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Caerphilly woman gets life ban after wild birds kept in unsuitable environment

A Caerphilly woman pleaded guilty to six animal welfare offences after 26 birds were found in an unsuitable environment with their needs not being met – with many found in a suffering state.

The 26 wild birds – under the care of Caerphilly Bird Rescue – included pigeons, blackbirds, crows, jackdaws, a peregrine falcon and a common buzzard. These birds were found with numerous ailments and injuries which had not been treated adequately, including fractured wings, damaged eyes and legs, and bumble foot condition.

The environment and bird cages were found to be unhygienic and hazardous and an RSPCA inspector found predator and prey species being kept in close proximity to one another.

Carol Ann Gravenor appeared at Newport Magistrates’ Court yesterday (11 January) after previously pleading guilty to six offences under the Animal Welfare Act at a hearing on 14 December.

Gravenor admitted failing to take steps to ensure the needs of the 26 birds were met as required – as well as five offences relating to causing unnecessary suffering to 17 birds (full wording below).

She was sentenced to a lifetime animal ban, which she can not appeal for two years, and 14 weeks custody, suspended for 12 months. She was also ordered to pay £300 and a £154 victim surcharge

In a written statement, provided to the court by RSPCA inspector Keith Hogben, he said on 11 April of last year 26 wild birds were removed from Caerphilly Bird Rescue after a visit by the RSPCA.

Inspector Hogben was told by Gravenor that records were no longer kept for the birds and legislation such as the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 were not something she was aware of.

From the kitchen inside the property, a wood pigeon, three blackbirds, and jackdaw were removed. Six feral pigeons were also found loose in the garden and were also removed. In one shed (referred to as shed one) there was a peregrine falcon, five feral pigeons, a racing pigeon and two wood pigeons removed. From a second shed, a buzzard, a loose jackdaw, three crows, and a wood pigeon were removed. More than 20 dead birds were found in a bin at the rear of the garden including a dead buzzard.

Inspector Hogben said when he arrived at the premises with RSPCA animal rescue officer (ARO) Ellie West he first saw a dead pigeon by the rear fence and also a dead jackdaw floating in a pond.

“There were many empty soiled bird cages piled on top of each other in the garden,” he said.

“In the back garden were several pigeons walking around that looked to have dropped wings along with some domestic ducks, a domestic goose and a chicken that was obviously lame.

“We were invited into the house and on the kitchen table were two fledgling blackbirds and a nestling pigeon.”

A cardboard box on a kitchen unit also held Jackdaw with an injured eye.

In the garden, inspector Hogben said the conditions in the first shed were soiled and there were several plastic bags containing soiled bedding.

He said: “In shed one by the back door of the house was a peregrine falcon bird with its left eye missing. The environment was poor with no water and a filthy cage which was too small for the falcon to spread its wings in all directions.

“Within two feet (approx 0.6m) of this cage containing the peregrine falcon was another cage containing eight pigeons. This cage was in full sight of the cage containing the peregrine falcon and again had no water and the cage was in a filthy condition with hardly any perches.”

In a second shed he said he could see from the public path was a buzzard and eagle owl. “There was a buzzard that was flying against the bars of its cage that had damaged plumage, there was no water and the cage was too small for the buzzard to spread its wings in all directions,” said inspector Hogben.

“The cage was in a dirty condition. There was also a jackdaw that was loose in the shed along with two crows in a cage, a single crow in another cage, a pigeon and an eagle owl.

“The cages had no water and were all soiled, some of the cages had ‘puppy pads’ placed over soiled substrate, there was no separation of predator or prey species.”

In a written statement, ARO West said she sadly had to euthanize a number of the birds that were too unwell for successful rehabilitation.

These included a jackdaw, who had bruising and swelling to the right eye, was open mouth breathing and unable to close their beak with a growth in mouth. A peregrine falcon’s left eye was sunken with no vision in this eye, with the animal also struggling with broken primaries and tail feathers, apparent bumblefoot and poor plumage.

There was also a buzzard with broken primaries and tail feathers, apparent bumblefoot and damaged areas to the carpal joints that also had to be put to sleep. Three crows and six feral pigeons were also euthanised for issues including fractures, suspected broken wings and eye problems.

All birds – alive and dead – were then taken to RSPCA West Hatch Wildlife Centre where they were assessed by a wildlife vet.

The birds were examined and five live pigeons were deemed fit to be given the chance of rehabilitation and housed in an isolation room with food and water. All other remaining birds sadly had to be put to sleep on serious welfare grounds and were deemed not suitable for rehabilitation.

In mitigation, her solicitor said her intention was only ever to help birds and animals, and that she had tried her best, but they accepted the contents of expert veterinary reports as she was not an expert herself. He confirmed his client had been “overwhelmed” and “swamped” by the situation.

In her defence, her solicitor also said she suffers from psittacosis, known as pigeon fanciers lung, caused by inhaling antigens in birds droppings during her work over the years. The solicitor said he was unable to produce a medical report to the court but had seen notes from Gravenor and explained how she needs to take significant amounts of medication and can struggle with breathing and walking. He also highlighted the impact of the death of her husband Ray in 2021.

He also said the dead birds stored in a bin had been collected by Gravenor from a butcher’s shop. The butcher – he claimed – had contacted her to take them away after finding the birds’ bodies above his shop.

Following sentencing inspector Hogben said: “Keeping and rehabilitating wild birds is a huge commitment requiring specialist knowledge, husbandry, equipment and accommodation.

“While most rescues and sanctuary owners start out with the best intentions, sadly, vulnerable animals entering these establishments can sometimes end up in even worse situations than they were in already, with sanctuary owners ending up in situations not realising the severity of the problems with their establishments until it is too late.

“In this case we appreciate the well-meaning intentions to help rescue and rehabilitate wild birds in need. However, it is always imperative to seek prompt veterinary care, including seeking advice on whether birds can be successfully rehabilitated, whilst also housing any birds in an appropriate and clean environment – and clearly the consequences of failing to do that here were serious for the birds involved.

“We would urge any sanctuary owners who are struggling to seek help – and to be aware of and understand all relevant legislation, and to take note of the Welsh Government’s Code of Best Practice for Animal Welfare Establishments.”

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