‘Wild hacking’ is a traditional technique used by falconers whereby young falcons are released in a semi-wild state in order to improve their flying and hunting skills before being trained in falconry.
Gyr and peregrine falcons are raised and exported to markets in the Middle East, such as the United Arab Emirates, where falconry is the nation’s most popular sport. One gyrfalcon can fetch thousands of pounds in this marketplace.
Environmental campaigner and co-founder of Wild Justice Mark Avery yesterday said Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) had issued the licence to rear and release up to 150 gyrfalcons in Moray in Scotland over the summer.
The licence, issued in May, allows the falcon keeper to temporarily release the birds into the wild, 40 at a time, with the aim of toughening them up and recapturing them.
Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (c.69)
08 May 2018
It stipulates that the licence holder can release no more than 40 gyrfalcons at any given time between June and September this year.
But Avery warned that releasing the falcons in those numbers over that short space of time would undoubtedly impact the ecology of the area.
Speaking with ENDS, Avery said: “It was an unusual licence application and there are concerns that other applications could spring up across the UK.”
Avery is particularly concerned that hybrid falcons, which cannot be bred in the UK, but are desired by foreign falconry markets, could be reared alongside other falcon species without proper regulator monitoring and enforcement.
Moray residents have complained that local wildlife has been affected and that pets and even people have been dive-bombed by the birds of prey.
A meeting has been planned for mid-January between SNH, residents and Wild Justice a legal outfit which Avery co-founded with environmental broadcaster Chris Packham.
An SNH spokewoman said: "This is the first time we have issued licences for wild hacking, so we will be analysing how they work and adjusting accordingly if we decide to issue any future licences.
"They have been issued for one season only. In this instance all birds released were tracked and returned to the original location. Gyr falcons represent a low risk of breeding with native species. We are content there will be no overall impact from these licences on the conservation status of other species of conservation concern.
"We know that there are curlews and lapwings present within the areas affected; however, the hacking took place from late June to late August, which is after the most vulnerable period for moorland waders.”
To view Mark Avery's blog post in full click here