Former falconer’s 10-year ban from bird ownership

The former manager of the Barn at Beal birds of prey centre near Holy Island has been banned from owning birds for 10 years.

Thomas Burford, 22, was also handed to a nine-week suspended prison sentence and 150 hours of community service by Newcastle magistrates.

The court heard that Burford, of High Heaton in Newcastle, took over the running of the Barn at Beal in March last year after training as a falconer.

But his defence stated that his dream job soon became too much responsibility and care of the birds suffered as he subjected birds at the centre – and later his home – to neglect over a sustained period.

Burford pleaded guilty to nine charges of causing unnecessary suffering to birds, one of which related to barn owls and European eagle owls, both protected species.

The court heard the defendant had studied animal management, partly at Kirkley Hall and worked at Whitehouse Farm near Morpeth, for two years before he took over the bird of prey centre at the Barn at Beal.

But last summer, magistratres heard that a fellow falconer filmed Burford leading a display in which he encouraged a member of the public to drag a line along the ground, on which a bird had become entangled by its talons.

The falconer contacted Northumbria Police wildlife crime officer Colin Heath who visited the site in July.

He discovered birds at the centre were being kept in poor conditions, with faeces accumulating on their perches and some not having access to water, despite temperatures at the time reaching 23 degrees.

Furthermore, dead chicks which were to be fed to the birds were discovered crawling with maggots.

One creature was found lying on the ground and was later found to be suffering from a foot disease as a result of which it died. Another had an eye infection and others had damage to their feathers.

Burford also did not have the necessary paperwork to display the barn owls and European eagle owls.

In October, PC Heath searched Burford’s home and discovered a number of birds tethered to the floor – which was strewn with bird and dog faeces, as well as in the garden and garage, with no water or light.

Burford’s defence stated that he had too many birds to look after and that the situation was more about neglect than deliberate ill-treatment.

PC Heath said: “Despite Burford’s business being closed due to the conditions in which animals were being kept, he continued to keep animals at home in equally appalling conditions. This sentence should warn people who fail to ensure animal welfare, we will work with other agencies to take action against them and make sure they are dealt with by the courts.”