and outdoor venues such as County Shows.

ICBP publications

ICBP publications

Publications:

The Director of the NBPC has written a significant number of books, papers and articles about birds of prey. The readership - evidenced by feedback - is widespread, since subjects have encompassed falconry, bird biology, training and breeding. The Centre has provided much of the source material, as has its involvement with many conservation and rehabilitation projects around the world. In addition, we are contacted by the press and other media on those occasions when relevant issues become the subject of news and current events.

The director is working on writing three new books over the next two years.

Videos / DVD’s:

A number of training and educational videos and DVD’s have been made at the Centre and are available for distribution through its shop and via the internet. These are going to be updated and a new series made starting next year. Internet:

The website, like everything on the www, will make our endeavours, as well as knowledge about birds of prey, accessible to all. It will be a comprehensive site that will represent all aspects of the life and work of the new Centre and it will link to other sites of interest and relevance. Since its influence is inestimable, we strive to review and update it as much as our resources will permit. Our previous website won awards for educational excellence.

Telephone/ email enquiries:

We already advise and educate over the phone and on email many people who contact us with endless different queries from all over the world. Our website will provide information and papers free of charge to assist those who visit it. Our schools packs will aim to be available online.

Markus Jais: Some raptors like the Saker Falcon are endangered (among other things) because of the illegal trade with those birds. How serious a threat is the illegal trade for raptors around the world and for European species?
Jemima Parry-Jones: Although there is without doubt illegal trade in Sakers, there are many other problems that are causing their decline, electrocution, nest-site loss, shooting on migration, poisoning of their food source. It is probably fair to say that the only species affected by illegal trade is the Saker, but steps are being taken in the Middle East by falconers to mitigate this trade and stop the need for it. I have to say that I think the Legal trade in particularly the large raptors such as eagles and vultures is much more of a threat than illegal trade. Although in Africa bush meat and the trade in particularly vulture parts for medicine is of concern.

Markus Jais: What could and must be done to control the illegal trade and make sure raptor populations in the wild don't suffer?
Jemima Parry-Jones: I think that this is already being addressed, the illegal trade is not on the increase to my knowledge, as I said it is the change in the CITES European Annexes that I am far more concerned about.

Indian Tawny Eagle

Indian Tawny Eagle, © Linda Wright

Markus Jais: What can falconers to for raptor conservation and how should responsible falconry look like?
Jemima Parry-Jones: Falconers are already working in the raptor conservation field. Almost every captive breeding project has falconers either running it, or working in them. Without doubt all the knowledge of raptor husbandry and medicine has been gained because of and by falconers and falconry. Most of the rehabilitation in the UK is done by falconers or using falconry methods. Many of the birds used in falconry in the UK and most of Europe are captive bred birds, the UK leads the world in the captive breeding field, and has many sustainable populations of raptors used in falconry. Generally I believe that falconers are very aware of the need to behave responsibly and most do so. There will always be a small minority who do not, just as there are corrupt politians, corrupt policemen, teachers who abuse their trust, doctors and nurses who mistreat patiences, but generally we all believe that all these people are responsible. Often those breaking the laws are not falconers but people who think they can sell birds to falconers, usually completely the wrong species.

Markus Jais: Are you working together with other zoos and institutions?
Jemima Parry-Jones: Yes where we can and are needed we do so. We would always make ourselves available to any reputable zoo and institution that needed help and advice.

Markus Jais: When and where can people visit the ICBP?
Jemima Parry-Jones: We are based in Gloucestershire, just outside a small town called Newent.

Maps are better for finding us than satellite navigators which in my opinion are an abomination to mankind and remarkably inaccurate! Plus apparently they kill human brains that used to be able to use a simple map!

We are open seven days a week from February 1st to November 30th, there is much information on our website.

Markus Jais: On your website, you are looking for volunteers? How can volunteers help the ICBP and what can everyone else do?
Jemima Parry-Jones: The volunteers here are an amazing group of people that in the last year we could not have done without, they come in all weathers work alone or in a group, build, paint, clean, clear, do baths, paths, gardening and any other job there is with no complaints. In return we share the Centre with them and where possible teach them bird handling and allow them to work with the birds once they have proved their dedication and most of them are just wonderful. As to what everyone else can do, for us, help financially is the most crucial thing, we are not stable yet. Or come and add to the volunteer base. Or look to see what you can do to help the planet. If you look on my website at the PowerPoint programme on bottled water that will open your eyes. If everyone stopped using that bloody awful bottled water that costs a fortune, is no better than most tap water (depending on where you are) and is causing the most horrific problems of waste, the world would be a much better place. We are stopping selling any bottled water and all drinks in plastic bottles by the end of this year. Every step towards conserving what we have left is a step in the right direction, just don’t leave it too late

Markus Jais: Jemima, thank you very much for the interview

Further Information

Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds (BSPB)

Conservation of Imperial Eagle and Saker Falcon in Bulgaria