Last Friday (the 14th of October 2016) we celebrated our 7 year birthday. The day passed in a blur of Half Day Experience and Owl Handling sessions plus the rush of voucher sales from our fantastic flash sale. The whole day I rushed around like a blue bottomed fly and only briefly stopped to enjoy a chocolate biscuit (the cakes came later over the weekend!!). But throughout it all I was very aware of just how far we had come. For the first hour and a half of the morning I spent the time cleaning and scrubbing the aviaries, a task when we started that would have taken half an hour at the most.
With just five birds, 3 Harris hawks, a barn owl and Billie Jean the European Eagle Owl and 3 ferrets I arrived cream crackered and exhausted on the 24th of September to Ladds Garden Village. I was looking for somewhere just to keep my birds as I tried to get used to the fact that I had just made the decision to sell my previous business in Shropshire, Hawks on Walks, and move back to Berkshire to be closer to my family. Living in the centre of Maidenhead I couldn’t keep the birds at my mums house and I had worked at Ladds when I was 15 years old so I knew it was a perfect location. The landlord was fantastically accommodating and loved the idea of having birds on site. Locked behind gates, in the old skip and rubbish area I cared for my birds whilst trying to figure out what on earth I was going to do with life. I had £2500 (selling the business money) in my pocket, no job, no house and 5 birds that I loved so fiercely it didn’t even cross my mind that I might have to choose a life without them.
About a week later Barry came to me and asked what I thought about opening the gate so that the public could see the birds. At first I wasn’t sure. Welfare is always my top priority and it would mean being with the birds whilst the public was around which limited my job prospects, but I saw it as an opportunity to perhaps expand on the Hawk Walks I had offered in Shropshire. After some tidying and sprucing up, barrier erection and name signs we opened to the public on the 14th of October. When I think back to how it looked with a laminated name sign and little chain barriers I almost cringe but baby steps.
Over the next few months I bought a Peregrine, a Kestrel, a Tawny Owl, a giant rabbit (even though Feathers and Fur was originally named after what you hunted with your hawk, people asked about seeing rabbits and the such) plus a few guniea pigs. We built pens for the rabbit and amazingly were donated some aviary panels from the private bird collection next door. Gradually more and more characters joined the team, a Buzzard called Tilia and an Indian Eagle Owl called Charlie. Volunteers helped me out especially over the weekends and all have become fantastic friends.
As the bird team and the centre grew I was able to offer better sessions, such as the Half Day Hands on Session we still offer, Birthday parties and group talks. In 2012 we added the large Owl aviaries running up to the flying field, 2013 saw the aviaries in Hawk Lane built along with the massive aviary to house the Red kite. In 2014 we built the new Peregrine weathering and we added the Little Owls and New Barn Owl Aviaries in 2015 and finally in 2016 we added another Barn Owl Aviary and our fantastic new class room. All where designed by me and built by people completely dedicated to making sure they where perfect for the birds and for us to use. All our growth has been funded personally and I feel blessed that I am happy to go without therefore all the money we work so very hard for has just been ploughed straight back into the business to help us always better things for the birds. Recently we have installed a charity pot by our main gate and it has been invaluable, as not only do we care for our own birds we are often asked to care for wild or lost captive ones. Recently I took in a Lanner who cost me over £600 in vet bills before the owner was found!
I always think I have had a strong work ethic and as much as I am sure people are fed up of me grumbling about never having a holiday or, until recently, days off, I never shurk from the roles I have taken upon myself. Even now with an army of volunteers I still scrub aviaries and clean out the animals. Running the business is much harder than I think I ever would have guessed, not only do I have to care for the birds, be there for the customer, but I have to be a marketing guru and a book keeper and a receptionist and the million and one other things that go on in the back ground. Luckily here too I have found some amazing people, my books are no longer a box of receipts that threatens to drown me in my sleep, nor do I spent hours trying to figure out how to make a picture look amazing or work magic with marketing, but I am still involved in each step. As you can tell I love to write the blogs and our vlogs are fun to make. It is me that emails people at 11.30pm at night and invents wonderful Halloween activities. For all my hard blood sweat and tears it is all worth it. I can promise you there is no better feeling in the world than watching your hawk flying above you, or having a whole school assembly laugh as you tell them about the antics of the birds or having a child answer a question they learnt the answer from you over a year ago and they still remember it all. That makes every single hard worked second worth it.
The original two aviaries I came with no longer exist, and where replaced by amazing new builds that I know will last for years to come. Out of the birds, Sam, Jack and Billie Jean still fly every day (sadly Tom was stolen from us and Willow passed away) but our team has grown and they are my family.
Thank you to everyone that has supported us over the past brilliant 7 years, my family, my friends, my landlord, my volunteers, (my vet!!) my customers and the people that pop in to see the birds and leave a few pennies in the pot, without any of you I would not be here and I know that I will be saying this all again in another 7 years xxx Lots of Love always Sadie