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Bird Garden 50

A Family Love Affair with Birds, by Ben Lascelles

Harewood_House_Trust_BirdsWith a degree in Environmental Management and Economics, Ben Lascelles is the son of the current Earl of Harewood and manages the Harewood Estate, whilst playing an active role in contributing to the Charity’s Bird Garden management.

1. What’s your background and connection to Harewood Bird Garden?
I manage the Harewood Estate, the land surrounding the charitable Trust, and am Chair of the Harewood Bird Garden Advisory Group.
I’ve always loved the outdoors and birding is a great excuse to get outside and observe the world around us. As kids we’d spend a lot of time outside, climbing, swimming, having picnics and exploring. I think my first proper bird experience was visiting the famous RSPB reserve of Minsmere in Suffolk, close to where my grandmother lived for some years.

I had a year off before studying Environmental Management and Economics at York University, heading to Nepal and working as a guide in a safari lodge. This is where I really got into wildlife photography.

2. Where have your bird studies taken you?
The nature of my studies has enabled me to travel all over the world and work on some incredibly varied and far reaching projects. This has included time on a remote mountain range in Southern Tanzania, which had a lot of unusual and rare species of birds, a year working in Mauritius, contributing to a project to study the Pink Pigeon, a species we kept for many years in the Harewood bird garden, several years in the most famous rare bird migration spot in the UK, the Scilly Isles and then a project with the Smithsonian Institute in Panama, Central America.

I’ve also studied topics closer to home such as projects on Drax Power Station, Dalby Forest and Pocklington Canal, but these international visits have expanded my knowledge about the importance of conservation, what interventions work in different locations and given me a passion to share this knowledge and these incredible bird species where I can.


3. What do you know of your family’s love for birds?
My grandparents had a strong interest in and love of birds when they established the Harewood Bird Garden in 1970. I was also aware that my father had an interest via film work he undertook on various research trips in the 70s. However, the family connection reaches much further back. Harewood was home to an 18th Century menagerie and Charles Canning received an award for the introduction of Himalayan pheasants into England. Later my grandfather was President of the World Pheasant Association for many years.

Gerald Lascelles, son of the 4th Earl, was a competent falconer from an early age. He wrote several pioneering books on falconry and land management and was a land manager in the New Forest for many years. When moving back to Yorkshire some years ago, I enjoyed learning about Princess Mary’s interest in birds and of her ornamental owl collection. I thought I’d built up quite a good selection of owl figurines over the years, put to shame by her Faberge Owl!

Ben Lascelles, Harewood Estate (3)

4. Why is an understanding of birds and bird conservation important/enriching?
In our globalised world, it’s more important than ever that we’re aware of the impacts our choices can have on the environment and the species within it. Consumer choice drives so much of our politics and economics that making informed decisions about what we buy is a key part of sustainability and conservation. Until recent years, we haven’t always been aware of the impacts we have or the choices we can make.
Birds are great indicators of what’s going on in the world around us and how their numbers fluctuate can inform us around how sustainable different practices are.

And in this fast-paced world, taking time out to just sit and observe is a great release for stress and anxiety. Mindfulness and wellbeing are easily associated with watching birds.

5. As Chair of the Bird Advisory Group at Harewood House, what role do you play?
I was asked to set up and chair the Advisory Group around five years ago. The group provides advice and recommendations to the Harewood Trustees for all matters relating to the Bird Garden. I’m keen to better make the connection between conservation works here at the charity and on the estate with those going on abroad.

The mantra of “think global, act local” is a good one. The group is a forum for assessing and adopting best practice in the Bird Garden across a range of topics such as ethics, fundraising for the charity, project development and collection planning. With my background in science, I’m trying to bring some data driven rigour to our recommendations and help make connections to conservation projects round the world, which is where the Bird Garden has a role to play, in connecting young people.

6. What’s significant about Harewood’s bird collection and role?
50 years is a long time for a small collection such as ours to keep running. We’ve always had excellent care of the birds in our collection and over the years some notable successes in breeding in captivity. This is a critical step before reintroduction schemes can take place.
In recent years we’ve scaled the collection back somewhat to allow us to focus our efforts on key areas where there is a connection to Harewood, including South America, the Himalayas, parrots and our native wildlife.

The Harewood Bird Garden plays an important role in raising awareness for the plight of some of these endangered species, through the appreciation gained through seeing them and learning about them from the keepers and from a visit to Harewood.

To learn more about how you can play your role in supporting the Bird Garden Appeal, read more here.

