Struggling falconry business in Scottish Borders says euthanising birds is 'last resort'

A birds of prey business in the Scottish Borders says its finances have been severely impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

Owner Helen Chadfield says she faces a tough decision should this period of no income continue.

Falconry Borders, in Jedburgh, offers tours and bird handling experiences, giving people a chance to get up close with a wide range of species, fly them, and learn about them.

But the start of the pandemic coincided with the start of the business' busy spring-summer period, and overnight the prospective income for the year dropped to zero.

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Helen is now down to her last few boxes of bird food and can’t afford to buy more.

“We usually go through about 40 boxes a month, we have about four left,” said Helen, who keeps 30 birds of prey at her aviaries including eagles, owls, and ravens.

“We can't even trade, I can’t feed my birds. I'm feeling pretty down. I'm really, worried."

“If I run out of money, quite soon we're going to run out of food, and some of my birds are quite old no one would really want those.

"I would be ringing the vet in and I'd have to euthanise the lot, so that would be the end of my business and everything. I'd be gutted, absolutely gutted. That’s a last resort.”

The business needs around £1,000 per month to operate: to pay for bird food, vet bills, aviary maintenance, insurance, and rent.

Helen says there isn’t anywhere appropriate that would be prepared to take the birds off her hands should she run out of the little cash she has left.

She says she's been knocked back for all of the government hardship funds she's applied for and argues more needs to be done to support small businesses like hers from falling through the cracks.

In Scotland, businesses must go through their local authority to apply for the UK Government’s business support funds.

A spokesperson for Scottish Borders Council said, “Scottish Borders Council is managing two of the Scottish Government's funding schemes locally and has to apply the strict eligibility criteria for these.

“The Council has always had discretion to provide hardship support to business rate payers in a wide range of circumstances. We will always seek to support businesses wherever possible"

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Helen doesn’t pay business rates on premises, so doesn’t qualify. She's now set up a Go Fund Me page in the hope of some support.

“I’ve been doing falconry for 20 years now,” she said, “And I couldn’t imaginedoing anything else, they're my life, they're my passion.

"For tourism and for the people we've met who come back to see us every year, it would be devastating."

Her popular ‘History and Hawking’ tours are what generate most of her income but she fears it’s unlikely they’ll be permitted any time soon due the need for close contact and the sharing of protective equipment.