Sport of kings takes wing once again

It's boom time for falconry as breeders struggle to cope with upsurge of interest among the young

A A A

It famously captivated the heart of "hopeless case" Billy Casper in the 1969 film Kes and now the ancient art of falconry is working its magic on a new generation of children.

Falconers across the country say interest in birds of prey is soaring, especially among younger people. New bird-handling courses, a national qualification scheme and an increase in the number of aviaries offering days out are all helping to broaden the appeal of what was traditionally a sport of kings.

Greg Whittaker, of York Falconry, says he has to turn people away because he cannot keep up with requests for the Harris hawks he breeds: "We have more and more people ringing us and we have to tell them the birds are spoken for." He says the new Lantra Falconry Award, a nationally recognised qualification scheme launched in conjunction with the Hawk Board, the sport's governing body, is partly behind the rise in interest.

Around 25,000 people in Britain now keep birds of prey, according to Jim Chick, the Hawk Board's chairman. "There are definitely more young people, which is down to one species, the Harris hawk, which has been brought to the UK in the past 25 to 30 years and is a very family-friendly bird."

In Suffolk, an owl sanctuary started youth courses in falconry four years ago. A Hampshire-based falconry display team, which uses birds of prey to help schoolchildren understand a range of subjects from science and numeracy to conservation and history, is hoping to expand the scheme nationwide later this year.

Even hotels are getting in on the scene. Bovey Castle, in Dartmoor, has just invited a new feathered guest to stay: Artemis, a cross between a golden and a steppe eagle. The plan is for guests to borrow him for hunting when the season starts in the autumn.

Judy Wrighte, who runs the Falconry for Schools project for Falconhigh in Brambridge, Hampshire, says the birds are especially popular in schools where children have learning problems or trouble interacting socially: "It's just magical to see the change in behaviour when they see the birds. These are kids with ADHD or Asperger's; they become inspired and their anxieties reduce."

Matt Dunn, a 17-year-old from Chandler's Ford, near Eastleigh, Hampshire, and one of three Falconhigh apprentices, explains how he became "infatuated" aged 11, when he saw a falconry display at his school. "It really took over my life. People think of the birds as killing robots but they're more like dogs, with individual likes and dislikes," he says. "They've changed my life," he adds, echoing the main refrain of A Kestrel for a Knave, the Barry Hines novel on which Ken Loach based Kes.

More prosaically, birds of prey are also popular natural pest controllers, used to cull pigeons, gulls, rooks, crows and rabbits.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
filmReview: In the face of all-round devastation, even Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson appears a little puny
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Bright lights, big city: Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles by dusk
books
Sport
Harry Kane makes Paul Scholes' Premier League team of the season
footballPaul Scholes on the best players, managers and goals of the season - and the biggest disappointments
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Middleweight

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's fastest growing full s...

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Commercial Engineer

£30000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Estimating, preparation of tech...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor