Wild hacking of falcons

I knew that the readership of this blog would fill in the gaps in my knowledge about wild hacking.

Here is an interesting link with some photos that show that there can be lots of captive-bred falcons hanging around on moors in Scotland.  Wow!

I’ve asked SNH to confirm that wild hacking would require a licence and asked them how many licence applications they have received over the past 10 years and how many they have issued and refused.

Note added at 10:08 after this post was published at 10:00

Dealing mostly, as I do, with Natural England, I’m not accustomed to rapid and helpful responses to enquiries.

I actually received a response to my enquiry to SNH a few minutes before this post was published (but I was doing something else so didn’t notice). I have thanked the SNH member of staff and told them that I wished they worked south of the Border.

Here is the response:

Please confirm that this type of wild hacking requires a licence.
The Non-Native Species Code of Practice includes details on two types of hacking, you can find it here – https://www.gov.scot/Publications/2012/08/7367/4 and copied below.
d) The flying of non-native birds of prey in falconry and display
Where non-native birds of prey are flown responsibly, for falconry or display, the handler will be able to demonstrate that they remain under the handler’s control – in that they can reasonably expect the bird to return. This would also apply to, often longer, training flights – sometimes referred to as tame hacking. The use of telemetry is advisable as that should enable the handler to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps and exercised all due diligence if the bird cannot be retrieved.
The practice of releasing larger numbers of birds with the intention of gathering them after a period of days or weeks, sometimes referred to as wild hacking, will require a licence if it involves non-native birds[35]. To obtain a licence, contact Scottish Natural Heritage.
The release of unwanted non-native birds, with no intention of retrieval, is an unlawful release for the purposes of section 14(1)(a) of the 1981 Act. Note that in this case, offences relating to abandonment may also be committed under the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 – see the Annex to the Code).
How many licences for wild hacking has SNH issued in the past decade?
How many applications for licences has SNH received?
How many such applications have been refused?
There have been no licences applied for, issued or refused for wild hacking since the WANE Act came in to force and since SNH took over the responsibility for issuing licences for non-native species.

SNH Licensing team

So really, we need to know the status of Gyr Falcon (a vagrant to the UK in its wild state) as a ‘native’ or ‘non-native’ species and also that of hybrid falcons which, surely, can’t be ‘native’ (but that’s a guess).  I’ve asked the SNH lLicensing team these questions too.


21 Replies to “Wild hacking of falcons”

  1. I wonder what proportion of the wild hacked birds escape and are never recovered. Do these birds then sometimes hybridise with native peregrines?

  2. I just found your blog online. We live near the Dallas moorland you mentioned.

    Interesting what SNH has to say with respect to falcons being flown ‘responsibly’. Gyr and other falcons have been flown in our area in the spring and summer months this year and last year. I can’t say, of course, that they are always unattended. However, a few weeks ago nine of them were perched on a neighbour’s property over a period of several hours. One of them ended up dive bombing the neighbour. The bird was just a foot above him and the neighbour got a real fright because gyr falcons have a large wingspan. Besides, you wouldn’t expect that kind of thing to happen to you anyway.

    A gyr falcon parked itself outside our shed a while ago; nobody came to retrieve it. They are seen all over the place, seemingly unattended.

    Several weeks ago we saw a large white falcon (gyr?) dive bombing, possibly attacking a buzzard.

    We have seen around 80 falcons of all types being flown wild last year and this year over a large area of the nearby moorland and the Lossie Glen. What kind of impact does this have on local wildlife, I wonder? Not to speak of the fact that ATVs are driven up and down the moor at all times during the day and night. This is to feed the birds and to make sure they are safe from local predators, so we are told.

    Interesting to read the SNH’s comment on licensing. I don’t think the local falcon breeding/rearing operation has one (see last paragraph of SNH’s reply to you).

    1. Sonja – very interesting.

      They would only need a licence for wild hacking – which sounds as if it is happening from what you say. I can’t imagine seeing masses of Gyr Falcons on a local moor. But it will also depend on whether Gyr Falcons, basically a non-breeding vagrant to the UK, is regarded as a native species or not. I wouldn’t regard it as such, but it depends on what the law says. And then, are hybrids native species? Can’t see how they can be, but the world of the law is a strange place.

