Wild Peregrines for falconry (continued)

Yesterday’s two blog posts on the decision of Natural England to license the taking of a very small number of Peregrine chicks for captive breeding by falconers caused quite a storm (see here and here).

Here are my thoughts:

  1. Many thanks to Gary Wall for writing a blog and for responding to all of the comments in a measured way, despite some of the comments being quite aggressive towards him. Whether I agree with him or not he scored points from me in responding so much and in such good humour (on the whole).
  2. I think my views (which might change because I am interested in everybody else’s take on this) are quite in line with Paul Irving’s: I’m not a huge supporter of falconry or indeed captive breeding, or indeed keeping animals in captivity, even as pets, but that’s a long way from being totally opposed to them. What Natural England has licensed will have no conservation impact on Peregrine populations in the UK, and I’m glad to see that NE has excluded upland counties of England from the licence (presumably because of the well-documented high levels of illegal perecution on grouse moors).
  3. I wonder whether this licence is indeed legal but I wouldn’t be recommending a legal challenge of it to my colleagues in Wild Justice because I believe we have bigger issues to fight and, for me, this does not displace any of our next-planned cases in the queue. But Ruth and Chris may feel differently though I guess they don’t. I’m sure the RSPB will be having a close look at it though.
  4. I’m unconvinced, very unconvinced, of the conservation value of what is planned here. If I understand it right, then there are two proposed conservation benefits. First, the more British stock are used in falconry the less of a problem any falconers’ escaped birds would be. This seems to me to be a fair point, but a pretty small point. The second is that if the collapse in the Peregrine population is repeated again then it would be good to have British stock for a reintroduction project – this also seems to me to be a fair point but a minor point. So the conservation benefit, to me, seems tiny. But the conservation downside, to me, seems tiny too.
  5. I smiled a wry smile at some of the comments having a go at Gary – only because I’ve faced similar comments from others about my campaigning work. Some of them, as he pointed out, were from people who don’t know him apparently claiming to know all about his motivation.
  6. Falconers often claim that they love birds of prey and are great conservationists. From the conversation I had with Gary by phone yesterday and an exchange of emails then I have no reason to doubt his sincerity on that point. But generally, falconers and falconry seem to have allied themselves with other fieldsports and not with nature conservation. I have not seen an outcry from falconers over the widespread and systematic killing of falcons (and other birds of prey) on grouse moors despite this being a high-profile issue of late. Falconry seems to be much more in bed with the apologists for raptor persecution than with those who are fighting it. I don’t include Gary Wall in that, it’s not a personal comment, it’s a general observation. I’d like to be proved wrong in future and I for one would welcome falconers into the debate over the future of driven grouse shooting (if they chose the right side!).

That’s where I am at the moment.


55 Replies to “Wild Peregrines for falconry (continued)”

  1. I must say I am amazed and very disappointed that NE should issue such a licence. It seems to me that the protection of our wildlife and biodiversity is NEs lowest priority. Killing buzzards to protect pheasants and taking peregrine chicks for falconry is much higher in their ratings.
    As you say Mark, falconers record for helping to protect birds of prey in the wild is non existent and even the reverse.. They also frequently give rise to hybrid birds so diluting the gene pool of our wild birds eg Gyr Falcon.. I also think most, though not all, of the falconers are only “in it for the money”.
    . Although the effect of taking these peregrine chicks may be very small, nevertheless in principle it is wrong.
    This smells to me of this Tory Government putting pressure on NE to support one of their vested commercial interests/ and supporters.. The whole thing is wrong, wrong, wrong.

    1. I don’t think most falconers are in it for the money, Alan. In fact there are a number of breeders who may well make a great deal of money from it but the majority of falconers are individuals who own one or two birds to fly for their own pleasure be that Harris’s Hawks, Goshawks or Falcons. The majority seem these days to fly Harris’s but that is very different to flying falcons, the skills are similar but different.
      there is absolutely no evidence that the Government has put pressure one to grant this licence and it has strict conditions which Gary Wall and his colleagues MUST adhere to, it is also for just 6 Peregrine chicks. That will make no difference to UK Peregrine populations, indeed if it did the licence would be illegal.
      Falconry is one of the oldest ways of hunting, no huge bags, just enough for the pot and to feed the bird/birds. To my mind it has always been preferable to shooting big bags of tame Pheasants.
      You may still think it wrong and I of course accept that but in this case I don’t think its about commercial interests or in the same league as granting Buzzard control licences.
      I think that most of those against this licence or falconry should really read more about the subject, the best of which is probably “A Fascination with Falcons” by the late raptor biologist Bill Burnham or any of Jemima Parry Jones ‘s writings.

