Falconry and quarry species
The ancient art of falconry, a hunting tradition, is defined as “taking quarry in its natural state and habitat by means of trained birds of prey”. Falconers are deeply involved in conservation of birds of prey, but also huntable species are of our interest.
One of first large scale programmes by falconers was the establishing of the North American Grouse Partnership in 1999. The aim of this organisation is the protection of the habitats of the North American grouse species and their sustainable use.
The latest initiative of IAF (International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey) in 2015 is a Perdix portal. Similar to the American project it is aimed at conservation of habitats of European partridge, sharing knowledge on their management and best cases of sustainable use.
Falconers promote sustainable use on a daily basis. The Scottish moors are one of the examples, where most of them are aimed at shooters, but those which are less productive are run for falconry use. That does have economical value, but more important are the landscape and biodiversity conservation effects. Without falconers those moors will disappear, changed into pastures or forested.
Falconry and UNESCO
UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Mankind is another international convention, less well known than the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The inscribed traditions first are on national lists and then can be proposed for the Global Intangible Heritage List. Those which are practiced in more than one country can be proposed by few countries together.
Intangible Cultural Heritage is transmitted from generation to generation, recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and the historical conditions of their existence. It provides people with a sense of identity and continuity, and its safeguarding promotes and develops cultural diversity and human creativity.
So the Intangible Cultural Heritage insists that the elements must be passed from parents to children, from tribal leaders to youth. These elements cannot be learned entirely from books or videos.
Passing the element down the generations means that artificial boundaries, like languages, lines on maps, political or religious divisions or ethnic considerations, are all transcended. This happens when the cultural element defines the community. This is why many falconers feel more at home thousands of kilometres from where they live, than they do in their nearby cities.
Falconry fits into every aspect, every rule and every guideline that UNESCO has written into the protocols for acceptance on its lists. It is practiced in many countries, so the solution was to prepare inscription representing countries of different regions. Those countries had to first inscribe falconry on their national heritage lists. Finally a first inscription file representing falconers from 11 countries was submitted and in 2010 UNESCO welcomed falconry as an element on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (UNESCO 2016). Falconry is still the largest multi-national element –in 2018 with 18 countries, and next enlargement is planned for 2019.
It is also acknowledged as the best presented application ever received by UNESCO and the file is used as an example to applications for other cultural inscriptions: “If you do it like the falconers did it, you will probably succeed. It was the falconers of the world that achieved the inscription, even the falconers of countries whose governments are not even signatories to UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, like the UK, Ireland and the USA. People from all these countries worked on the dossier”.
The Tripod, how falconers support themselves
Falconry is hunting with a trained bird of prey, an eagle, a falcon or a hawk. Falconers are few, maybe less than 100,000 people in a world of 7 billion. For every one falconer there are some 70,000 people who are not one. Falconers are, in every country, a minority. Many of greater majority do not understand hunting, nature and the environment. For many years falconers have suffered attacks at national and international levels from people who believe falconry to be a threat to the conservation of birds of prey and to nature in general. This is despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Conservation is one of the three legs of the tripod that supports falconry. Falconers are active conservationists and most falconry clubs and national organizations now have conservation projects that they are involved in or that they support actively. Falconers run numerous rehabilitation facilities around the world. Falconry community support legal and sustainable use of wild raptors and are against illegal use of wild populations of birds of prey.
The second leg to support falconry is Culture, whose significance is only really being understood since we embarked on the UNESCO project.
Falconry is an individualistic pursuit, falconers go out alone or in small groups and hunt in areas remote from the cities and population centres where most people live, so most people do not see falconry, something we have found out to our cost. If a nation’s people do not know about it, they can let it disappear. Once you have seen falconry you can only become a supporter of falconry, even aspire to becoming a falconer.
The third leg of the tripod to support falconry is Education, in its many forms and faces, Youth, Animal Welfare, Veterinary Medicine, online education and an International Falconry Academy. IAF co-organized the first veterinary conference on specialised medicine and surgical procedures for falconry birds, raptors. This was in January 2015 in Doha, with the support of the Souk Waqif Falcon Hospital. The veterinary medicine for birds of prey, particularly research, is led by falconers who fund research in USA, as well as the falcon hospitals in the Gulf that allow research and practice on birds of prey to develop. Falconers were leaders in studies on avian Flu, West Nile virus, DDT and diclofenac effects and many more.
Education works both ways, elders educate the youth and the youth educates their fathers. The meteoric rise of the internet and social media has done much good, we are no longer alone in the desert. Technology has put us in touch with genuine falconers in faraway places that we could never have known about before.
A country that uses this tripod to support its falconry – hunting, conservation and education will always have a strong falconry.
The future of falconry
IAF is communication and it can best advise by communicating the problems discovered in other countries to those who might suffer from the same problems in the future.
Preserving what we have is important. In Europe we have an estimated 15,000 falconers, this is in one of the most densely populated regions of the world where changing agriculture, intensification, and the growth of cities has reduced the amount of game species and numbers to an alarmingly low number. Falconers are now finding it more and more difficult to find quarry to hunt. Hunting territories have become very expensive to rent. The speed that species are becoming extinct or disappearing from their original habitats is accelerating.
Falconers are actively working for biodiversity towards the conservation of farmland birds, not ignoring the circumstances that are causing it. Falconry is hunting game in its natural habitat with a trained bird of prey; without game there is no falconry. There are fewer and fewer areas in Europe for hunting species like the grey partridge, found in huge numbers across central Europe up until the 1970s. In parts of Europe the partridge has become totally extinct. Not only game species are affected, farmland birds like larks, buntings, lapwings, curlew, even sparrows are declining at alarming rates. The reasons for the decreases are well known and have been sufficiently studied: fast changing agricultural methods, loss of different elements of the original countryside, raising mono-cultures, harvesting crops during the night and in early spring and the use of synthetic pesticides. The absence of insects that these have caused makes the survival of species farmland birds, like partridge, lark and lapwing, nearly impossible.
Falconers and hunters are aware of the situation and great efforts are being made by them in areas where falconry and hunting is practiced to encourage the biodiversity necessary to encourage all these birds.
Falconers admitted their responsibility for the environment on United Nations International Day for Biological Diversity – 22 May 2016, when the International Association for Falconry and Conservation of Birds of Prey, acting on an initiative of the DFO (German Falconers Association), established a working group for European Biodiversity consisting of falconers and hunters with scientific and practical background to raise awareness and to seek solutions, called the Perdix Portal Working Group, than renamed to Biodiversity Working Group. One of the last facts was the comments from IAF to the Common Agricultural Policy of European Union, calling for more biodiversity oriented decisions.