Raptor refuge
a net success

By TIM DUB | Craig Webb is passionate about helping creatures in need, and this drive has achieved dramatic results — Australia’s largest aviary stands just a short walk from Craig’s shack on discreet bushland near the pretty Tasmanian fishing village of Kettering.

Under the great net, their dignity only somewhat compromised by injuries to their wings, two imperious
Wedge-tailed Eagles share the space with two smaller raptors, lightning-fast White-bellied Sea Eagles.

In a few months time, even this structure will be dwarfed by a larger aviary to be built nearby.

Craig spent many years travelling around Australia (he crossed the Nullarbor at least 11 times) before settling for several years in Kununurra, Western Australia, a place as far and as different from his Hobart birthplace as it is possible to get without leaving the Australian mainland.

Here, for several years, he worked as a veterinary nurse assisting his then partner, a vet. They treated everything from cats to cattle, crocodiles to snakes and from raptors to parrots.

When it was time to move on, about seven years ago, Craig returned to Tasmania, renting a shack surrounded by trees on 4.5ha of gently sloping hillside, which he bought a few years later.

The fortuitous felling of a large eucalypt in a strong gale revealed a south-westerly view that was dominated by the distinctive escarpment of Fluted Cape on South Bruny, across the expanse of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel — an iconic view.

Craig applied for and was granted his Wildlife Carer’s licence and throughout this time, paid his bills by working in a local salmon farm on Bruny, where he acquired several skills that were to prove invaluable for the future, including rope work, knots and net repair, and enough cash to pursue his long-term goal.

The germ of a very simple idea had emerged from the monotony of daily work — a salmon net suspended from floating buoys creates a very large, regular and enclosed space.

If it were inverted, on the land, it would make a perfect aviary, a huge improvement on the improvised shelter in which he already tended injured goshawks.

Craig gave up the paid work to pursue his passion, but while it is one thing to have an idea, it is another to make it happen. As well as his own considerable efforts, Craig’s success has been to get others to share his vision.

The net weighs 1.4 tonnes, encloses 5,000 cubic metres and has a circumference of 80m.

The aviary can withstand gale force winds with its support of 13 poles (apex of 14m high, wall supports of 6.5m) which were donated and installed by Aurora, the local electricity provider.

But the overall design, construction and planning and the ingenious system of ropes and pulleys that raise or lower the net for maintenance, are Craig’s work alone.

Though the aviary is large on a human scale, it is little more than a cell to these great Wedge-tailed Eagles, whose destiny should be to majestically cruise the skies with eyes that can spot a mouse at 6km, and it is a tiny enclosure for a Sea Eagle that normally patrols our coastline to swoop and scoop the fish from the sea below.

Craig's setup, now known as the Kettering Raptor and Wildlife Refuge, differs substantially from an animal park, which measures success by the number of creatures held captive. Success for Craig is to release the bird or animal back into the wild. Continued …