    2. ‘It seems to me that the protection of our wildlife and biodiversity is NE’s lowest priority’.

      If people apply to NE for licences to kill or take wild birds surely NE has to respond in line with the law? If an application meets the legal requirements then they have to issue the licence – they can’t simply set their own priorities. Mark suggests above that there may be grounds for considering that the licence issued was not be legal and he may be right although he does not expand on his reasons for thinking this. However, presumably the person/people at NE who took the decision believed that they had interpreted the law correctly.

      If we take the view that they cynically took a decision that they knew or believed to be not legal we would need to consider what their motivation could possibly be for that and personally I am struggling to see a credible one. I have no idea what Gary Wall’s political views are but I think that it is stretching credulity to suggest that this decision was due to the Tory government pressuring NE to support one of their commercial interests and supporters.

      As Mark also states above, the implementation of this licence will have no conservation impact on peregrines because of (a) the very small number of birds involved and (b) the fact that the licence permits only the smallest member of the brood to be taken which in most cases would be expected to die anyway in line with the natural biology of these birds. It is therefore hard to argue that issuing the licence reflects in any way on NE’s commitment to the protection of wildlife and biodiversity.

      A lot of people commenting on here object in principle to anyone ‘owning’ a wild bird and that is fine and a perfectly reasonable position to take. However, as it stands the law does permit people to keep peregrines and other wild animals (with certain provisos) and so there are no grounds for NE to refuse a licence because they (or the officer dealing with the case) disapprove of the idea of keeping a wild bird captive.

      Personally, I don’t see very much conservation benefit from what Gary is proposing to do but neither does it seem to present any threat to peregrine conservation.

      1. Jonathon. I agree with much of what you say. But what seems to be getting lost in this discussion is about the taking of wild birds.

        This debate is about allowing wild-caught birds to be taken into captivity for falconry.
        Already we have seen a comment here that someone might like to see it extended to goshawks, merlins too. This is opening a Pandora’s Box of exploitation.

        This isn’t about flying captivity-bred birds.
        This is about wild animals being caught for sport and entertainment.
        It seems we are turning back the clock by centuries at a time when already we are seeing the stark effects of our exploitation of wildlife play out across the world.

        1. In principle, Gill, l would prefer to not have anyone taking raptor chicks of any species from their nests other than for very well planned and justified conservation purposes such as reintroduction of a species into a part of its former range where it had previously become extinct. As the law stands it seems that they can be taken for other purposes including ‘for falconry and aviculture’ which may seem odd (to say the least) but it seems to me that NE has to apply the law as it stands. If we don’t agree with taking birds for falconry and aviculture we have to get the law changed rather than blaming NE for applying the law.

          From a conservation point of view I think that this licence is of no great consequence and a distraction from other more significant issues. However, I accept that a potential concern could be it being the thin end of a wedge that eventually leads to chicks of a variety of species being taken.

        2. Someone might like to get a wild take for goshawks and merlins etc but I see very little point. The goshawks available in falconry in the eighties were mostly from wild disabled stock and imported Scandinavian birds. The youngsters bred from these birds were scatty, hardwork and luckily for raptor enthusiasts today extremely easy to lose hence the population of goshawk we have here in the uk (as a side note these birds are a mixture of German, Finnish and Russian albidus goshawks and aren’t actually representative of the goshawk that would have existed here before their populations dwindled) . The improvement in temperament in the captive bred goshawks today is much improved with most being very easy to fly and exceedingly steady. Fifteen years ago a breeder actually went to Finland and took a number of goshawks under license which with hindsight was a backwards step and revisited many of the issues experienced twenty years prior.

          As for Merlins being wild taken, I don’t think so. They breed so readily in captivity, why go through the aggravation? They have also reduced in price significantly in recent years to the point falconers/ breeders no longer breed them.

          I understand disagreeing with wild take but if I was this passionate about raptor welfare, I personally would take umbrage with wind turbines. You might have this idea that a rogue gamekeeper is sat waiting for raptors with whatever means of killing them he has for hours on end but in reality he’s a job to do and probably a family to go home to. He’s very unlikely to kill a raptor unless the opportunity presents itself. A wind turbine is whirring away 24 hours a day on the moors of the Peak District and the ridges of Scottish hills. These undoubtedly kill more raptors in a month than are probably killed by ‘rogue’ gamekeepers in a year.

