AN OWL sanctuary near Stafford is wooing supporters for donations to help the project take flight.
Former soldier Andrew Campbell, of Edison Road, Stafford, has ploughed much of his pension and savings into the Owl Experience and birds of prey rescue centre, located at Red Lion Farm, Haughton.
Now the final hurdle is a zoo licence from Stafford Borough Council, which will cost him £450, plus documentation from government department Defra, which will bring the total regulatory bill to around £2,000.
And he is asking wildlife enthusiasts to help him raise the funds.
"We need to raise that money in the next five weeks," said Mr Campbell, aged 42, who runs the centre with his wife Claire, 44, and 13-year-old daughter Sam, plus a team of volunteers.
"I know it may seem cheeky to be asking the public for help, but none of us takes a wage from the sanctuary and we are doing vital work for conservation and the environment."
Mr Campbell, a former sniper with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, has so far ploughed £40,000 into developing the Owl Experience since he started the project three years ago.
"I have had great support from the Hollinshead family, "Farms are really diversifying these days, and having the owl sanctuary there adds to their attractions for visitors."
At the moment the Owl Sanctuary has some 25 birds, mainly owls, in residence but also looks after some hawks and buzzards.
Mr Campbell is also planning to open a Hoots Hotel offering a boarding service looking after birds when their owners are going on holiday.
The sanctuary takes in injured owls and other birds of prey, often found on the roads after being struck by cars, and nurses them back to health.
It also takes in birds from owners who can no longer look after them, including the latest arrival - a red-tailed hawk.
Mr Campbell said his favourites are birds of prey native to Britain, particularly barn owls.
"There are estimated to be only 25 breeding pairs of barn owls left in Staffordshire, which is really shocking," he explained.
"They fly low, which means they are very vulnerable to being struck by cars.
"And keeping our native owl population going is vital for the countryside. They are a natural pest control for mice and rats."
Mr Campbell said he fell in love with owls while growing up on the Isle of Mull in the 1970s.
"I was living there when the white-tailed owl was reintroduced to its natural Scottish habitat - and I was swept off my feet straight away," he said.
"They are such fascinating creatures. Every owl has its own personality and some of them are real characters."
Anyone interested in helping the sanctuary can visit its website - wwwtheowlexperience.net - for further details.