The Horstmann Trust: Vultures in the Valleys

Apr 9 2024

David heads to Carmarthenshire to meet Adam, Holly and the c.70 vultures that call the Welsh Valleys their home!

David Oakes

David Oakes


Holly Cale & Adam Bloch


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About this episode:

The Horstmann Trust is a brand new charity primarily focused upon breeding and ultimately releasing back into the wild four species of endangered vultures: the Bearded, Egyptian and Hooded Vultures, as well as the Andean Condor. But what makes the Horstmann Trust particularly interesting, is that these birds are Welsh Vultures! In this episode, David heads to Wales to meet Holly Cale & Adam Bloch, the custodians of around 70 birds which were previously the private collection of a brilliantly eccentric Carmarthenshire-based German Hotelier called Manfred Horstmann. This is a meaty discussion. As well as dissecting the realities underpinning a successful breeding programme, it is one that explores the Vulture’s complicated relationship with Humans. From Vultures being worshipped by the Ancient Egyptians, and enabling Sky Burials in India (where our dead are not buried or cremated, rather taken, bite by bite, back into the air), to wiping out 99.9% of Southern Asian vultures though the veterinary use of anti-inflammatory drugs, or through ritualistic superstitions that require the dismemberment and smoking of Vulture brains in order to see into the future. And if that isn’t enough, this is a podcast about birds vomiting and pissing on their legs – what’s not to love?!

David's thoughts:

I can’t remember exactly how I stumbled upon the existence of the Horstmann Trust – no doubt a social media rabbit-hole – but instantaneously I was curious to know more about this collection of Carmarthenshire Vultures. So, when Holly invited me to visit, and to stay over night at that, I was cock-a-hoop!

Holly Cale and the Eurasian Black Vulture, "Bernard".

Holly Cale and the Eurasian Black Vulture, “Bernard”.

With a vantage point that looks out across a great chunk of South Walien sheep farming, and even across to the famous Teepee valley (where I had been a couple of year’s earlier to interview Dan “Swampy” Hooper for a previous episode of this podcast series), the Horstmann Trust seems a location perfect from which to fly giant birds of prey. Apparently, in pre-trust years, Manfred Horstmann’s birds flew so often, and became so well known, that the pub had to put up a sign in the garden saying: “Please do not feed the vultures!”

Although Holly and Adam resist the temptation to fly the birds free as often as Manfred, the vultures are often visited by curious wild Hawks & Kites, and Buzzards & Kestrels, all keen to see what exactly is going on. The drive up, the huge aviaries, the massive house that was once Manfred’s home, made the mind of this boy born in the ‘80s draw parallels to arriving at Jurassic Park. I tried to dispel from my head Jeff Goldblum’s line:

“Yeah, but John, If the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists!”

I was thoroughly reassured when the first thing I saw was Adam lovingly playing with his Condor like a puppy (one he had reared from a chick, not one of Manfred’s) – or was the Condor playing lovingly with Adam like a puppy? I have never seen anything quite like it!

Adam Bloch and a White Backed Vulture

Adam Bloch and a White Backed Vulture

The site that Manfred and his partner Brett had realised up in that Carmarthenshire Valley is astounding. The Vultures, although a mite chillier than those in their native homes, couldn’t be more fortunate; and for the Trust to have been gifted the site… well – with support from people like you – they’re in prime position to achieve their long term goals.

I am a proud ambassador for a number of charities – all of which have existed for a minimum of 40 years. It’s far too easy to forget that each of these started with very little; they all faced similar heaps of worries to quell and goals to enact, their only surfeit being enthusiasm. It’s daunting. But imagine starting on day one with 70+ mouths to feed, daily. Imagine suddenly being in possession of one of the world’s greatest private collections of rare and endangered birds – many of which are threatened with extinction in the wild. It a terrifying responsibility. Occasionally, the shadow of the task ahead of both Holly and Adam would cross their eyes – for a short moment, they could almost grasp the entirety of their goal – and then they would return to a “to do” list as long as the Nile. It is a gargantuan undertaking they have committed their lives to fulfil.

A great deal of what the three of us discussed whilst microphones were off circumnavigated the topics of how the Horstmann Trust was juggling all the responsibilities of maintaining what was essentially a private zoo, whilst also prioritising all that is required to be a front-facing conservation charity that is literally trying the change the world. It’s not just education and outreach – which are both incredibly important aspects of conservation organisations – but they are actively getting “talons on the ground” – so to speak!

It is not surprising then, that much of the support that the Trust needs currently – as well as the obvious sums of philanthropic sterling – are chopping boards, washing up liquid, wildlife cameras, batteries, saucepans – all the day to day stuff for feeding tens of animals and keeping disease at bay. It’s not sexy – but it is what it is, and they have an Amazon Wishlist that you can visit if you are in a position to help.

I feel honoured to have seen the Trust at such an early stage, and I wish it all the luck in our sadly vulture-depleted World as each new breeding season comes around.



The Horstmann Trust –


Many thanks to Tim Flach and Simon Reynolds who both provided photography undertaken at the Horstmann Trust to help promote this episode.

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