A CUMBRIAN estate has vowed to do all it can to prevent the 200 birds in its world-class owl sanctuary from having to be destroyed.

Peter Frost-Pennington, general manager of Muncaster Castle, said he would be ‘appalled’ if the owls, including some of the planet’s rarest, were at risk of being put down because of a row over the sanctuary’s future.

He spoke out after World Owl Trust president Tony Warburton said he faced ‘a nightmare scenario’ following a notice to quit the Ravenglass attraction.

Owls have been a popular draw for visitors to Muncaster for 26 years under an agreement which was originally agreed would run until 2046.

But last October the trust was given notice to agree a new contract with the Muncaster estate or have the existing agreement terminated in May 2015.

Mr Warburton said it was ‘unthinkable that the birds might have to be destroyed’.

However, Mr Frost-Pennington said: “We have made it clear that there will continue to be an owl centre at Muncaster and that there will always be a home for the owls here,” he said. “We would be appalled if someone decided to put the birds down rather than leave them here.

“Muncaster places a high priority on the conservation work that it does and we want to have an owl centre at Muncaster that carries out conservation work long into the future. We are simply looking at how the owl centre is run in future.”

Mr Frost-Pennington said the contract needed re-negotiating because Muncaster Castle faced difficult economic times and needed to ‘operate effectively’.

“There is still plenty of time to negotiate a new agreement between Muncaster Castle and the World Owl Trust over the future of the owl centre at Muncaster,” he said.

“The World Owl Trust will only have to leave here by May 2015 if no new agreement has been signed with them. We are happy to talk to them if they are prepared to talk to us, but we do not believe that the best way to discuss a new contract is through the media.

“There will always be owls at Muncaster and owls are very welcome here. Should the World Owl Trust decide to leave and be unable to rehouse any of their owls safely, they are very welcome to remain here if needed, perfectly safe and sound.”