Public consultation on the issue of ‘wild take’ of English raptors for falconry

Natural England has launched an eight-week public consultation as it reviews its position on the licensing of falconers permitting them to remove [unspecified] raptors from the wild for falconry/captive breeding programmes.

The call for evidence was announced last week (see here) and although the online notice is illustrated with a peregrine falcon, I’m somewhat alarmed to note from the accompanying text that this review does NOT appear to be restricted to the licensed removal of just peregrines from the wild, but could apply to any other raptor species Natural England considers to have ‘recovered’.

This is a controversial issue, of course, not least because of the history (and in some cases, ongoing) illegal persecution of some raptor species in the UK, and the ‘sport’ of falconry in this country being largely unregulated. For example, anybody can buy a captive bird of prey in the UK, without having to demonstrate any prior level of knowledge, let alone proficiency, in the bird’s care and welfare.

This is very different from falconry in the US, where falconers are required to undertake several years of supervised training and examination before they are considered appropriately qualified and are permitted to take raptors from the wild, usually for a temporary period with the bird being released back to the wild after being flown for a few seasons. Inspections of the bird’s housing is even a requirement of the licence.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some very good falconers in the UK – there are, for sure, and their expert skills are often deployed to help rehabilitate wild-injured raptors and release them back to the wild. It’s also true to say that falconry techniques have been central to the conservation of some raptor species (e.g. Mauritius kestrel, the peregrine in the US after the DDT crash, vulture species in India after the Diclofenac crash) but these arguments are not relevant to what is currently being proposed for the wild-take of peregrines and other raptors in the UK for ‘sport’, even though several UK falconers point to these arguments as apparent justification.

The last time Natural England issued licenses for the removal of young peregrines from the wild, for a purported captive-breeding programme in 2020, the news generated heated arguments both for and against the licences, as reported on Mark Avery’s blog (e.g. see here, here and here).

The situation was even more confused when it became apparent that the falconers involved were based in Scotland, that SNH had refused to issue licences for the removal of Scottish peregrines, but that Natural England had issued licenses for the removal of peregrines in England, to be then held in captivity in Scotland.

However, according to the latest news from Natural England, although licences were issued in 2020, ‘the licenses expired earlier this year with no chicks having been taken‘. NE doesn’t explain why.

For me, the justification for permanently removing raptors from the wild to satisfy a human’s ‘sporting’ need is not a convincing argument. There are plenty of captive-bred raptors available for those who wish to pursue this sport without the need to plunder wild populations that in some cases are still recovering from decades of persecution.

In the case of peregrines, this is even more of a concern when you realise that on previous licences, NE authorised the removal of chicks from nests in ‘all counties’ [in England], despite the well-documented evidence that peregrine populations in the uplands have suffered massive declines as a direct result of illegal persecution, particularly on land managed for driven grouse shooting (e.g. see here, here, here and here). Just because the species is currently ‘green-listed’ nationally, this status does not take into account the regional difficulties for this particular species.

Natural England makes a further argument that peregrines ‘need to be taken from the wild’ as opposed to considering the alternative of placing wild-disabled birds into the care of falconers because:

Wild peregrine falcons which have arrived in captivity due to injury are also not likely to be suitable as breeding from a bird from the wild is much more difficult than one reared by humans – they are simply not used to humans and are not as likely to breed successfully as a chick taken from the wild and reared by a human‘.

This is a surprising statement from Natural England, given that NE intends to do exactly this for its planned controversial release of hen harriers in southern England – using wild-disabled hen harriers from the continent for a captive breeding programme whereby the injured birds’ progeny will be released into the wild. I’d argue that NE’s position on peregrines is thoroughly hypocritical.

The public call for evidence is open to anybody and is available for 8 weeks. You can participate here.

28 thoughts on “Public consultation on the issue of ‘wild take’ of English raptors for falconry”

  1. Speaking as a complete layman in these matters, and not usually a fan of American ways, but, as you state, their system whereby falconers are required to undertake several years of supervised training and examination before they are considered appropriately qualified and are permitted to take raptors from the wild seems to be a very good path for us to follow in the UK. If only for the protection of all raptors. They suffer enough persecution as it is.
    Especially as then after a temporary period the bird is released back to the wild after being flown for a few seasons. Properly able to then find a mate and produce much-needed chicks hopefully.
    I am not a fan of caged or kept animals (excluding the likes of cats and dogs, of course) or birds, but this seems a good way to keep everything in check by the necessary authorities.