      2. I think that those who have seen the way this or previous govrenments has supported field sports and disregarded petitions signed by , in one case 100,000 people calling on them to act against those who illegally kill protected raptors and destroy habitat for many native species are under no illusions about the propensity for bully boy tactics against those who should defend nature. I would not put it past government to have given EN their considered legal opinion just in case they tried to act ethically on this. Even if they did not go that far the implicit (though I suspect it is explicit) threat is always there. You tend to know which side your bread is buttered on and act so as not to displease those who control your dwindling budget and are apt to change your mission statements and objectives at will. I would also support those who say this could be seen as a precedent for the plundering of uncommon raptors from the wild, especially as the legality of this permission has been cited as a partial justification. The removal of Goshawks would certainly help the government’s buddies on grouse moors and pheasant shots and if merlins went the same way who but emasculated conservation organisations would raise their voices in their defence? It would be great if we had a body with the authority resources to dig its heels in and challenge these abuses of the countryside, but I am consoled by the fact that WJ has other targets in their sights.

      3. Hi Jonathan, I wasn’t going to stick my neck out on here again after the personal insults I received on Thursday hard to take from people who dont know me or the road I’ve travelled. This did make me reflect on what Mark has been through and although I’m not sure I’d agree with the way wild justice has gone about some things I do respect the fact that they are prepared to stand up and put a lot of energy into what they see as right which I dont think a lot of people can appreciate until you’ve been there and done it.
        I’ve spent hundreds of hours shifting through case law, NE has spent months talking this through with lawyers, nothing in law’s 100% until a judge passes a decision, guess we could flip a coin, I dont know.
        I’ve gone as far as I can to try to explain what I’m trying to achieve but as I said on Thursday, people haven’t lived my life, dont have the experience I have so its no use me trying to convince people who dont want to be convinced. As I said to Mark when we talked, I find it sad when groups who have opposing view of the same subject cant try to find common ground, and that would be my view on grouse shooting too, but maybe that’s just the way the dynamics of the human race works, to the detriment of the planet and its wildlife. I find it hard to take being called “selfish” by the RSPB when I’d approached them two years ago with legal issues relating to the slaughter of 2000 gannet chicks on the basis of cultural heritage every year and was surprised to find they had no problem with it, yet I’m selfish for wanting to reduce the risk of genetic pollution to our native peregrines but hey, guess that’s politics for you !
        Just like to thank Mark for his polite and curtious approach and hope one day we can all find common ground that will benefit the birds we love, whichever form that takes.
        Thanks, Gary

    3. Agreed. The pathetic reality is that our government, our senior civil servants, our legislature and our police are unable (or unwilling?) to prevent one or two middle east despotic ruling families from doing exactly what they want with our wildlife. All us plebs and commoners can do is think about which airlines we choose to fly. There is a lot of room in the hold of an A380 – they own a lot of them and they fly from the UK several times a day. I daren’t say much more…for I will go the way of many a SEO or Hen Harrier…head first down a peat bog with a size 11 boot stamping me deeper and deeper…

    4. Hi Alan, really trying not to get dragged back in but sorry, falconers have done massive amounts of work to conserve wild populations of raptors, the Peregrine Fund, who Bill Burham was part of, created by falconers who are also behind the World Centre in Boise doing huge amounts of raptors conservation work around the world. Jemima Parry Jones and her work with Vultures. There are falconers behind virtually every raptor reintroductio programme in the world, from the California condor to the Mauritous Kestrel. Lots of falconers working on rehabbing raptors, even Ratcliffe in his book on the Peregrine gives credit to falconers for standing back during the crash and assisting in the recovery effort. I personally have been involved with rehabbing 5 peregrines. This is the problem when you dig yourself into a hole, you cant see the horizon.
      And this is why the grouse shooting issue is going down hill fast, yes you can drive grouse shooting out of business but then what, forestry, windfarms ? I’ve had my own falcons shot by a grouse keeper but I also have friends who are keepers and passionate about conservation and really go out of their way to accommodate all wildlife. Just be careful not to cut your nose off to spite your face. People really need to get over this class issue, you just cant make sweeping statements based on the degree of someone’s wealth these days.
      Probably should keep my mouth shut but some of you are missing so much, take the blinkers off and accept we can enjoy the same thing in different way, then we can start working together !

