Heard the word on the bird?

What is it?

What is it?

Falconry is booming as a weekend pursuit, and this is one of the best places to find out what it's all about. Visitors will get to see an 80-strong Cotswold raptor squadron of falcons, hawks, eagles, kites, buzzards, owls, caracaras and vultures. Owner Geoff Dalton is a conservationist and wants to "educate to promote greater understanding".

"This is not a theme park," he says, "but it is an ideal opportunity for kids to learn about natural history and this forgotten aspect of the environment."

The more enthusiastic families can opt for one of five courses (see below). The birds, 18 of which fly every day, are weighed daily. There are three basic weights: fed up, when they are full of food; opportunity, when they are looking out for easy food; and hunting, when they are hungry and must kill.

Of course, they all have special characteristics: falcons are intelligent, like the wind and kill by speed; eagles are aggressive and troublesome; owls slow and sad; while hawks favour woods, calm conditions and are ruthlessly efficient.

Breeding takes place in the aviaries, but, intriguingly, to aid the process for some species, the conditions of the wild are replicated: a grey, featureless fence for a seascape, a shaded canopy with tree trunks for a wood.

Where is it?

It's in Batsford Park, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire GL56 9QB (01386 701043); www.cotswold-falconry.co.uk

Something for the children?

The £20 Close Encounters morning course gives eight- to 15-year-olds a chance to handle and learn about training raptors. Kids love owls, too, and flock to the £15 dusk sessions to see these mysterious creatures swooping through the woods. Adopting a bird of prey (which costs from £35 to £50 a year) is very popular with youngsters. Sponsors get their name displayed and receive a photograph of their feathered loved one.

Something for adults?

The £85 introductory day, for those over 15 only, is the most popular course here. It includes handling, training equipment, history, welfare, demonstration and lunch. Those of a linguistic bent can brush up on numerous expressions that originated in falconry but have come into the common language: hoodwinked, boozing, lure, fed up, cadge a lift, and mews. The intensive, three-day, hands-on course, costing £275, is for the would-be falconer. It covers hunting, coping, casting, luring, and also advises on the type of bird you should get.

A £120 hunting day in the Cotswolds, involving dogs and ferrets as well, has to be specially arranged.

I'm hungry

The Apple Store tearoom, up a path towards the nearby arboretum (worth a visit too), has cream teas and snacks, plus a bar. The centre itself sells sandwiches and cold drinks.

Can we buy a souvenir?

The shop sells real falconry equipment and books for the practitioner, and souvenirs for the visitor. Brooches from £5.99, wooden sculptures from £17, videos, jigsaws, paintings, and T-shirts, plus gift vouchers for courses.

How do we get there?

By train: to Moreton-in-Marsh station, then either by (infrequent) bus to travel the two miles to the centre, by taxi, or by walking across the fields.

By car: go north from Moreton along the A429. After 500 yards turn left following the brown signs.

Will there be queues?

There's no need for visitors to book in advance, but course-goers have to. Opening times: daily from mid-February until mid-November, from 10.30am to 5pm. Flying displays, with four birds, lasting an hour, at 11.30am, 1.30pm, 3pm and 4.30pm. There's a picnic area and free parking.

Admission: adult £4, concessions £3.50, child (four-15) £2.50; reduction of 10 per cent for pre-booked parties of 20 or more. Combined arboretum ticket is £6.50.

Disabled access: All areas open to wheelchair users, but the only disabled lavatory is in the neighbouring garden centre.

Robert Nurden stayed at Bowden Hall, Bondend Lane, Upton St Leonards, Gloucester GL4 8ED (01452 614121; www.ramadajarvis.co.uk).