New Bird Game to Download and Play

Harewood_House_PeckingOrderBirdGameIn the countdown to what would have been the Half Term Holidays The Pecking Order is an activity pack of 56 playful bird statistic, free to download online.

The colourful cards represent the 56 different species of birds in the Harewood Bird Garden and the ‘Top Trumps’ style game has been created to celebrate the 50th anniversary this year – just one of many online initiatives to entertain families and children, stay connected whilst they cannot be at Harewood, and also to raise awareness for the Bird Appeal.

Nick Dowling, Bird Garden Manager, said; “We’re really excited to be sharing our bird collection with the public in such a year. Birds have been a part of Harewood’s heritage dating as far back as the 4th Earl in the 19th century and when the 7th Earl George Lascelles and his wife Patricia set up the Harewood Bird Garden in 1970, it was not only to provide an opportunity for people to see some incredible species up close, it was with the hope that visitors would learn about and care for the conservation of the birds, something that remains at the core of the charity’s work today.”

The majority of Harewood’s 300+ birds are endangered in the wild, with several species critically endangered and some believed to be extinct.

Playing an active role in 17 international breeding projects, Harewood is also a holding venue for confiscated birds from the illegal customs trade and a rehabilitation facility for injured Red Kites.

Whilst the gates are closed to the House and visitor attraction, work behind the scenes to care for the birds must continue in spite of no visitor income, which is the reason why the Trust has an ambition to raise £35,000 at this time – the amount it costs to take care of our birds for 12 weeks.

Four cards will be available to download daily from Sunday 17 May. These will be uploaded to the Harewood website and shared across social media @HarewoodHouse on Facebook and Instagram. The ‘wow’ factor is scored across size, weight, intelligence, lifespan and risk of extinction.

A weekend of birthday celebrations will go ahead as planned on the last weekend of the Half Term, 30 & 31 May, but with activities online. These include creative sessions with Aardman Animations model maker Jim Parkyn and Leeds-based bird illustrator, Matt Sewell, in addition to a virtual party online.

With just six weeks to go, the Bird Appeal is calling out for those passionate about birds and engaged in the work Harewood is doing to support if they can.

Menagerie – new contemporary sculpture in the House

Harewood_House_Kate_MccGwireInstalled behind currently closed doors, waiting to be revealed in the beautiful 18th century rooms of Harewood House is a new exhibition by Kate MccGwire, an artist who makes sculptural works and installation from feathers.

Due to open on 21st March, we will now have to wait until later this year to present it.

As a country house with a 30 year history of working with great contemporary artists, Kate MccGwire is someone we had wanted to work with for a long time. 2020 offered the perfect opportunity as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Harewood’s Bird Garden and collection. It wasn’t an ornithological exhibition about the bird collection that we wanted. It was an exhibition that reflected something of the unique ‘otherness` of a bird and would cause our visitors to reflect, stop and wonder at the micro beauty of a…feather, that remarkable, protective, resilient but fragile material that forms the basis of all of MccGwire’s sculptures, transformed by her into extraordinary, sometimes, disturbing objects.

While the Harewood bird collection is set up to protect rare and exotic birds and endangered species, this artist turns the spotlight on the common bird questioning commonplace perceptions and prejudices. A pigeon may not be our favourite bird, even invoking disgust in some people, but MccGwire’s sculptures strips that away revealing their inherent beauty.

Kate_MccGwire_Harewood_HouseThe feathers here come not from rare or exotic species, but from pheasants, pigeons and magpies, harvested or donated by farmers, gamekeepers and pigeon fanciers. Transformed into works of art, their particular qualities are revealed and celebrated; iridescent colours and incredibly detailed markings – each one unique like a human thumb print, giving new insights on both the source material and the way the artist uses that to explore more abstract concepts.

Follow us on instagram and facebook to keep up to date with stories and the latest news relating to the closure. You can find out more about Menagerie 

Potty for Parrots, Meet Lisa Bath, Bird Keeper


As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Bird Garden at Harewood, Bird Keeper Lisa Bath takes five away from a busy schedule of bird keeping and studying.

What is your role in Harewood Bird Garden?
My job title is bird keeper, which means I look after a group of aviaries containing birds such as Vietnam (Edward’s) pheasant, Java Sparrows and Red-crested turaco, but mainly I care for parrots.
I also perform any incubation and hand-rearing that is required. This usually consists of endangered species, sick chicks or eggs and chicks which are abandoned by their parents.