  2. The chief executive of the BTO is a board member of Natural England. I wonder if he was consulted and if he might consider contributing to the debate. Likewise the NE chairman.

  3. Mark I have just read yesterday’s blog post and all of the comments.
    I was once called being part of the nasty brigade.
    For a lot of the people who responded yesterday
    Welcome to the club

  4. Hi Mark
    I’m at odds with you in this.
    But thank Gary for his answers.
    I agree taking of three peregrines is unlikely make a difference to their conservation status here.
    But this whole debate in this blog has been pedalled about conservation. It’s muddied the waters.
    It’s not about conservation. Even Natural England admit its about falconry.
    So for Gary Wall to try and greenwash and talk about the British Peregrine Conservancy (what is this?) a non existent organisation at the moment from what I can gather, smacks of green washing a field sport…I think I remember another non-existent group in strathbraan for another field sport.
    So yes, I do question his motives.
    This debate is purely about falconry.
    Can we stick to that?
    Then the question is about exploitation of the wild over valuing the wild itself.

    Falconry becomes then a debate over a) should birds be wild caught or b) keep using captive cross-bred stock?
    Gary says that wild stock is needed to increase vigour and prey drive.
    In a world where birds have been over exploited for so many reasons I believe it is wrong to take from the wild.
    To suggest it’s acceptable steps over a line.

    Should falconry exist as a field sport and/or as a hobby where not every falconer lets their bird catch wild prey? This is another debate raising many ethical questions…captive wild animals…welfare of etc, should other culturally significant activities such as fox hunting continue?
    The whole falconry debate (aside from taking wild birds) is too big for here at the moment.

    So this isn’t about conservation.
    I haven’t met Gary or talked to Gary.
    But I’m unimpressed by the greenwash.
    Is he really passionate about raptor conservation? I’m not feeling it. This is about breeding and improving bloodstock.

    Once again, like so many debates about human relationship with the wild, this is about people and what they want.

    There is no justification I believe to take wild animals from the wild for sport or entertainment. Culturally significant justification is hogwash. Its an excuse from living people to justify their wants and desires using peer pressure from dead people. Let’s justify the conservation and protection of the wild above that. Future generations deserve that.

    A love of a captive wild animal…to want to possess a wild animal and exploit that wild animal is very different from the love of seeing a wild animal free in its habitat.

    There is a huge difference.

    So I’m convinced by Gary’s love of raptors, but not his love of conservation…maybe if only to have wild stock to improve genetics for his sport.

    But thanks for hosting this debate….to make us question these issues.

    1. Gill – well I agree with much of what you write above, but we come to a different conclusion on what should happen next. But that’s OK, it would be surprising if everyone I like and admire (yes, that includes you) was a person with whom I fully agreed on everything (and vice versa). Thanks.

      1. Thanks Mark

        Discussions like this are good…and needed…to question, find weaknesses and strengths in debates.

      2. Also, I think there needs to be thoughts about the ramifications of Natural England being allowed to cross this line of exploiting animals from the wild for sport for the excuse of culturally significant heritage.
        What next?
        Using this allowance to give fox hunting cultural significance to continue?
        Further justifying the removal of hen harriers from the moor for culturally significant sport of grouse shooting (albeit a recent one…but where do you draw a timeline on culture?)
        I believe Natural England have crossed a line on exploitation of the wild and potentially opened the flood gates.
        This isn’t just about peregrines.

        1. Can I please ask a genuine question? Are you opposed to fishing?

          Since it is part of our “cultural heritage” and “wild animals being caught for sport and entertainment” surely anglers and fishermen would be classed with the same disdain that you now bestow on falconers, given that they are doing exactly the same thing?

          I have always been curious why fishing provokes little reaction from people in relation to other blood sports – my only reasoning is that fish are not cute & cuddly or majestic enough for anyone to get emotional about.

          1. It is because, up to now, the angling lobby kept their heads down and didn’t make waves. I say up to now, because a lot of the belligerents from the Countryside Alliance have glommed onto the fishing lobby and are agitating for wholesale culls of river ducks, cormorants, harbour seals and porpoises, and even otters and ospreys again. Some of them are even the same sort of childish tantrum-ers as the shooting lobby and deliberately use lead weights despite it being flat out illegal to do so, because they are told not to.

