Lots of coverage today over a decision by Conservative run Plymouth City Council to ban Russell Burt taking owls from his aviary out for a walk. Apparently a member of the public complained that taking them out in the daylight was a breach on animal welfare. Not so – while owls have excellent eyesight at night it is also pretty good in the daylight as well and some species of owls hunt by day as well as night.
Mr Burt raises money for the Woodside Animal Welfare Trust and Help for Heroes. He has been taking owls out and about for the last nine years and they are a popular local attraction. He has a licence to display owls. There is no evidence that the owls are in anyway unhappy of mistreated or of any injury taking place to anyone. Yet, of course, the Council slide into that lazy, catch all justification, "health and safety."
A Council spokesman says:
"We spoke to Mr Burt about travelling along busy roads with his pets as, in the wild, owls live a nocturnal lifestyle and we are concerned about welfare issues around exposing it to loud and hectic environments.
"There are also safety issues for the public around a large spooked bird of prey running amok on a highway.
"We are more than happy for him to continue showing the animal in controlled environments such as schools and care homes, but to protect him, his pet and the public we have asked that he finds alternative forms of transportation."
Apart from anything else this comment is contradictory. If they really thought the owls have their eyesight by daylight or that they might attack people – then why let them visit schools? There would be rather more noise and "hectic" excitement from a hall full of children than a few passers by on the pavement.
This is not something the Council can blame on regulation. This is a decision which they have taken which is within their discretion. They could reverse it should they so choose.
Russell Burt is the physical embodiment of the Big Society. We should get off his back and let the owls back on his shoulders. I have written to the Council leader, Cllr Viviene Pengelly, asking for her comments.