As a lifelong nature lover, opening a bird rescue centre in the Scottish Highlands seemed a natural progression for Lady Hadassah Broscova-Righetti.
But the pandemic has threatened the future of the Blue Highlands Raptor Rescue & Avian Conservation Centre, which is ineligible for coronavirus-related government support, having only recently applied for charitable status.
Helped by coverage of its plight in the Scottish media, a crowdfunder has reached its £10,000 goal, ensuring the centre’s future for the next four months. Lady Broscova-Righetti— a member of both Aberdeen Synagogue and Chabad Edinburgh — says the target for the fundraiser has now been increased to £12,500.
Paying visitors are the centre’s main source of income and the hope is that it can reopen on Sundays once restrictions are eased for larger public gatherings.
Lady Broscova-Righetti told the JC that after spending three decades rescuing birds across the world, she and her Italian husband Michael moved to Scotland 18 months ago to set up the Highlands centre. Since the pandemic, it has been surviving on a small emergency fund from her family.
The situation had made her “really nervous for the future of the birds, the centre itself and the work that it does”.
In particular, owls and raptors were “absolutely necessary” to the ecological system.
The centre had also been providing educational programmes and therapy sessions for children with learning difficulties, all of which have had to be halted because of social distancing issues.
Moreover, Blue Highlands’ one full-time staffer, Jane Wilson — tasked with establishing a long-term vision for the centre — only joined earlier this year, so could not be furloughed under the emergency scheme.
Without the proceeds from the fundraiser, the centre would have had to stop accepting injured birds. There is no similar provision in the area and organisations such as the SSPCA rely on Blue Highlands’ services to rehabilitate wild birds.
She added that although cases of birds injured in vehicle collisions were down by around 85 per cent because of the lockdown, there had been an increase in attacks by household pets, which were let out more when owners were at home.
Lady Broscova-Righetti’s background is as colourful as the wildlife she is devoted to protecting. American born, with Scottish-Russian heritage, she also holds the title of Countess of Vrelo. Croatian in origin, it honours the heroism of an antecedent who smuggled Emperor Franz Josef I out of Northern Italy. But as she ruefully reflected, the title has no monetary benefits.
She has lived in Texas, Oregon and in Italy, around the Parma area. In each location, she set up a bird rescue service, winding it down before moving on, having rehomed the birds in other sanctuaries.
“I don’t have a single summer of my existence that we didn’t have little nests of birds, or a buzzard with a broken wing,” Lady Broscova-Righetti explained. “Somehow people just knew that we were good with birds and people in our community would bring them to us.
“It was never advertised, it was just something that happened. It was a very organic process and eventually it just took over our lives.”
It was in Portland, Oregon, where she met her husband — who served in the Italian military for 32 years before being recruited into the secret service — having been put in touch by their respective rabbis. The couple had initially corresponded by text, a difficult process as at that time “his English was dreadful”.
She told him she had no interest in a “shidduch” but he urged her to meet him, if only for a few minutes. She responded that if he wanted to travel all the way to Oregon for a cup of coffee, he was free to do so. So he did. Her two daughters from a previous relationship (who today live in Israel) “fell madly in love with him”. Coffee led to dinner. They were engaged two weeks later, married in Italy and now have two children of their own.
She is Ashkenazi, he is Sephardi “but we’re very open-minded people and it works out beautifully”. To maintain Shabbat observance, they have someone on standby should a bird need rescuing.
They receive kosher deliveries from Mark’s Deli in Glasgow and the Chabad Edinburgh rabbi is a Chanukah guest.
And though it was “challenging being an Orthodox Jewish person in the Highlands, Scotland has a history of going to war for their fellow occupants’ rights to believe whatever they believe.
“What a beautiful place for a Jewish person to live.”
Blue Highland's crowdfunder can be found here.