            Not to mention their stubborn refusal to accept beaver introduction and their allying with farmers to report and destroy beaver lodges, again illegally. There is even one so-called river conservation group in Scotland, formed almost entirely of anglers, which as well as ripping out community weirs which form valuable community amenities, for the sake of making angling easier, also freely admits that when it does surveys of the rivers that they cull any fish other than salmon or trout because course fish have no place in the river.

            Maybe getting that head back down might be better, that’ll mean anglers dumping the rest of the field sports bunch again and getting with the programme as far as general community and environmental needs are. Anglers used to have a bit of humility, that is why they got the pass. Nothing to do with how cute fish are.

          2. Hi Klair

            That’s opened a can of worms (pardon the pun)
            I assume from your question you are referring to coarse fishing…for sport and entertainment.
            No, I personally don’t like the idea of coarse fishing. I think it inflicts unnecessary pain on the animal.
            I’m not sure you can compare to falconry. We don’t keep salmon in tanks to catch fish for us. But if there was an equivalent, say, of keeping fish in tanks, and using their natural behaviour to make a competition of seeing which fish jumped the highest waterfall, then I’d be opposed to taking fish from wild stocks, to exploit the wild to fulfil a person’s desire to pursue their sport.
            From a conservation angle, angling and conservation can have a symbiotic relationship if the wild is respected.
            But there are the many negative sides…eg historical otter hunting…is that a culturally significant sport that some might see as their right to pursue?…a family day out chasing otters with otter hounds and bludgeoning one to death because one’s great grandparents did it? Shooting osprey in the past because they take fish? The continued shooting of seals? The call to cull cormorant etc?

            I’m not bringing human emotion into this (apart from the selfish desire to have a healthy viable planet for future generations)These debates are about exploitation of the wild, and about protecting habitats and the flora and fauna that live within them.

        2. NE have followed the letter of the law, just as Wild Justice repeatedly requests they do. So what is the issue exactly?

    2. This reminds me a lot of the debate over Buzzard licensing in that it appears to be the novelty of the licence rather than any impact on conservation that is responsible for the flood of outrage. Gill, I’m guessing from your comments that you are opposed to any form of killing or exploitation of wildlife for sport? If so then I can see where you are coming from. But taking a handful of Peregrines into captivity is trivial compared to the huge numbers of wild birds that are killed routinely for fun every year, often without generating much comment (because it has been going on for so long). Just as falconers need to be careful when explaining their motivation for this licence, those who are opposed need to be clear about why. For example I don’t see anything in this licence that threatens the ‘conservation and protection of the wild’ as you are suggesting. I can understand opposition on animal welfare grounds or an ‘in principle’ objection to interfering with wildlife, but not on the grounds of conservation.

    3. Hi Gill, have you spent any time in the middle east deserts, the rain forests of south east asia or west Africa, have you seen the plastic pollution in the gulf of mexico, and not as tourist either, have seen first hand the issues this planet faces, gloablly, because I have.
      The IUCN, the International Union Conservation of Nature policy on captive breeding is that captive populations should be created when a species population is healthy, like our peregrine, not when it crash’s. These lessons have been learned from experience from situations like when the anatum peregrine population crashed east of the Rockies in the 60’s and was wiped out, falconers set up the Peregrine Fund, collected captive peregrines from all over the world and creates what many call F.p.bastardi, and that’s the bird they released for their reintroduction programme, not what was there before.
      You have no idea the ten of thousands of captive bred falcons that go into the middle east every year but without them the Saker in Asia and the Gyr Falcon in the Russian arctic would be extinct by now. This drain leaves UK falconers with smaller captive bred southern European sub-species or cross of peregrine that if lost here can lead to genetic pollution. Doesn’t that concern you ?
      What you dont realise is I’m confident the law as it stands allows me to obtain a license to take a peregrine solely for falconry, no breeding project, not any conservation benefit at all, bit like the islanders on Lewis killing 2000 gannet chicks, allowed under Section 16 of the WCA, Article 2 of the Birds Directive and various international conventions for Cultural Use. Islanders on Lewis been doing it for 500 years, falconers been taking peregrines to fly for over 1000 years, maybe 1500 or more. So why do you think I haven’t just made my life a lot less easier and done this, BECAUSE I care about raptors and all wildlife and by adding the breeding project I believe I can address the cultural use AND provide some conservation benefit, given my experience I see it as high but if you dont know what I know then you might see it as minimal.
      If you dont believe keeping wildlife is captivity is morally right I respect that but while I’m legally allowed to practice falconry that’s what I intend to do in the last part of my life. I wouldn’t have give my life to this unless I was sure it was positive for the conservation of raptors and knowing what I know I can justify that to myself.
      I know lots of you will never be convinced but maybe a few with stop and think.

