Birds of prey centre in Yorkshire may have to cut conservation work as others may be forced to close to cover 'excessive' administration rules being proposed by Defra

A birds of prey centre in North Yorkshire has warned it may have to cut back on conservation work in order to keep up with administration tasks being outlined in new proposals by DEFRA.

Charlie Heap, director of the award winning National Centre for Birds of Prey (NCBP) in Helmsley, says small zoos across the UK are facing an ‘existential threat' and may even face closure as a result of the suggested 'excessive and unnecessary administration and unsubstantiated rule changes' in a new set of Zoo Standards proposed by DEFRA last week.

Whilst the new rules will apply to all zoos, the additional burden of cost and administration will bear most heavily on smaller establishments, many of whom may be forced to close, he said.

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His fears that being able to watch birds of prey displays may also become a thing of the past come as training techniques - that have been crafted and refined by falconers for thousands of years - will be banned under the same batch of proposals.

A falcon pictured in front of the house at Duncombe Park.

Mr Heap, whose Helmsley centre sits in Duncombe Park, said: “The extra paperwork burden is significant. Eighty five files will be required for the three yearly inspection. Some of those files could contain 100 separate documents and include a level of detail such as the waste processes of the vets you use.

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"Whilst there’s no denying that some zoos are not good enough, the existing Zoo Standards should be enough to deal with them, if DEFRA’s inspectors are well-trained and actually take appropriate action with individual establishments when needed. Punishing the good ones is counterintuitive.”

Of the changes to techniques he added: "Bizarrely, DEFRA claim this ban is all in the name of welfare - yet not a single study has ever been done by the British Veterinary Zoological Society into any detriment to the welfare of raptors trained using these soon to be banned techniques, which date back thousands of years. Well-known and well-regarded vets and falconers are dismayed at these proposals.

Charlie Heap, director of the National Centre for Birds of Prey (NCBP) in Helmsley, with one of the organisation's impressive collection of birds - the Steller’s Sea Eagle.

“Whilst this legislation is only at the consultation stage, it is fairly clear by the wording that DEFRA have made their mind up and we suspect that the consultation is nothing other than box-ticking. On the back of the pandemic, which hit zoos hard, this really is a very worrying development.”