In this week’s blog, Sarah-Jane Manarin, founder of Coda Falconry, shares her journey with falconry, and gives us a little preview of her new book: The Freedom of Falconry.
“I don’t believe it – there’s a buzzard sitting on that fence!” This excited cry came from my dad, as we were en-route to Devon, as part of our annual family holiday. I was about eight years old at the time. Quite sensibly, my dad then decided to pull over and reverse on the hard shoulder of the M5 motorway, so that we could once again be parallel with the magnificent bird of prey. I pressed my face towards the back window, and this beautiful bird turned its head to face to me. Everyone has that one moment, when they are inspired or want to learn more about a subject – this was mine.
I started my journey with falconry in the summer of 2003. After years of observing wild raptor species all over the UK, I saw a falconry display at a large country show and was mesmerized; “Are these people wizards?!” I whispered to myself as I observed the demonstration – what I saw was truly magical; human beings calling “free-flying” birds of prey to land on their gloved hand.
Desperately wanting to learn more about this ancient sport, I booked myself onto a 5 day falconry course in Gloucestershire. Like most falconry centres at that time, this particular one was based in a rural environment. It’s now 15 years since I made the decision to share my life with raptors and I feel like I’m only at the beginning of my journey. I started Coda Falconry in June 2013 because I wanted to share what I had learnt about birds of prey with a wider audience who simply couldn’t get access to the sport before we opened – people like me who had grown up in urban environments but who held nature and the countryside close to their hearts.
Coda Falconry is an award winning bird of prey centre based within the Lee Valley Park which runs experience days, falconry courses, flying displays and rehabilitation work as well as providing birds of prey for TV, photography and film projects. We are truly blessed in that we can practice all of the traditional, rural pursuits of falconry in a large untouched area of countryside and yet, still have direct links with London and the surrounding suburbs.
So, what is falconry?
It’s quite simply, a natural, almost symbiotic bond between a trained bird of prey and it’s handler in order to catch live prey.
Falconry connects you with nature. You cannot make these birds do anything they do not want to; if the bird a falconer casts free isn’t happy, it will not return. Human beings and birds have worked together for thousands of years.
Very simply: we make life better for each other. A bird of prey soon learns that their human guardian has or can flush out food and once a bond is formed with the falconer, life is easy for them. For the humans, having a winged hunter to assist when trying to catch live prey certainly puts them at an advantage.
Does that matter? Is falconry relevant in the modern world?
I think emphatically – yes. I believe that falconry should be taught on a mass level, to a wider demographic – perhaps, one day, falconry will become a more mainstream sport. Hard work, diligence, training and respect – these are the key elements of falconry and without a doubt, these attributes should be encouraged in modern society. We should never, as a society, want to be separated from nature but sadly, that seems to happen more and more. It’s therefore essential that we hand down rural traditions to our future generations so that we keep our links to the land we live on and can protect our local environments – they become “relevant” again with more use.
I’ll leave you now with an excerpt from my book “The Freedom of Falconry” as it seems to encompass the message I am trying to put across in a short space of words – I really hope you enjoyed getting to know falconry better and maybe we’ll see you soon at our centre!
“Do you love birds of prey? Are you able to perceive nature in a different way to that which you have been taught, and are you willing to open your heart, to a friendship which will make a mark on your soul, forever?
When you stand alone with your newly-trained raptor, for the first time, the world around you will feel different – your perspective will change, and you will start listening to the alarm calls of other birds, and the direction the wind is blowing. When she opens her wings, looks around at her surroundings and pushes off from your glove, as you let go of her flying jesses, she takes her first flight into her element, and a part of you will go with her. When she returns to your glove, after her flight, and nestles into you, after eating her fill of food, that is her way of saying: “Take me home, please.” And, you will be so glad to oblige…
She flew away, but then she came back, out of choice.
This is the freedom of falconry.”
Coda Falconry are a finalist in the East, for the Best Rural Recreational or Outdoor-Pursuits Business award. If you would like to learn more about Coda Falconry, go to their website: www.codafalconry.co.uk Or, to see the other businesses they are up against, follow this link.
Or, if you would like to buy Sarah-Jane’s new book, The Freedom of Falconry, click here.
Lastly, to buy your tickets to attend one of our awards ceremonies, click here.