  5. Captive breeding of native stock is certainly part of the toolkit for preserving the numbers and genetic variability of a threatened species. Is that where we are in the UK as regards the Peregrine population? And, if so, are there perhaps better ways to achieve this? If not, then who or what does the scheme actually benefit? Falconers or Peregrines? Those are the questions in my head.

  6. Many RSPB members (including me) will be looking to the organisation to take a strong lead on this.

    On controversial issues – eg raptor persecution, bird-netting – too often it waits to see which way the wind is blowing before taking a stance.

    This provides a great opportunity for its new boss, Beccy Speight, to put her head above the parapet and lead from the front.

    Does the RSPB support the issue of the licences, is it neutral, will it turn the other cheek or will it mount a challenge?

    1. James, the RSPB is a conservation charity. As Mark has pointed out, any conservation downside to this is tiny.

      Amazing that this issue has generated so much interest.

      The proposed Morlais tidal power scheme off Anglesey is predicted to kill thousands of the seabirds that breed at South Stack. The RSPB is, of course, fighting it. Makes a few peregrines taken for falconry seem pretty small beer.

      1. Bob, having followed all the blogs on this, I think it’s more about believing whether this project is for conservation or new breeding stock for commercial falcon operations. How will we know?……

        1. Thanks Peter. I take your point but either way there are no serious downsides for the conservation of wild peregrines or other wildlife in the UK. If people don’t like falconry, or people making money out of it, they are entitled to their view but it’s not a conservation issue.

  7. Well done to you for hosting this, Mark, and kudos to Mr Wall for being prepared to respond. Your thoughts, Mark, and mine seem to overlap almost completely. It’s probably not worth getting too aerated about this there are bigger fish to fry. Despite this, I find dressing up the taking of these birds as ‘conservation’ too hard a concept to swallow. It strikes me as similar to the feeble arguments used to defend fox-hunting, grouse shooting, badger killing, etc: ‘We have to intervene to save nature and the animals from themselves’.

    1. What a load of nonsense.

      The convservation asp ct of this project relates to being able to provide peregrine stock should future peregrine populations suffer a serious decline. It has nothing in common with the other practices you mention!

  8. Thank you for hosting thi debate, Mark. I haven’t much to add to the excellent comments of Gill Lewis. Ultimately, the question is whether this initiative is rooted in an analysis of what is required to safeguard wild Peregrines, or in sustaining a sport that uses wild animals?
    It seems clear that it’s the latter, and that in granting the license, NE is opting to put its weight behind a philosophy that sees nature as a resource for human exploitation. That this is entirely in line with its position on Hen Harrier brood meddling is deeply concerning.

    1. Michael has summed up the issue perfectly: ‘NE is opting to put its weight behind a philosophy that sees nature as a resource for human exploitation.’ Even if facilitating exploitation is part of NE’s remit and the relevant legislation requires it (or, at least, doesn’t prevent it) this is something that needs debating. But, as usual, the engagement of the wider public in debates about the exploitation, desecration or neglect of the natural world is deficient.

      1. I don’t think it is fair to suggest that it is NE that is putting its weight behind a policy of exploitation. NE is obliged to implement the law as it is not as it (or its individual officers) might wish it to be. The Wildlife and Countryside Act recognises that some wildlife can be legally exploited – to whit all the species on Schedule II part 1 – and section 16 of the act indicates that the taking of birds can be authorised ‘for the purposes of falconry or aviculture’. It therefore seems to me that without other legal grounds to withhold a licence they were obliged to issue one. We would surely be in a very chaotic world if government agents were free to pick and choose how they apply the law on the basis of their own personal ethical/political or other views and certainly could not rely on this always resulting in them taking decisions we would agree with!

        I agree with you, Alick, that our attitudes towards the exploitation of wildlife need debating but if this is the case, what we should be debating is change in the law not what NE’s philosophy is.

