WITH only minutes to go before the start of a prestigious royal visit which had been months in the planning, a world-renowned company sent out a last-gasp SOS to its neighbours.
Save Our Seagulls - and protect Princess Anne - were twin objectives of the challenge shared by Cumbrian-based REACT Engineering, well-known for its collaborative approach to solving some of the world’s most complex problems while always being sensitive to the environment.
With the clock ticking towards the Princess Royal’s arrival at REACT Engineering’s headquarters in Cleator Moor this week to celebrate the company’s 25 years of innovation and its pioneering role in inspiring young people, staff from neighbouring businesses stepped up to play the role of superheroes.
First up was Anthony Adair who has run neighbouring Adairs Autos, also for 25 years, daughter Charlene, who heads up the garage’s office and administration, and mechanical technicians Andrew Cooper and Jarrod Green, who work in the garage’s bodywork, servicing and tyre business.
Anthony and his team had already witnessed first-hand how the drama had escalated over the preceding days.
Just days before the Princess Royal’s visit, the young seagull family suffered an accident.
“Two of the seagull chicks fell off the roof - from about 40ft - and landed on the pavement,” said Anthony.
The chicks survived. But they had no way of getting back up onto the roof. They made their temporary home right outside the garage.
In the days that followed Anthony and his team witnessed the full force of their mother’s protective instincts.
“Any member of the public who was walking past she was swooping down on them and attacking them,” said Anthony.
“She was protecting the chicks and attacking anyone who went near them.”
On the morning of the royal visit, Anthony got a call from his neighbours at REACT Engineering asking him if there was anything he could do to help solve the problem.
Their challenge was to save the chicks and their mum, protect their environment, but at the same time keep Princess Anne out of the firing line.
“Obviously we couldn’t have them swooping down and attacking the Princess Royal, so I was only too happy to help. We were excited to be seeing royalty. We’d swept all the street and everything. We take great pride in the area and in the community,” said Anthony.
“We even put all the traffic cones out. We got 20 cones off the back of our recovery truck and set them all out. It’s not every day we get Princess Anne coming here.”
Just ten minutes before the Princess Royal was due to arrive, Anthony and his team set about rescuing the seagull chicks.
“I got a cardboard box from inside the garage and set about trying to catch the chicks.
“I was like Rocky in the film where he was chasing that hen around!
“We were running around like headless chickens. We couldn’t catch them,” laughed Anthony.
Eventually, he did manage to get them both into a box. But that wasn’t the end of the ordeal.
“When I had them in the box the mother started really going for me,” said Anthony. “I was trying to fend her off my head with one arm while holding the box under my other arm.”
When you’ve got world-leading ornithologists as your other business neighbours - that’s when you know you’re in luck! Cue the intervention of Richard Schofield, a senior ornithologist from global seabird and marine wildlife filming specialists HiDef, a ten-year-old spin-off company from REACT Engineering, who operate from the top floor of the same building.
Richard and his colleagues carry out aerial filming for marine research of all bird and sea life, including whales, dolphins, porpoises and all seabirds, for the likes of government agencies and windfarm companies around the world.
So if anyone was going to know how to help the seagulls it was Richard, who had a bird’s eye view of the whole unfolding drama.
“My office is near to the roof where the young chicks had been so I was very aware of them. I could hear the adults screaming. They sounded distressed,” said Richard.
“I could see the guys at the garage were trying to put the young gulls into a box so I went down to see what was happening.”
Anthony, Andrew, and Jarrod explained that they were going to use their extendable ladder, which they had set up against the side of the building, and proposed to carry the chicks back onto the roof to be reunited with their mother.
Richard, known globally as a seagull guru, gave the rescue plan on his own doorstep the thumbs up. “What the garage guys were planning was exactly the right thing to do,” he said.
And after some scary moments, with the mother gull still on the attack, Anthony and team, with Andrew climbing to the top of the roof, were able to reunite the seagull family.
“All fell quiet, there was no more squawking,” said Anthony.
Moments later Princess Anne’s car swept up the street where she was greeted by one of REACT Engineering’s founders Pete Woolaghan and Managing Director Phil Redfern, with the Princess Royal none the wiser of the flurry of activity.
Phil said afterwards: “We have brilliant businesses in Cleator Moor and the surrounding area who have great expertise and go the extra mile for their customers.
“We like to help each other whenever we can. There’s a great community spirit here. And we are indebted to the teams at Adairs and at HiDef for rising to the challenge and saving the day. We really appreciate it.
“The royal visit went really well. It was a privilege to host Princess Anne and show her all the amazing things that our teams do. It all went really smoothly and that’s thanks in no small part to our business neighbours.
“Our environment is very important to us. It’s at the heart of what we do and we are very proud to be based in such a beautiful county as Cumbria. I’m delighted to say it’s a story with a happy ending with the seagulls and their chicks all safely back on the roof and doing well.”