A BIRD sanctuary is on the verge of closure leaving hundreds of birds at risk of being euthanised after a dispute between the landowners.

Bird Aid, based at a site called Hydeaway, near Hailsham, appealed for money so that its owners could acquire the whole site.

Julia and Ian Gould, founders of Bird Aid, raised £170,000 last year through the charity to buy former trustee Roland St Clere-Smithe’s share of the property. They had signed a contract which meant they had to have the funds by November 27, 2021.

But Mr St Clere-Smithe refused the funds as according to his solicitor, accepting money from the charity “would have laid himself open to challenge for knowing receipt of charity monies in circumstances where the charity was not itself buying his interest".

The Argus: Rescued gulls recovering at Bird AidRescued gulls recovering at Bird Aid

Mr St Clere-Smithe’s lawyers stated an agreement would now have to be sanctioned by the Charity Commission, the government regulator for charities.

Julia Gould said the impact of Bird Aid closing would be hundreds of gulls with “nowhere to go” – adding that Roger’s Wildlife Rescue in Brighton closing has put extra pressure on their sanctuary.

Mrs Gould told The Argus: “It’s been years of this uncertainty, it’s going to be heart-breaking. Anyone who finds chicks will have to leave them on the ground or take them to the vets to be put to sleep. I don’t know any other alternative really.

The Argus: Jetta Elliot, a volunteer on the left, and Julia Gould on the rightJetta Elliot, a volunteer on the left, and Julia Gould on the right

“We’re not going through this legal battle for our personal benefit, it’s for the gulls.”

Julia Gould added that the future of Bird Aid “is in his hands”.

She said: “This is a vital time for gulls in Sussex as Bird Aid is a huge resource that is desperately needed. At this time we should be building new aviaries to accommodate the extra babies caused by Roger’s Wildlife closing but, instead, we cannot rescue any without Mr St Clere-Smithe’s change of heart.

The Argus: The centre helps hundreds of gulls recover every yearThe centre helps hundreds of gulls recover every year

“The fate of hundreds of birds is in his hands which is why Bird Aid has asked people to write to him via his solicitor to express their concerns and ask him to put the birds first as the thousands of donors did throughout last year's fundraiser.”

Mr St Clere-Smithe’s lawyer, Brendan Rimmer of Helix Law, said that “strenuous attempts were made by our client to try to avoid and resolve the dispute, ultimately for the benefit of the birds”.

His lawyers claim the dispute started over the “precise ownership structure” of the Hydeaway site.

The Argus: Bird Aid fundraised £170,000 last year to save HydeawayBird Aid fundraised £170,000 last year to save Hydeaway

Mr Rimmer added: “In order to work out the way forwards and safeguard the birds, we have asked Mr and Mrs Gould to agree to an extension of time to arrange negotiations between our client, Mr and Mrs Gould and Bird Aid, you will also note that it is our view that time is needed as any agreement reached would also need to be sanctioned by the Charity Commission.

“Unfortunately, despite my client offering negotiations on numerous occasions, Mr and Mrs Gould have completely refused this request and this is entirely contrary to the welfare of the birds and is unfair and unreasonable.

“We confirm that after he acquires it, my client’s intention would be to do all that he can to try and reach an agreement with Bird Aid for them to continue to keep the birds at Hydeaway. It is a source of great unhappiness and upset that Mr and Mrs Gould have refused to allow these talks to happen.”

Currently, the deadline for agreement of the sale is May 27, this year.