“ Address: High Road / Weston / Spalding / Lincs. / PE12 6JU „
One rainy weekend I found myself near Spalding in Lincolnshire, when my friend suggested a visit to the Baytree Owl Centre. The owl centre is situated at the back of Baytree Garden centre, a large garden centre just outside Spalding on the A151. Although the garden centre has longer opening hours the owl centre is open daily between 10am and 4pm and you park in the garden centre car park, which is free. It costs £3 to visit the Owl centre as an adult, £2.50 for concessions, and £2 for children 5-15, with under 5s free. They do included flying displays here also, which we were lucky enough to catch. I understand from my friend who is a semi-local that these can be a bit ad hoc and it is worth checking in advance if you really want to see them fly. They have over 100 types of owl here (which is pretty impressive, if, like me, you can only name about four versions, and had no idea there were so many varieties). At the ticket desk they had a few baby owls in a box which were just a few weeks old and you could stroke if you wish, provided you had not handled another animal recently. They looked like plucked chickens with a tiny bit of down fluff and were probably some of the most unattractive baby animals I have ever seen. There are a few other owls in the reception area but you need to pay to see the rest. Some of the owls living here are breeding pairs which are not handled and some have been hand reared. When owls have been hand reared they lose their breeding instinct, so these ones come into the flying area for the demonstrations. The flying area is a simple, but good sized plastic covered hanger or tunnel with a few wooden farm carts and fences at either end for the owls to perch on. This means you are sheltered from the rain or wind, but it can be cold or hot in here dependent on the weather. Although it was June when I visited it was a Bank Holiday weekend so naturally it was extra cold and I was glad of my jacket. In fact the day we went (early June), was one of the first days the owls had flown in their special covered hanger in front of the public for quite a while, therefore it was more exercise for them rather than a demonstration although both the handlers were very informative and answered all our questions. The demo is supposed to last 30 minutes but our enthusiastic handlers were with us almost an hour bringing in numerous different owls and even a harrier hawk for us to see. You are seated and asked to remain so as the birds fly very low and very silently. Each bird flew back and forth several times, demonstrating their massive wingspans (up to 2m on the bigger owls), mostly flying back to the handlers who had special falconry gloves and straps, sometimes perching out of their reach for a game. The birds were also taken around by the handlers so you could see them close up and stroke them if you wished. The handlers also explained the unique personality of each bird - some didn't like being stroked on the head, some didn't like people in red.... I have to say it was very sweet watching the handlers with their charges, they plainly adore the owls and the owls let them nuzzle them, and seem to love them back too. Prior to the demo, we had a wander around to see the owls from all over the world that they have here. I was rather taken with Pepe the striped Mexican owl who looked rather distinguished as well as a number of other owls whose names and varieties I have since forgotten. Due to the inclement weather we didn't see as much as we would have liked, but do keep an eye out for the peacocks wandering around. Sadly I didn't bring my camera as it was an unexpected bonus to the day, so I just got a few photos on my phone, but I think this would be a good thing to bring if you remember, the owls have such expressive and photogenic faces. You can adopt an owl for a year for £25 for which you get a photo and information sheet, ten free admission tickets, as well as a certificate of adoption. The owl gets a sign on his aviary and your money helps feed him or her for a year. If you are in the area I think it is well worth popping in. The admission charge is minimal and helps the upkeep and conservation of these beautiful birds and if they are flying that day that would be a bonus (but factor in the extra time). There are no toilets here, but you can use the customer toilets in the garden centre, where there is also a coffee shop/restaurant.