Affection for birds has been with me forever, however two trips to Zambia some years ago confirmed the pure passion for Birds of Prey - eagles and vultures everywhere! My opportunity came 10 years ago when a 'sliver' of spare time allowed me to seek out experience, take the Lantra award, study a diploma and volunteer with a huge range of Birds of Prey and Wildlife rehabilitation.
I actually wanted to stay in Africa and volunteer with wildlife conservation! However, I married my best friend and reality anchored me to finding a worthwhile project here at home. My experience flying lots of different birds was so much fun, yet left me questioning the reality surrounding our own species, found to be struggling and declining. Watching people spectate the wonderful show of birds in the park, somehow fell short of highlighting the plight of our own raptors, in particular the Kestrel, Barn Owl and Little Owl.
I started the project aiming to build, site and maintain at least 30 nest boxes and with the help of volunteers to build boxes and install them, along with a BTO ringer, we now monitor and ring annually. I have a BTO permit which allows me to visit the boxes of wild Barn Owl, albeit the ladder climbing challenges me every time! Besides this, the realisation that so many wild raptors perish or suffer when injured or orphaned and we as a society offer them little or no knowledgeable care led me to draw on my nursing history to form the Bird of Prey Hospital, as we all know, the care of raptors can be tricky.
The primary aim is to improve and expand the educational side, in particular for children who are the future for these species! Also, improve and expand the hospital facility to help more wild injured raptors.
As a voluntary organisation, I fit this into a life filled with other normal activity i.e. I work as a private nurse, support our design business, assist with Hippotherapy and run a home, 3 dogs and several grown up children who appear from time time. BOPH has formed with organic growth so far.
The educational side has grown in popularity. Groups, schools and organisations are now routinely approaching for an experience session. It started on a farm where I have nesting barn owls, as I was approached to assist with school visits and take workshops which I do several times each year.
The message has been enhanced by my team member Wisdom as her beauty has people mesmerised, the reaction to a live Barn Owl is priceless sometimes. Essentially I am flabbergasted at how much people don't know of our wildlife and its current state. Encouraging youngsters with inquisitive interest is the focus.
Life today is excessively challenged with material lust and technological advancement. If we don't encourage and engage the kids with a passion for our biodiversity, then we lose in the long run. Though Mother Nature may, in time, tip the balance once more on a world whose wild environment is getting out of kilter. Enjoying what we have today and preserving it is vital and children need to be offered encouragement to find their way to realise passion. It is a natural ingredient.
Simple...Birds of Prey can never be manipulated to be anything but themselves. Hard wired to exist and survive, they don't need us and don't indulge us. But if we are extremely respectful and immensely careful, we can work with them, earn their trust and share a little of this precious relationship that is like no other. Humans are such a dominant species, who yearn for control. With Birds of Prey, we cannot force a relationship - we must earn it. I guess it is as natural a relationship with the wild that one can experience. They teach us so much.
Vultures! Without them, the world will be altered, empty and disease ridden. These really are the workforce of nature at its very best and seeing them at work in the wild is incredible. Watching them fit into the pecking order of life is so natural and we should all take time to learn more about them.
Realistically of course for me, there is a yearning to own or partner a Harris Hawk. These birds formed the early years of my learning, they are clever and beautiful. However the lust for ownership of birds in the UK has impacted greatly on the reputation and respect of the Harris - a moral dilemma that leads personal questioning constantly. If it is meant to be, then there is a male Harris that will find its way to me. I can only offer it my very best, but that is the next chapter...
Collaboration and encouragement is life itself...however, during many years of searching to extend my own personal journey within falconry, I am left cynical and regretful (and getting old). I love birds of prey, as for me they offer the passion of an appetite for learning like no other.
Improvements to assist others, particularly youngsters, to have good experience and encouraging guidance for the future of the sport is vital. However, whilst secrecy and protectionism form a sealed wrap that bonds old practices in place, then there will always be a risk that we lose more than we gain.