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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss