AN OWL IS NOT JUST FOR HALLOWEEN
By Ann Evans
Photos courtesy of Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography
Somewhere an owl hooted! And quite probably it came from the Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary based in the heart of Nuneaton. Here, Geoff Grewcock has dedicated his life to rescuing injured, sick and abandoned wildlife; nursing animals and birds back to health, and wherever possible releasing them back into their natural habitat.
Currently, Geoff and his team have barn owls, tawny owns, penguin owls in their care, plus three magnificent European Eagle Owls – the world’s largest owl species; and a beautiful Great Grey Owl, which can equal the size of the Eagle Owl with a 6ft wingspan.
The Eagle Owls and the Great Grey Owls all came from private owners, and will remain with Geoff for life – which he is very happy about, as the relationship he has built up with these magnificent birds is a delight to see. The Great Grey Owl came to him as a 7-week-old chick, and now at 27 weeks old was looking particularly spectacular.
Geoff started the Nuneaton & Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary in 2001. Forced into retirement through an injury at work he felt compelled to create a wildlife sanctuary in his back garden, after hearing of an injured swan due to be put down because there was nowhere for it to rest and recuperate.
Since then, Geoff has had an amazing 32,500 wild animals and wild birds through his doors. The majority he has managed to save and either release back into the wild, find suitable homes for, or has kept. Although there has inevitably been the sad stories, when an animal or bird has been too badly hurt, or too sick to pull through.
There probably isn’t a wild species that Geoff hasn’t handled over the years, and the list includes, deer, badgers, foxes swans, buzzards, hawks, geese, snakes, tarantulas, skinks, hedgehogs, rabbits, hares – the list goes on. Not all the creatures he’s cared for have been native to the UK, but were escaped – or possibly, released, unwanted pets. For example a red tailed boa constrictor found in a hanging basket; a bearded dragon lizard, an unwanted tarantula and a python dumped in a cardboard box, to name but a few. Often his rescue stories have made the headlines in national newspapers and on TV.
As a kind-hearted animal lover, it’s not surprisingly, that Geoff also has rescue dogs, all of which had very difficult starts in life, yet each has become particular friends with various wild creatures that have come in. For example, Jasmine the greyhound and Bramble the roe deer. Geoff explained. The 2-week old roe deer’s parents had been killed and there was little hope that the fawn would survive. What usually happens with young deer in this kind of situation is that they get stressed out and basically die of fright.”
Geoff put the little fawn in his hospital unit, where immediately, one of his rescue dogs, Jasmine a rescue greyhound, settled down with Bramble, licking him as its mother would have done, and so keeping him calm. “Bramble made a remarkable recovery, he didn’t show any signs of stress, and the two became the best of friends.”
Sadly, Jasmine passed away through natural causes quite recently, which was a terribly sad time for Geoff, his team and family. But Bramble now has a new bed-fellow, Sage, a turkey. “Bramble won’t go to bed unless Sage lies down with him,” said Geoff.
As a father and grandfather, Geoff’s natural affinity with animals and birds gains the trust of injured and frightened animals in quite amazing ways. The story of Roxy the Fox that Geoff takes for walkies on a lead, made headline news, gained TV coverage and has millions of views on Utube.
Visiting the sanctuary this week, which is always a pleasure, we again met Roxy and another domesticated fox, Raven. Geoff explained why he still has Raven. “Apart from Roxy, Raven is the only fox we haven’t been able to release back into the wild. At three days old, she was spotted by a bus driver who saw, what he thought were ravens attacking it. They were actually crows, but the name Raven stuck.
“We hand-fed and reared this tiny cub, and over the months she became very close to one of my dogs, Buster. When the time came to release her into a safe area, she didn’t want to go. And when we got back into the van and started to drive off, I looked through the mirror to see her running behind us! Obviously I stopped, opened the van door, and in she jumped. She and Buster just love playing together. And that’s the way it will stay!”
Geoff and his team of volunteers are on call 24/7 every day of the year, and practically every day brings new challenges – and new heartaches when creatures have been deliberately shot, poisoned or harmed. Once an injured or sick creature is safely back in the sanctuary it may mean constant nursing day and night. When we visited, Geoff was out rescuing a muntjac deer that had got stuck between railings. The call-out had been successful, and he’d managed to prise the railings wide enough for the deer to make its escape none the worse for its adventure.
Through the generosity of the public the sanctuary now has two ambulances to cope with call-outs, one being fully equipped to cope with any emergency with tools such as jacks to open metal bars, which he’d used that morning; nets, graspers, anything in fact to enable him to rescue an animal or bird in need of help.
For Geoff and his team, the best part is when an animal or bird has fully recovered and is strong and healthy enough to fend for itself in the wild again. Geoff said, “We only release animals back into the wild if it’s a safe area, where they won’t be hunted. If it’s not safe, we don’t release them. But when we do release a now healthy bird or animal back into its natural habitat, it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world.”
With the sanctuary almost 15 years old, the hospital unit where every animal, bird or reptile is first checked over, is desperately in need of replacing. He’s currently trying to raise the £6,000 to purchase a new unit. The hospital is also where the more exotic creatures are housed, such as tarantulas, snakes and reptiles including an affectionate blue tongued skink and Marmite, a friendly 12-year-old boa constrictor.
Two work experience young ladies, Kit Baillie and Lauren Steadmen were on hand caring for 30 baby hedgehogs when we visited. “Some were particularly unwell,” said Kit, who was nursing a tiny baby hedgehog. “We’ve had to treat some for ringworm, fleas and ticks, now we’re just trying to get them back to good health. These are so young however that they won’t be able to hibernate, so we’ll need to keep them here through the winter.”
Geoff is very grateful for his volunteers and fundraisers, his work experience students and his family for their help. Also Albion Vets of Market Bosworth who provide the sanctuary with medical support.
HALLOWEEN OPEN DAY
On Saturday 31st October 2015, There’s a Halloween Open Day at the Wildlife Sanctuary from 12 noon – 4pm, where you can meet Geoff, his team of helpers and his animals and birds and learn more about Britain’s wildlife. Geoff said, “People can come and meet the animals and we’ll be on hand to answer anyone’s questions to do with wildlife.”
HELP SUPPORT THE WARWICKSHIRE WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Without public support this fantastic work helping Britain’s wildlife cannot survive. They are currently desperate to raise £6,000 so they can replace the hospital unit. And they are constantly in need of donations of blankets, towels, animal and bird food. There’s an Amazon wish list on their website along with other ways to donate and support.
Warwickshire Wildlife Sanctuary,
78 Oaston Road,
Nuneaton, CV11 6LA
Telephone 024 76 345243