Kirkby Stephen is ‘where screeching, scarlet macaws enjoy celebrity status’, wrote Phill Gates in The Guardian County Diary column. “As we crossed the road, a pair peered down at us from the parapet, technicolor adornments on a grey day”.
Visitors are often amazed to see these colourful birds flying around the area. They are regularly startled by them screeching their way down the High Street or squawking as they rest in nearby trees. Rather unsurprisingly the birds are regularly reported as lost. To residents they are the ‘Kirkby Stephen Jays’ or ‘Eden Jays’ – if you ask a local that’s what you’ll be told they are – and a quirky part of this quirky northern town.
A number of scarlet and blue-and-yellow macaws live and breed at Eden Place, just outside Kirkby Stephen. John Strutt (1935-2010) trained these remarkable birds and other parrots to fly freely around the district, returning home to be fed and take shelter. In the final year of his life, John set up The John Strutt Centre for Parrot Conservation so the birds would be protected and his work with breeding and the reintroduction of parrots to the wild would continue.
This is not his only legacy. The John Strutt Conservation Foundation was established in 1994. The main aim of the charity is the conservation of all kinds of wildlife, including plants, insects, birds and mammals and their natural habitats. The Foundation owns substantial lands including areas near Kirkby Stephen in Hartley, including wetlands and woodland.
John Strutt also established a charity in 1987 that makes modest grants to local people and projects. The football pitch in Hartley Road was donated by John Strutt to the junior football club and named Parrots Park in honour of the free-flying macaws. The Cricket Club pitch at Hillsbottom and the site for the Jubilee Cairn on Kirkby Hill were all donated by him.
John’s work continues after his death through these various charities and their trustees and the beautiful macaws are a constant reminder of his commitment to nature.