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Pupils wise up to world of wildlife

It's almost like a scene from Hogwarts, the Harry Potter school, when Womble the barn owl, Jake the American red-tailed hawk, Spectre the snowy owl and a team of other birds of prey go out to teach pupils about local wildlife.

Children, especially those in large towns and cities, do not always give a hoot about what is happening under their noses, says farmer-turned-falconer Islwyn Jones.

So as well as running an open farm visitor attraction and conducting displays at regional summer shows, Mr Jones also takes his team of birds into schools for children to see them at first hand.

Spectre the snowy owl recently visited Betws Gwerfyl Goch village school near Corwen, Denbighshire, where some of the 40-plus pupils are studying the book The Owl who was afraid of the Dark.

Headteacher Buddug Ellis said: "The children were doing research on owls, but seeing a real one makes all the difference."

"I think there is a danger sometimes with the national curriculum that we miss what is on our own doorstep.

"Studying wildlife and birds of prey means lots of research for the children in books and on the internet. But there is nothing like seeing the birds at first hand. It is inspiration for endless projects."

Mrs Ellis has previously taken children to Mr Jones's open farm, Penybryn, at Llanfihangel Glyn Myfyr near Ruthin.

The school is now planning a second visit when Mr Jones, who gives presentations and educational talks in Welsh and English, will bring his other birds for an educational flying display.

He is busy visiting schools in north Wales, Cheshire, Merseyside and Manchester and says it is a wonderful opportunity to bring wildlife into the classroom.

"It makes people more aware of their surroundings. I have given talks and displays at schools in Manchester, for example, and the feedback afterwards was great," he said.

"Children were not going home and straight on the computer or to sit in front of the television, but wanted to go out to the park and the countryside to see the wildlife they had not noticed before.

"Getting to know Spectre, Womble and the others does change people's lives."

The techniques of his birds have also been taken up by Job Broker Cymru and Touchstones 12, who are helping drug addicts, alcoholics and the long-term unemployed with their rehabilitation.

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