      1. Hi Mark,
        Reading through the SNH’s response to your questions again just now, some thoughts:
        SNH is talking about non-native birds being flown for falconry or display. That is exactly the issue: The facilities in our area are not falconries. They are breeding and rearing facilities on a large scale, and have nothing to do with displaying or flying falcons for the pleasure of tourists etc. Breeding/rearing falcons for the middle eastern market seems to be a new and emerging line of business, if you want to call it that: It looks as if every single one in Scotland I know of is owned by some middle eastern company or family. The falcons are shipped there to be raced, or otherwise ‘enjoyed’, or even sold. There are websites that report prize falcons being sold for $ 250,000.
        Wild hacking of non-native birds of prey requires a license:
        I don’t see where the difference lies between wild hacking non-native or native birds of prey. The potential impact on the environment (e.g. wildlife) will be similar, don’t you think? For instance, instead of gyr falcons, those facilities could breed/raise 80 or more peregrine falcons. Such a large number of peregrines being flown on moorland would involve similar activities like the ones I mentioned in my earlier comment, and an accumulation of birds of prey – even if native – let loose in the wild will surely upset the natural balance?
        Maybe new or amended legislation is called for.

        1. Sonja – I have sympathy for what you say. I agree that large numbers of wild hacked Peregrines would be almost as disturbing. However, the law is a blunt instrument and lawmakers cannot envisage every possible rare, strange future event when drawing up legislation. Because there is a lot of evidence that the release of non-native species can (not always, but can) lead to very serious impacts on biodiversity then the law framers will have had that primarily in mind when thinking about releasing species into the wild. They would not have had in mind the release of Peregrines in numbers. And clearly the release of 80 Robins in an area would probably have little or no impact. They would also have been thinking that releasing native species, eg in species reintroduction schemes, should not be made unnecessarily difficult. I imagine that is why the law is framed as it is. And that’s why it will, in practice, be important to understand whether the current law regards Gyr Falcon as native (it occurs rarely in the UK as a vagrant). If the birds are hybrids, that might be a different situation yet again.

          That is my guess as to how the current law will work and my understanding of why it may be framed in the way that it is.

          But, you might well be right that this form of species management which ends up with the temporary release of large numbers of a predator in a local area is damaging in itself. If so, that is the type of case that can lead to changes in the law to adapt to the unforeseen eventualities. But because this is a rare and probably unforeseen situation it is just the type of thing where the authorities will find it difficult to know how to act without legal advice and greater clarity. So you may have to create more of a fuss than usual before anybody pays much attention. I hope this blog may have helped in that regard.

  3. I saw your blog. I also live in the middle of this area and have first hand experience of it. The last two summers large numbers of falcons of varies types and not just Gyr (I think Saker may be another) free fly around not just moorland but farmland, river Valley and our garden and are unattended, although I do believe they have telemetry on them. We feel this only helps location and does not account for the harassment of our local birdlife during their free weeks out and about in June, July August. They stay out all day and night and have perches placed on varies sites on the moor, although they seem to prefer fence posts. They get fed in feeding sheds also on the moor. When flying they cover large areas and as they get stronger fly further. Not sure if any go missing?

    If a licence is required would this include an EIA? What else would the licence involve? Who regulates the welfare of these falcons? Any advice on this unknown business would be helpful.

    Both years of doing this, Curlew, Lapwing and Oyster catchers to name but a few have disappeared when these falcons are released for hacking. I did ask if the birds could be kept away from us and neighbouring gardens but unfortunately this is not possible. They seem to like my small wood and visit often. We have spent years creating our wildlife habitats and it’s dispiriting to watch some of our local birdlife having to relocate or fight their corner especially when this is during breeding season and no-one seems to know much about the whole thing. I am not sure if all these birds are bred here or if some are brought in to wild hack to strengthen their wings.

    It is indeed an unusual sight to see from my living room window here in the north of Scotland.

    1. Andrew – thank you for your comment. As in my recent comment to Sonja, this is an unusual situation and the current law may not be well-designed to cope with it.

