Horsham Meet the Falcon day raises £1,200 for endangered species

Huxley’s Bird of Prey Centre and Gardens in Horsham welcomed more than 100 people on Saturday, February 23, to welcome the centre’s newest arrival – a lugger falcon named Phoenix, raising £1,200 in the process.

The young male raptor was gifted to the falconry centre at Hillier Garden Centre by Project Lugger, a pioneering new conservation programme to try and halt the decline of the small falcon.

Joining the ranks of the centre’s display team, Phoenix will now be used as part of an educational programme to raise awareness of the plight of the lugger, whose population in its native India and Pakistan is estimated to have fallen from more than an estimated 100,000 birds 40 years ago to just 12,000 today. Once Phoenix reaches maturity he will be entered into a breeding programme to help sustain the population and build a diverse gene pool.

During Saturday’s unseasonably warm weather, Huxley’s proprietor and founder, Julian Ford, hosted a Meet The Falcon event, with all funds raised during the day going towards Project Lugger.

Julian said he was delighted to be coming on board with the project, and having Phoenix joining the ranks of his display team took him right back to his early days in falconry. He said: “I was flying luggers 40, 45 years ago. They’re the most amazing birds and have agility that no other falcon has when they are training.

“The Meet the Falcon Day has been incredible. I thought if we could raise £1000 it would be amazing, and we have gone above that which is just wonderful. The weather has certainly helped – we don’t normally open on a Saturday during the winter, but people have been brilliant coming in today.

“I hope this is the start of great things to come.”

As well as allowing guests to meet Phoenix up close, the centre’s falconers and volunteers put on a day of flying displays showcasing some of the centre’s many falcons to the more than 100 people who came through the centre’s gates.

Joining Phoenix as guest of honour on the day was internationally renowned falconer and author, Bob Dalton, who is one of the project’s founding members.

Explaining the origins of the project and its eventual aims, Bob explained that in the 21 months the project had been running it had evolved from being a vague idea to now having 34 lugger falcons in the project, as well as partners in Spain, Germany, Portugal and France.

He added: “There are a whole number of different things that have contributed to the demise of this falcon. These range from the spread of urbanisation, persecution, man’s depletion of one its principal food sources through to illegal trapping.

While breeding luggers in captivity now and releasing them back into the wild in India and Pakistan is not a realistic option, the project is trying to build up a diverse gene pool of luggers to secure the population while promoting for conservation issues in their native lands to be taken seriously. It is then hoped that breeding pairs can be gifted to conservation organisations in their home lands who can then breed them and release the young back into the wild.

Bob added: “People’s kindness has been outstanding – we have 34 in the project now, but we have proba
bly only had to buy 11 of those.

“When Julian and I started falconry more than 50 years ago a lugger was our first bird, so we tend to look back on them with affection or rose tinted glasses – but that doesn’t matter, they need saving.”

For more information visit www.projectlugger.com

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