HAREWOOD Bird Garden is at the centre of a heated controversy following the revelation that it is getting rid of many of its birds, closing several of its paths and making redundancies.
It is feared that as many as 80 per cent of the birds will leave the attraction, including the European storks, three of the six species of large parrot, and all the species of duck.
However, the penguins, flamingoes, crowned cranes, owls and kookaburras will remain at Harewood.
Two of the six permanent staff members will lose their jobs.
The plans were leaked to the Advertiser by a bird garden volunteer who spoke on the condition of anonymity, and were confirmed by Harewood House Trust chief executive Mike Schafer.
Mr Schafer said: “The bird garden just isn’t of the quality I expect Harewood to present to the public. It’s not delivering what we want and we’d rather do less, better.”
But he conceded that money was the main motivation for the move.
He said: “It is a cost-cutting exercise. We’re saving a considerable amount of money by doing this.
“We have to take one step back to take three forward, so that there’s a better bird garden for everyone to see.
“The public won’t be missing much, to be honest.”
He said there were no plans to close the bird garden completely and that there would be no reduction in entry fee.
Asked about the job losses, he said: “We’re very sad about that, clearly, but we’re not immune to what’s going on in the wider world and we have to find savings.”
The volunteer was more sceptical, saying: “All six keepers combined make less than the managing director.
“The management just has no knowledge of how to run an animal collection nor any appreciation of how many people come to the attraction because of the bird garden.
“Surveys have shown that over 90 per cent of the visitors to the house go into the bird garden.”
The decision to reduce the collection was taken by Mr Schafer and the chairman of trustees, David Lascelles, who has been the Earl of Harewood since his father’s death in July.
The bird garden was established by the late earl in 1969.
The fine detail has yet to be explained – Harewood House has not made a public announcement about the plans – but there appears to be disagreement between the official line and the word from the enclosures.
The volunteer, who has worked in the bird garden for two years, said that some critically endangered species that have been part of captive breeding programmes, such as the 30-strong group of Waldrapp Ibis, were slated for removal.
But Mr Schafer said: “All captive breeding programmes will continue, and Harewood will not be withdrawing from any of the many wildlife and zoological organisations it is a member of.”
The volunteer added: “All of the volunteers working in the bird garden section have also been made ‘redundant’.
“They have been asked if they wish to work in the house, but all the people doing it do it because they like the animals and being outside, so have no wish to be in the house.”
Asked if this was the case, Mr Schafer said: “Not that I’m aware of. But if there’s less work to do...
“We still have volunteers. They’re the backbone of everything we do at Harewood.”
He added that although the trustees had decided that the bird garden should be reduced in size, they did not know how long it would take or how the attraction would end up.
He said: “Are we going to have a huge area for penguins, or more space for the natural species, with hides set up for visitors?
“We don’t know yet. These are things we’re going to have to decide.
“The process will take as long as it takes. In the meantime, it’s business as usual – we’re just reducing in size.”