Rising costs could finish Barn Owl Bill

FEELING THE PINCH: Bill Higham, with some of his owls
FEELING THE PINCH: Bill Higham, with some of his owls

A Leyland wildlife hero is ‘scared stiff’ that the crippling effects of fuel and VAT costs could force him to quit.

Bill Higham, known locally as Barn Owl Bill, set up his charity 19 years ago, but with people struggling to donate to the cause, he’s now having to use his own savings to feed his pets.

Bill and wife Carole, who run the sanctuary in their back garden in Southbrook Road, have almost 100 rescued owls and birds of prey to care for, but it’s costing the couple too much.

“It costs us about £80 a week, depending on how many rescues we carry out,” Bill said. “And we have to drive to the locations and feed the birds once they’re with us.

“But people are hardly donating money now, so we’ve had to use our savings for the fuel bills, and we’re cutting back on things like food for ourselves.

“Our bank account isn’t a never-ending pit, and it’s anybody’s guess how much our weekly bill will go up, now that VAT and fuel prices have increased.”

The charity relies on donations from members of the public, and the couple also carry out displays at schools and clubs.

But for every rescue Bill carries out, he says only 2% of people actually offer donations, and he’s reached his wit’s end.

“It’s crippling us,” he said. “It’s very frustrating, as when people do donate, we’re having to use that for the basics like fuel and food for the birds. But we’re in desperate need of a new fridge to store the food, and a new aviary in the back garden.

“We’re keeping six owls in our living room at the moment, as we don’t have room for them outside, but I’m scared stiff about the situation getting even worse.

“It’s very disheartening and I have thought about packing up, but I get calls about birds in need of rescuing, and I just can’t turn my back on them.”

But he’s unsure how long his charity will survive. “The sad thing is this is what keeps me going,” he said. “I used to drink a lot of beer, but I don’t now because I don’t just think about myself any more.”

Bill, who is on call 24 hours a day, has received calls about all sorts of distressed animals, from bats to horses, but specialises in birds of prey.

He currently has eight European Eagle owls, one of which is almost three feet tall, as well as Tawny and Barn owls, kestrels and sparrowhawks.

Bill added: “Carole and I have tried to save up enough money to go on holiday in the past, but we always end up spending it on the birds. We tend to get a weekend away in Norwich every 18 months or so, but that’s it.”

As well as donations, Bill and Carole are also looking for volunteers to assist them. Call Bill on 01772 463221.