      Sakers are certainly not native species and so I imagine that means that a licence would be needed to wild hack them. It appears that SNH has not been asked to issue and has not issued any licences. You should certainly contact them.

      A quick look from me suggests that you don’t have any Special Protection Areas for Birds close to Dallas and the nearest Site of Special Scientific interest is Kellas Wood. If these falcons end up in Kellas Wood then that might represent an OLD (Operation Likely to Damage) which would require consent from SNH (see point 9, The release into the site of any wild, feral or domestic mammal or bird, plant or seed. gateway.snh.gov.uk/sitelink/documentview.jsp;jsessionid…?p_pa_code=829… ).

      I hope that helps. I’m not really an expert but there may be experts reading this post and your comment.

      Please let me know how you get on.

      1. Just to clarify, I had not understood that birds or certain birds are only protected in designated areas. We have black grouse ( not a lek) Capercaillie, 2 females in adjacent forestry seen only yesterday. A resident Merlin, red Squirrels and Pine Martin. Pine Martin have been absent since this operation began. We did have hen harriers but we have not seen one for a while. Thanks.

        1. Andrew – well it’s not quite like that. Birds are protected everywhere (although more so in some areas than others) but the things that you can and can’t do, that might endanger birds or other wildlife differ in their stringency between areas with varying levels of protection. If Dallas Moor were an SPA it would be much more difficult to release wild hacked birds – probably impossible. As it isn’t an SPA, it’s more difficult to see what regulations apply. However, SNH appears to be clear that wild hacking of non-native falcons reuires a licence. Sakers are non-native. Hybrid Falcons are surely non-native (but you would need to check). Gyr Falcons ought to be treated as non-native (it seems to me on the basis of ornithological common senmse0 but that might or not be how they are treated by the law. Get back to SNH with these points.

          Now these issues have been raised in public they may be more motivated to get to grips with what may be some tricky and unclear legal issues.

          1. It is an offence to kill, injure or take a wild bird (subject to certain exceptions for game species and species considered ‘pests) so it would be an offence, presumably to fly a falcon at any of these species but it is less clear what the situation would be for attacks made by these birds during the wild hack period.

            It is an offence to cut down a hedge or tree intentionally or recklessly whilst there are birds nesting in it so the fact the the person chopping down the tree had no intention to kill the birds nesting in the tree is not a defence. Would the killing of a protected wild species by one of these falcons not constitute a comparable situation and be construed as reckless killing of a protected species?

            (“Reckless is a term often used in legal definitions. In this context it means that if you cut the tree down and you knew there was a chance that birds were nesting there and you didn’t check, and there were birds nesting there, then you would have been reckless and, therefore, guilty of the offence”.) (from http://www.askthepolice.uk).

  4. Thank you Mark. Will keep you posted on developments. Really grateful for your input.

    1. Sonja – I’m interested because this is unusual and that means that it is something that the current legal framework and the authorities with responsibility for wildlife protection may find difficult. i hope they rise to the challenge but you might have to put yourselves about a bit to get their attention. Maybe these posts will help.

      1. Mark: I have one last question for now: Do you have a recommendation as to who to contact at SNH regarding the status of gyr falcons? Our attempts to get information in the past weren’t very successful.

        I will write to them before I leave on my annual holiday; hopefully there is some useful information to be had from them.

        Thank you for now. Will be in touch again.

        1. Sonja – I have asked SNH and expect a reply by the end of the week (some staff are on holiday). I will let you and everyone else who reads this blog know what they say.

          It couldn’t do any harm to highlight to your local SNH office that you understand that wild hacking requires a licence and that you believe there maybe unlicensed activity going on and that you intend to follow this up.

  5. I am not entirely happy with this, but the total effect may be no worse, than that caused by the
    ridiculous concentrations of Red Kite around feeding stations.

  6. True, but most readers of this blog would not expect the game shooting industry to behave any differently, pot calling kettle black, to a point.

  7. Mark
    Not sure how these blogs work; you might not look here anymore, but I thought I’d let you know that the community wrote to SNH last week. We based our letter on SNH’s responses to you as you posted them in your blog.
    Since we had not much luck with SNH in the past, we are eagerly awaiting a more informed response this time.
    Will keep you in the loop.

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