        [I should add that I recognise that just because NE takes a decision based on its interpretation of the law does not necessarily mean that the decision is in fact lawful. The General Licences were an example of where there were very good grounds for challenging the legality of what they were doing. However, I doubt that prior to the JfW challenge, NE (or its Welsh and Scottish counterparts) considered that there was anything illegal about what they were doing or that the rationale for the GLs was any kind of sinister pro-hunting/anti-wildlife policy – it was more likely something that was simply an administrative convenience that had not been properly thought through. ]

    2. Michael Bosley, that is exactly the point, very well made: ‘Nature as a resource for human exploitation’. Again!

      This is not about rescue, rehabilitation and release. This about entertaining the human, a brand of ‘speciesism’ which, quite rightly, has a lot of us very angry.
      That is all!

  9. How genetically pure is the UK wild population? Presumably the gene pool has been diluted by captive bred birds escaping and entering the wild breeding population.

  10. If we put this effort into getting all future spotlight pylons such as those at football stadiums fitted with nest platforms we would do more for Peregrine numbers. Viz the one at Felixstowe terminal.
    Anyway enough of my hobby horse of nest sites

    1. It would liven up matches immeasurably if decoy pigeons were strapped to the heads of both goalkeepers and the referee

  11. Mark

    I read an additional conservation benefit put forward by Gary. And that was the demand from overseas which could lead, may be has led, to eggs or chicks being taken from nests illegally to supply this demand. By providing a legal supply, this could (ought?) to reduce or shut this supply down. Less risky to obtain a legally held falcon, than by surreptitious means.


  12. How genetically pure/distinct is the wild Peregrine population?
    Presumably captive bred birds escape and pair with wild bred birds.

    1. This is a fair point, if you look at the regional crossover of peregrines such as peregrinus peregrinus and where it crosses over with the Mediterranean peregrines such as peregrinus brookeii and also the Scandinavian subspecies such as Peregrinus Lofoten its hard to think that they wouldn’t cross breed. Peregrinus does literally mean ‘wanderer’ afterall. Also with the loss of species such as Lanner falcons and saker falcons in centuries passed may have also contributed to the gene pool. I think with DNA profiling it would be found that British peregrines are most probably hybrids themselves.

  13. It’s well worth reading what Gary Wall has to say and the way he says it. All the talk of ‘stock’ etc. has a worldview associated with it. It’s the same worldview that the Magnus Linklater’s of this world have. The fox hunters, pheasant shooters and the farmers who want to kill Barnacle Geese have it too.

    If you empathise with his views then you can understand why he has them. That makes their position vulnerable. If you understand the grouse shooter then you can beat them.

    That’s probably a poor way of saying. if you can understand “them”, then there can be no “them and us”, i.e. city people and country folk. That’s a big barrier to defeating them demolished.

  14. I worry that there is some ulterior motive in this proposal.
    Is it possible that if they get these natural birds and breed from them then falconers take chicks from the wild and claim they are captive bred as maybe the DNA is then similar.
    I just wonder there just has to be some ulterior motive.

    1. Red herring. DNA analysis would easily show the young we’re not produced from the stated parents.
      If DNA analysis was that inaccurate or would not be used in criminal prosecutions

  15. What conditions are in place for the birds and their offspring, Peregrine’s can breed at two years of age and I know of breeder’s who have boasted of getting 30 plus eggs from a single female, the avenues for exploitation seem many from 3 pairs, also as I mentioned before surely the Merlin is more in need of conservation and has just as much cultural heritage on falconry

  16. So the main conservation benefit is to protect the genetic integrity of the wild peregrine population which mightpresently be at risk from interbreeding with escaped falconry birds?

    How great is that risk and to what extent can it be reduced by taking birds from the wild to provide a breeding stock?

    And is there no other way of reducing or removing the risk?

  17. As an aside, for those concerned about cultural heritage, the noun is licence, the verb is license.

    Just sayin’.

  18. Gary Wall. I did ask you where these Peregrines will be going, you didn’t tell me. I don’t expect an exact location but are they going to Scotland? I assume you live in Scotland. SNH didn’t give you a licence but you obviously went home and did your homework and you”now know exactly what you are talking about”, why not go back to SNH with your new knowledge? You chose to go to NE who have now granted you a licence. If you live in Scotland who will be overseeing your project? I am always concerned these organisations give out licences or approval but never follow anything up. It’s not surprising people are sceptical.

