Falconry is very much an on going field sport across the world and in 2010 Falconry was added to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In some parts of the world, like Kazakhstan and Mongolia, the eagle hunters still depend on the sport as a way of life, but otherwise the sport is very much for recreation. Large numbers of birds of prey are now bred for the sport of falconry and unfortunately, in the UK, there is no legislation on how many can be bred, with large numbers of falcons being shipped to the Middle East for falconers. What is perhaps more worrying is that some other species or groups of birds like owls are being bred in large numbers in the UK and are being shipped abroad, usually to Japan and Thailand, for the pet trade. In the UK, there is no definitive figure on how many people take part in falconry, but, whatever the figure, it will be easily overshadowed by people keeping birds of prey without using them for hunting. You do not need a licence to own a bird of prey in the UK; the only relevant paperwork needed applies to certain species covered by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) and included within the Annex A species list. A useful document can be found at Raptor rescues page here.
A modern day falconers bird – Harris Hawk
Falconry as a field sport is not tightly governed, but, thankfully, the vast majority of falconers will go about their sport in a discreet and professional manner. Falconers must request permission to be on the land they are using and remember that certain prey (game) species have an open and closed season, which can be found here. It is also widely accepted within the falconry community that you should have the correct species of bird for the prey you wish to hunt, that it is illegal to hunt game on a Sunday and that you shouldn’t over hunt a patch of land. Other more modern problems have brought falconry into disrepute like hunting with birds in very urban areas and hunting from vehicles. It is also illegal to release prey for your bird to catch (known as a baggy) within the UK. The theft of birds of prey for falconry was once a big topic with organisations like the RSPB and although there are rare cases, this is usually someone naively trying to make a fast profit. Falconers in the UK are now self sufficient with captive breeding and some of the prices you may see in the press relating to how much birds can make on the Black Market are hugely inflated by the media. Raptor Aid believes that the vast majority of falconers are still a force for good regarding the conservation of birds of prey, but tighter legislation for the ownership or breeding of birds of prey in the UK would go a long way to tidying up the few that show the sport in a poor light.