  2. “For me, the justification for permanently removing raptors from the wild to satisfy a human’s ‘sporting’ need is not a convincing argument. There are plenty of captive-bred raptors available for those who wish to pursue this sport without the need to plunder wild populations that in some cases are still recovering from decades of persecution.”
    I could not have said it better.

    1. Peregrine populations are only were they are because of falconers who alerted governments to the effects of pesticides,and the persecution does not come from falconers , but game keepers and even more so these days pigeon race flyers,

      1. I agree you are probably right about the main persecutors. But do you believe that the theft of eggs and chicks for smuggling to the middle east has ended? That is persecution too. We know that it used to be a very big thing. I don’t know the true scale of it now. It would be ironic if the birds proposed to be taken / robbed from the wild under this scheme ended up in the bloodlines of highly valuable top strains used in the middle east. Especially so if it is actually the case that Mr Average British Falconer is content with the ample supply of bog-standard birds on his hands and doesn’t want any wild ones anyway.

    2. First up I agree to disagree ,falconry is an ancient art ,in fact it’s UNESCO recognised as an intangible culture.As a falconer I’m not interested in wild take as we produce plenty raptors in captivity.As to the persecution of raptors ,that’s not falconers,the biggest threat to peregrines these days is pigeon flyers and loss of habitat through persistent immigration,in other words houses ,yet most seem to scared to mention this even the RSPB.

  3. If my memory serves me well, the previous case for taking wild birds was ‘to improve the gene pool’ of captive-bred birds but my concern was that it would be impossible to tell by DNA analysis whether a bird was captive bred or illegally taken from the wild.

    1. Any peregrine taken should be for falconry only,as to improving the gene pool , this could be a one for one exchange,myself being a falconer I fly only captive bred falcons.And we are very successful at doing this,and any falcon taken must be excluded from commercial markets

  4. Of all the issues which face our natural environment, it is beyond bizarre that Natural England have chosen to prioritise this!

  5. I live in NE Scotland and there is hardly an estate that employs more than one gamekeeper where one of them has a resident bird of prey. The falconers have almost carte blanche to go where they wish — something unheard of for others not employed by or a client of the shooting estates. A few years back these falconers were not to be seen on any of the estates.
    Add to this that I am hard pressed to think of any initiative from those sources that was not designed in one way or another to benefit shooting businesses at cost of wildlife… primarily raptors.
    The RSPB having ceased — as far as i know — entering into joint initiatives with DGM owners and management because of issues they experience. The one that springs to mind is the Ladder hills Initiative in the late 1990’s when gamekeepers were led to nesting hen harriers and their positions noted. The next year most of these nesting areas had been burnt out in the spring thus deterring the adult birds. The amount of fledgedlings over the same area was dramatically reduced.
    Anything that allows these friends of the estates close to nesting raptors I view with deep, deep suspicion…. and with good reason. They have no need to develop this plan as there are plenty raptor friendly workers with no association with the estates who could execute this part of the venture.
    In my opinion — and it is simply my opinion — this is a scam by the estates and their political allies designed to get more information in regards to nesting areas so similar consequences to those experienced after the Ladder Hills Project can be achieved.
    We know very well how these characters wedge open a space through which to go only to become a Trojan Horse. They rely on the often naive good will and sincerity of of the raptor lobby to constantly attempt to undermine their work.
    This should be fought tooth and nail or we will face another 50 years trying to get it terminated.

  6. This year there is a glut of captive bred peregrines just have a look on falconry Facebook pages or birdtrader. Big breeders are actually giving away males because they can’t sell them or I have heard in some cases cutting the captive bred ring off them and letting them go free.The females are even struggling to sell as this avian flu has stopped exports to other countries I believe.

  7. I’m new here and don’t profess to be any sort of expert, but to my mind there can be NO justification in ever taking ANY wild bird from the wild for any ‘sport’ related reason ..
    To use the birds to help recover natural level of numbers after decline .. yes, but for sport, No
    Open to correction if there is some sort of justification :-)

  8. You’ve got to be numb beyond belief to think this is anything other than another attempt by shooters/gamekeepers, to rid the land/skies of raptors, just so shooters can KILL what they call game birds! Raptors kill for FOOD. What do shooters kill for, MONEY!!
    I can’t believe that anyone, who’s old enough to dress themselves, can possibly be taken in by this dribble!