What is your training or background that led to this role?
I enjoy formal learning, so I have completed a BSc in Animal Management and an industry standard qualification, DMZAA (Diploma in the care of zoo and aquarium animals).
I also volunteered and completed work experience at Blackpool Zoo and Harewood, as well as previously working at Living Coasts in Torquay. Presently I am studying to gain an MSc in Zoo Conservation Biology.

Can you describe what a typical day might look like?
Morning-8am start preparing food for all the birds and animals, followed by feeding and watering everyone.
Afternoon-jobs such as cleaning and gardening inside the aviaries, health checking the birds and aviary maintenance, such as building nest boxes and feeding tables.
During our open season we also give public talks and feeds three times daily.

Favourite and least favourite part of the job?
Favourite-I just enjoy being around the birds and watching their behaviour.
Least favourite-Losing birds. You can become very attached to some, birds so losing them can be hard.

What would you do if you weren’t doing this job?
I always wanted to be a detective like Inspector Morse or Miss Marple, but I’m not sure I’d be any good at it.

Which are your favourite birds?
Parrots are my favourites, especially the Brown lories, as they are cheeky and playful.

What is the importance of Harewood Bird Garden?
Personally, it is the opportunity to work with amazing birds and rare species. I feel that collections such as ours are important to help breed and conserve endangered species such as Bali starlings, Edwards pheasants and Palm cockatoos,
It also enables visitors to learn about the importance of conservation and sustainability of environments, to engage with wildlife and learn about birds they would not normally get to see. I feel it is important for everyone to be aware of the amazing wildlife we have on this planet and why each species is unique.

Celebrations of the Bird Garden start when Harewood opens on 21 March. Find out more about the full season of events, workshops and exhibitions.

Bird Lover and Bird Keeper Extraordinaire, Peter Stubbs takes 5 minutes out

Peter_Stubbs_Harewood_Bird_KeeperBird lover and Bird Keeper extraordinaire, Peter Stubbs is just as much a part of the Bird Garden at Harewood, having worked here since 1974, just four years after the opening.

What’s your role in the Harewood Bird Garden?
Official Title – Senior Keeper. Actual? Same as everybody else. Bird keeper, gardener, builder, carpenter, painter, food caterer, educator, tour guide, supervisor , pest controller…

What’s your background?
I didn’t have any official training before Harewood, they certainly don’t teach this at school, but I have been on various avicultural courses over the years such as incubation and rearing and, like in life, you learn on the job from other people.

Can you describe what a typical day might look like?
My alarm goes off at 4.50am and I’m on the first bus normally at 5.50am. I enjoy the walk down the drive first thing, it’s a lovely walk and setting and I arrive just after 7am with time to do the crossword and enjoy a coffee.
Food prep for the birds starts at 8am, with a break when that’s finished. Depending on how many keepers are working that day, feeding the birds can take a couple of hours. I usually wash the food dishes and prepare the dry food after lunch, ready for the next day. This takes me up to somewhere between 2-3pm. In the afternoon it’s back over to do aviary work; waters, cleaning, landscaping, perching, etc.

The afternoon/evening feeds are done depending on dusk times and daylight length. This can be as early as 3pm in winter, much later during summer. Then it’s back over to the portacabin for the final wash up  before heading home. I’m normally back somewhere between 7 and 8pm.

Do you have a favourite part of the job?
Yes, usually something which entails close contact with the birds.
There’s great satisfaction from completely setting up an aviary, from floor coverings and landscaping to planting, perching and nest siting. Doing this and seeing that the birds feel at home and secure enough to reproduce successfully is a job well done in my book.

Is there a least favourite part?
Filling in questionnaires, review forms and the like!

If you were not doing this job, What would you be doing?
Living a life of luxury…(chuckles)

You’re not supposed to have favourites, but do you and why?
Who says we’re not supposed to have favourites?! I usually say it’s whatever I’m stood next to at time of asking. As I’m filling this out at home it’s the African Grey Parrot whistling in my ear.
At the moment the Crested Seriemas are particular favourites. Their actions, confidence and boldness, their ancestry, the way they look can transport your imagination back millions of years to a time when their ancestors were the top predators in the land. They have nice eyelashes too. (amongst the only birds to have this!)

Final words?
The Bird Garden is a vital part of Harewood, visitors really enjoy the interaction with the birds and learning more about them and how we can protect them from extinction.

It’s the 50th anniversary of the Bird Garden, look out for new exhibitions, openings and events across the year here.