  19. I am generally with Paul Irving’s thoughts on this.
    It is obviously not a pure conservation project, but does have some merits, with little real downside to the wild Peregrine population.
    However it is understandable, and entirely right, that it should be discussed.
    Falconers should, without question, be at the forefront of Raptor conservation ( possibly some have not spoken against persecution
    afraid of losing “permission”, an accusation levelled at raptor workers
    in the past), and there are many worldwide examples of vital work achieved, but just as many negative ones usually linked to greatly increased commercialisation.
    On a similar thread, i would be quite supportive of the rigorously controlled removal from the nest, of small numbers of Peregrine, Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, and maybe even Merlin, to be flown until their third calendar year, before being hacked into the wild.
    Falconry, as with everything else has changed, but had things been different fifty years ago we may not now be blessed ( or maybe not in
    some minds) with a thriving Goshawk population in this country.

  20. Mr Avery ……
    May I please use your excellent blog to ask Mr Wall if he could kindly give me some pointers to the origin and authority of the “cultural right” as explained by him on the Facebook page of the British Archives of Falconry…..(” an important step in reinstating our cultural right of access to wild populations here in the UK…”). I would be interested in doing some research on such “cultural rights” and their genesis. I know that there are, for example, certain rights for commoners in the New Forest, administered by the Verderers who hold the Atlas of Forest Rights; perhaps the falconers have some such body? Perhaps it is in Magna Carta? The relationship between “cultural rights” and human rights can be challenging, particularly in gender relations. I have Blake’s International Cultural Heritage Law, and the IAF has a website with a fascinating historical section, but I would be very grateful if Mr Wall could spare a moment to give me some other pointers. This information may be of interest to others in this very interesting debate. Very many thanks and best wishes.

    1. I am with both Gill Lewis and the RSPB on this issue.

      “Mark Thomas, the RSPB’s head of investigations, said: “The cultural value of these birds is that they are free, wild and available to all. The application will therefore be regarded by many as selfish”

      If the RSPB’s investigation team is against it then so am I.

  21. Can Gary Wall please tell us when this is going to happen? Peregrine lay eggs, March /early April and hatch a month later. Surely this can’t happen while we are ALL in lockdown. This is definitely not essential. Does the licence say?

    1. And where, exactly, are they being harvested. Grid references would be nice, and the time that they nest thieves are going to be out and about. That way we can check they are abiding by the strictest requirements of the licence. If they’ve nothing to hide then, they’ve nothing to fear.

  22. As someone who doesn’t have an axe to grind on either side of this argument, two aspects of it stand out to me: the patience and restraint of Gary Wall in responding to some quite offensive assertions about his motives, and the peevish assumption of moral superiority of some of his critics.

  23. Alick, all humans including you, me and everyone else who has commented on this exploits nature as a resource! if we didn’t we wouldn’t be alive now.

    The exploitation of nature, is a given, its how its done, how its managed and the overall impact on the natural environment that matters.

    One can take an ethical stance, but if you do, unless that stance is backed up by living a lifestyle which does not involve the exploitation of nature in ANY way then its purely a fantasy philosophy.

  24. As part of this “debate” I would like to remind everyone about the really quite recent history of wild pergerine protection in the UK. Hundreds, if not thousands of local people, whole communities in some areas, took part in protecting “their peregrines” during the 1970s, 1980s and beyond, protecting nest sites from thefts by falconers or those providing birds to falconers here and as far away as the Middle East [the very people to whom Mr Walls provides a service].They did not do this so that at some time in the future, when due to their sacrifice [24 hour watches are not easy to sustain] the population recovered enough to allow for the legal removal of those birds progeny, to spend a life in captivity. No wonder you are getting some angry, though thankfully on this blog restrained, comments.

  25. There was a post by Merlin which seemed to suggest three pairs of wild stock would lead to a profitable breeding project.

    Starting with the 3 pairs if you try to go down the route of maximum quantity of offspring it will not take long before interbreeding is inevitable and prolific.
    It would have been simpler for Gary to stick with easily available captive stock and churn out numbers from those. I’m sure if numbers and commercial production were his aim he could have had tens of active breeding pairs in the time it has taken him to get licences for the 3 pairs of wild stock.
    I would also point out that the practice of falconry and availability of falconry type experiences has a positive effect on conservation both on peoples’ appreciation of nature and their support for organisations against raptor persecution and conservation.
    You can add one young female peregrine into the population that survived for to my efforts on recovering and rehabing it back into the wild. Add to that kestrels buzzards and sparrowhawks I’ve saved. Common I know and of no conservational impact, but as do many are saying “it’s the principle”.
    Yours Sincerely
    A Falconer.

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