W.I. Newsletter February 2021

Unfortunately, numbers joining in this month’s meeting via Zoom were slightly down which was a shame as they missed an excellent speaker, Tom Morath, who is obviously passionate about his job.  His official title is Fund Raising & Events Manager at the nearby Hawk Conservancy, but his actual duties do not stop there.  He also assists in the “flying” of the birds of prey.

We heard how it was an appearance on Blue Peter back in the 1960s that went awry which resulted in the opening of what was then called the Weyhill Zoo.  Reg & Hilary Smith had got a reputation of nursing wild animals back to life on their farm at Sarson Lane in Weyhill.  They were due to appear on the tv programme with an albino badger, but unfortunately incidents leading up to transmission did not go to plan, so one of the Presenters urged the viewers to go and see the animal for themselves.  That first weekend 250 cars turned up, followed the next weekend by a further 300 cars.  This resulted in traffic chaos and the local police suggested the Smith family open a Zoo – and the rest as they say is history.

Over the years it became clear that Birds of Prey were to be their speciality and thus it has evolved into the Hawk Conservancy that we know today.  In addition to opening their doors to the public, the various flying displays and hosting weddings and other special events they also have a hospital on site and are involved in various research and conservation work in Africa and Asia.

Tom showed us slides of the various members of staff who make it all happen, including one who came over from France over 20 years ago as part of an exchange programme and has never gone back.  He now works in the Hospital.  We also saw wonderful photographs of various birds who became much loved characters and had personalities of their own.  These include a Secretary Bird called Madeline, but who has since been identified as male, but only by DNA of his feathers! 

As an indirect result of the abominable elephant poaching for their ivory, we were told that certain species of Vultures are now critically endangered.  They are being deliberately poisoned to prevent them leading the authorities to the bodies of the elephants and thus the poachers.

In Asia, their numbers have been decimated, but this time as a result of a component of a well-known pain relief legally prescribed by vets to treat other animals.   This has now been banned and the Hawk Conservancy has developed a Poison Response Kit to help save these much-maligned birds.  They are an essential ecological element of our planet.

Despite the recent headline in the local newspaper, Tom assured us that whilst their reserves have been depleted during the recent Pandemic, they are keen to re-open their doors as soon as they are allowed to do so.  Whilst shut they have enlarged their arenas, so that even if social distancing is still part of our lives, they can increase the numbers safely attending.  So, if you are looking for somewhere to go with your family, once we are allowed to meet up, look no further than Weyhill and don’t be surprised if you hear some of our members are off on a group visit for one of their specialist flying events!  Tom is excellent at his job.

Our next meeting (via Zoom again) will be on 25th March and our speaker is Dr Frances Hurd and her talk is entitled “Quakers at War – what they do and why they do it.”  In 1947 the work of the Quakers during World War II was recognised with the Nobel Peace Prize.  As usual look out for the Invitation to join this meeting from Lynne Lucas.  It is a 7.30 p.m. start.