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As you walk around the Thirsk Birds of Prey Centre, you will see that outside the aviaries we have maps of the world with certain countries highlighted. This is to show you where in the world the type of bird in that particular aviary comes from. Not all the birds have come to us from those countries, many of them have been bred in captivity and it is because of these captive breeding programmes that many birds of prey are still around in the world today.
Birds of prey were very much protected in the Middle Ages and although they have helped man through the centuries, we have not always been kind to them. In the 1950s and ’60s modern agriculture, with the widespread use of toxic chemicals, caused major damage to the native raptor population, almost wiping out the population of Peregrine Falcons and other birds of prey in some areas.
Human development also affects wildlife through intensified farming and forestry, construction, pollution, disturbance and climate change. Not only have we built on their habitat and destroyed their prey, but the fate of many owls in particular is to die under our cars, feeding on prey killed by traffic.
We will also have some guest speakers who will talk to you about the conservation of habitats and wildlife, tell us ways in which we can all help to preserve these and to answer any questions you may have.
Don’t forget, if you have any questions or would like to talk about conservation and how you think you might be able to help, speak to one of the helpers when you visit for the group meetings.
In the last few decades, falconers and conservationists have worked together to lobby the government for improved legislation and greater awareness of the problems. Today, because of this, birds of prey are thriving in the United Kingdom and domestic breeding programmes are proving most successful. However, some recent research tells us that there is clear scientific evidence to show that numbers of the UK’s best-known raptors, such as the hen harrier, peregrine, sparrowhawk and kestrel, are still under major threat of decline.
The research also tells us that illegal persecution is still a major threat; there has been an increase in the number of reported incidents of illegal killing of raptors in the last five years. This is only the reported ones, the actual figure is likely to be much higher.
Not only is suitable habitat important but food supply is just as vital a factor if birds of prey are to flourish in any given area. Sometimes the feeding habits of birds of prey have come into conflict with the needs of farmers, growing food for us all, or gamekeepers, whose role is to rear and protect game birds for shooting.
We hope that by raising public awareness of the needs and habitats of birds through centres such as ours and you, starting out as a falconer, we can all play a part in assisting the preservation of these fine creatures to enrich the lives of future generations.