  9. Why, oh, why do organisations insist on using Qualtrics? I cannot get anything to do with Qualtrics to load, which I assume is to do with ad blocking, anti-tracker or other privacy software I run – nothing tells me.

    Fortunately there is a e-mail address in tha tpublic call for evidence…

  10. The British Falconers Club have applied for licenses to take 10 Sparrowhawks and 6 Peregrines from the wild for the next 5 years, there is absolutely no need to take these birds as has been stated on here, there is a glut in captivity, with over 20+ falconry and hawking clubs in the UK I see this as an irresponsible act from the major falconry club, other clubs are bound to follow suit, for someone who gets a lot of pleasure from monitoring wild nest sites I would hate to see one of my pairs disturbed to satisfy someones ego

  11. As others have alluded to, I have grave concerns that vested interests are at work behind the scenes with this proposal.
    If raptors are permitted to be taken from the wild, then could this just offer land owners a legal way of ridding their grouse moors and pheasant shoots from raptors which potentially could have a negative impact on game bird numbers?
    It could also make it possible for those who wish to cause mischief to raptors the option to obtain a licence and then approach numerous nest sites and disturb birds so that nests fail -with the excuse that they were approaching the nest in pursuance of obtaining a juvenile bird but were unsuccessful in actually capturing the bird.
    The licence could make prosecution for breaches of Wildlife and Countryside Act very hard to pursue.
    Whilst there will be falconers who genuinely have the birds interests at heart, and are committed to to ensuring there is a healthy wild population, like all aspects of human endeavour there will be rogues.
    Before any consideration is given to issuing licences, then Natural England need to be absolutely sure that there are sufficient safeguards in any licensing scheme to ensure that the scheme can not be misused, and that wild birds are only taken from high population density areas where competition for food and habitat could be detrimental to nesting success or a juvenile birds survival. (please correct me if I am wrong on this- as ornithology isn’t a subject I have studied).
    As has been correctly pointed out- it seems very odd that NE have chosen to prioritise this over all the other issues effecting our countryside- the question has to be -why?, who is behind this, and what is the motivation for legalising a way to remove raptors from the wild?

    1. The “sport” of falconry operates outside the law, whereas peregrine falcons and other raptors are specifically protected by the Wildlife & Countryside Act from being taken from the wild.
      There are already more than enough captive falcons to meet the requirements of falconers, and wild falcons, which are still persecuted, should be left to pursue their life in the wild, not in semi-captivity.
      John Turner
      Chairman
      Shropshire Peregrine Group

  12. [Ed: ‘Smyril’, this is the second pseudonym you’ve tried to use on this thread. Generally, I don’t object to commentators using pseudonyms where there is good reason but I’m not prepared to accept it in this case when your comments are rude and abusive to other commentators]

      1. You just dont want the truth to be published. You have no interest in raptor conservation, just attention seeking inflated ego’s, pathetic !

        [Ed: rest of comment deleted. Gary, you’re banned]

  13. Dear All
    This is my first time on this site and hopefully I can provide an insight into why I support a limited wild take for falconry and conservation.
    Hopefully we can all engage in a courteous manner regardless of any differences of opinion.
    Wild Take of raptors under licence is a legally permitted activity. The objective of licensing is to protect the conservation status of various species, but it is of course a very emotive matter.
    There are many facets to this topic and I will try to cover everything over a number of posts rather than writing out one huge brain numbing post. More to follow….
    Thanks.

  14. If you wish to engage at least be honest. It has nothing to do with conservation. Nothing. As confirmed by your own arguement the populations of the birds in question are as high as they’ve ever been, and continue to expand. So there is no current “conservation” requirement. With the high percentage of failure in young birds, maybe you are helping that one bird survive the winter, but you are doing nothing for population conservation as they are doing fine on their own. Yes this may change, but currently…………..if conservation was really the reason, why are you not arguing for the licensing of those birds that come into captivity through injury, failure to hunt, or those that leave urban nests and end up grounded?
    There is no genetic requirement, there are no conservation needs, there isn’t even a need for falconry. Thus is nothing more than selfishness and ego.

    1. totally agree Grey Partridge, these birds will go to senior club members to brag they have a 1st generation wild falcon that is “allegedly” better than any domestically bred falcon/Hawk, however they will sell young birds bred from these at a vastly inflated price, still waiting for Falconer 22’s reply, I would like to be corrected regarding my cynicism.

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