Photo Gallery: Fritton Owl Sanctuary stages grand opening
- Credit: Nick Butcher
They are the silent, stealthy hunters of the night – the thing of nightmares for every small rodent.
But while owls are more often seen than heard, they play a vital role in the delicate balance of our countryside and there is growing concern over the alarming decline suffered by many species.
It is against this backdrop that Mark Weston and Louise Thorpe have opened a new centre at Fritton to care for owls – and for other birds of prey – that are rescued or unwanted.
On Sunday, the Fritton Owl Sanctuary – which currently has 11 birds in its care – will be staging a grand opening.
Visitors will be able to see an eight-week-old African spotted eagle owl called Bumble, Amber, a beautiful European eagle owl, little owls Toffee and Fudge and Fluke the barn owl.
The new centre is located within the grounds of Fritton Plant Centre in Beccles Road, opposite Fritton Lake.
Mr Weston and Mrs Thorpe both previously worked within other areas of the plant centre, but decided to team up to launch the new sanctuary which they have been busy planning and developing since last year.
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Mrs Thorpe, 38, who lives in Beccles, said: 'We started building the premises in September.
'When we first started, we only had two birds but with the weather being as it has been, we now have 11 birds.
'Our main focus is on the owls, but we do take in other birds of prey. We had a Harris Hawk when we first started developing the centre but it is now living with Hawking Experience (based in Acle).
'We are currently working at the sanctuary seven days a week to look after the birds in our care.'
Five of the 11 birds being cared for at the sanctuary are barn owls – four of which were rescued. The other owl is taken around local schools to help teach children about the much-loved species which has suffered a population decline as a result of pesticide use but is now making something of a comeback.
Mrs Thorpe said the four rescued barn owls were in a bad way when they arrived at the sanctuary but the birds were now reaping the rewards of their care, having slowly regained their strength.
'We've had them from only a few weeks old,' she said.
'When whey were rescued, they were all in an appalling condition. They did not know how to feed and we had to sit up with them during the night to ensure they were fed and build them up – and now we believe two of them may be sitting on eggs.'
The sanctuary's other residents include both native and foreign species. Among them are two little owls – one of which is blind in one eye – two burrowing owls, an African spotted eagle owl and an European eagle owl.
Mrs Thorpe added: 'There are also lots of other things for people to take a look at here, including the plant centre, pet centre and indoor market, so hopefully people will come along and support us.
'We'll be looking at starting an adopt an owl scheme soon and there are activities for the children to enjoy.
'But we are voluntary, having set up the sanctuary off our own backs, so we do rely on donations and need continued help with the birds' food supplies and maintenance of the enclosures.'
Mrs Thorpe said all captive, donated owls that were either unwanted pets or needed additional care would remain with the sanctuary.
One of the owls had been left by an elderly man who could no longer look after it, but Mrs Thorpe said that any owners who had handed over pets would be welcome to visit the centre at any time.
Owls that had been injured in the wild and were now being nursed back to health would eventually be released back into the wild.
She added: 'There is no timescale on this – it all stems around the bird's recovery and how bad the bird's injuries were in the first place.'
If you find an injured owl in the wild, it can be taken to Fritton Owl Sanctuary as the centre is open seven days a week – or alternatively visit the centre's page on Facebook where there is a contact number.
'We do not sell on any of the birds and, if we do take any in, our only concern is to ensure they are properly cared for,' Mrs Thorpe said..
'If everything goes well, our hope for the future is to expand to run our own falconry.'
The Fritton Owl Sanctuary will be hosting its grand opening event on Sunday. It will then open daily. Admission is free, with donations welcome.