End of an era as ‘Birdman’ Terry makes his retirement nest

UNDER HIS WING -- Terry with an impressive Peregrine Falcon he rescued.
UNDER HIS WING -- Terry with an impressive Peregrine Falcon he rescued.

He’s not quite ready to flee the nest -- but it’s time for the ‘Birdman’ of Mansfield and Ashfield to fluff up his feathers and relax into retirement.

Ill health and advancing years have finally caught up with animal-lover Terry Marsh, who has become something of a local institution over the past 30 years.

His renowned animal welfare rescue centre, based on Gladstone Street, Mansfield, has closed its doors, leaving behind a treasure trove of selfless deeds and fond memories.

Perhaps Terry, who is now 71, is in need of the same kind of care and attention that he has given to thousands of wild birds and animals since he opened his sanctuary back in the 1980s.

“I’m just not well enough to carry on,” he said this week. “My doctor and the hospital have advised me to pack it up. It is just taking too much out of myself.”

All phone calls to the sanctuary are now greeted by the answer-machine message: “Due to illness and age, Terry is not taking in any more wildlife. Thanks for all your support over the years.”

How different it was in his pomp when Terry was happy to take injured animals under his wing from all parts of the UK, 24 hours a day, and quickly earned a reputation for miraculously nurturing them back to life before releasing them into the wild again. Birds he was most fond of, but any kind of wild animal would benefit from his tender touch and infinite patience.

“I’ve had some great times, and I’ve been to some fantastic places,” said Terry.

“My memories are good and some of the stories I can tell are fantastic. There have been laughs, and there have been tears. But on the whole, it has been wonderful. Over the years, the Mansfield people have been great.”

So how did it all begin? The unlikely idea for an animal rescue centre in the middle of an urban town? Run by a former miner at Rufford Colliery?

“It all started with a small starling,” revealed Terry intriguingly. “I had always been interested birds as a hobby. This particular day, I was lying in bed downstairs. I had broken my back while lifting up my wife, Chris, during a bit of fun.

“A lady knocked on the door, crying. She had a starling that had broken its wing. I thought to myself: right then, Rambo, which is what we called it, we had best get better together.

“The upshot was that Rambo flew again and I walked again!”

In fact, it took Terry considerably longer than Rambo to recover. Two years, to be precise, during which time he had to undergo a serious operation.

However, once he was up and running, he launched the sanctuary in and around his home and its gardens. He took to it like a duck to water, and the response was amazing.

“Birds and animals were brought in from all over the country,” he said. “Foxes, badgers, even a baby deer which had been deserted by its mother. I slept under the table with that for a few nights.”

Wise as an owl, Terry’s treatment was based almost entirely on natural instinct. He had no special qualifications, although he always called upon valuable experience he gained working Saturday mornings as a youngster at the old Clarke and Hardy vet’s practice in Mansfield (now Forest Veterinary Clinic).

In most cases, the treatment worked and the animals recovered. “There were some sad stories,” he recalled. “Some died. Some would be cared for for weeks and suddenly drop dead on you. And there were occasions when I was fetched out to something that I could do nothing for. But there were mainly happy endings.”

As Terry’s reputation spread, he became the go-to person in the East Midlands whenever members of the public found injured, orphaned or lost birds or wildlife. Even the police and firefighters made him their first port of call. “I remember the police bringing me two house martins from Warsop one day,” he said. “And I used to have taxi-drivers knocking me up at two in the morning with animals they had come across.”

Terry reckons his most unusual patients, however, were two wild polecats from Wales. “They were like ferrets but three times as big,” he recalled. “A lorry driver had found them at the side of the road, and I took them in for about seven months before sending them back into the wild. I had to feed them through the bars of a cage, otherwise they would have had my hands off!”

By far the funniest cases he can remember, though, are the foxcub with a baked beans tin on its nose, and the goldfish that fell down a chimney!

“The foxcub was another animal brought to me by the police,” said Terry. “They had had the sense to make a hole in the end of the tin, so it could breathe, and I looked after him for about two months.

“The goldfish had been caught by a heron, who dropped it down a chimney pot. The chap who owned the house rescued it and put it in his bath! I took it to a pet shop and it ended up enjoying its life in an outside pond. That became such a big news story that it went worldwide. I received letters from several countries.”

Terry’s unique service resulted in him winning nominations for citizens’ awards and appearing at countless shows across the district every year. He also took on staff, giving them experience that helped them to achieve NVQ qualifications. Proudly, he reveals that many of them now hold down prestigious jobs as vets or rangers across the globe.

Although Terry’s business became all-consuming, it brought him little income. The welfare of the birds and wildlife came before the welfare of his wallet, and he relied on generous donations from the public to keep the sanctuary afloat. Indeed, in 2007, financial problems almost resulted in closure as he struggled to raise the £1,450 needed per month to pay for medicine, shelter, food and bedding for his patients.

Now, however, it is definitely time to bid farewell, and most of his animals have gone.

“It broke my heart when many of my birds left,” he said. “But it’s good to hear the squawking of the one or two I’ve still got. I’ve kept them because they are almost as old as me and not as fit!”

So what now for the ‘Birdman’ of Mansfield and Ashfield? “I am turning my attention to my wife and family,” he said. “I have been married to Chris for 47 years and it’s time to look after her, plus my daughter, three grand-daughters and great grand-daughter. I want to get the house re-decorated too.

“There will be no more getting up at five every morning! In the last 26 years, we have had only two holidays -- and they have just been weekend breaks. I have’t even seen Skeggy beach!”

There can’t be anyone -- man, woman, child, house martin or polecat (!) -- that doesn’t wish Terry Marsh a long and happy retirement. Some might say he’s madder than a wet hen. But he created something to crow about. He was truly the goose that laid the golden egg.