Projects to breed falcons in captivity were first launched by Sheikh Zayed more than 40 years ago
In the past, the conservation community and devotees of falconry viewed one another with a degree of suspicion at best and at worst, open hostility. But there have been important steps made recently in a growing collaboration between the two groups. Earlier this year, I attended a conference in Abu Dhabi called Summit for the Flyways, which brought together both conservation organisations such as BirdLife International and the Ornithological Society of the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia, and bodies related to falconry, including the Abu Dhabi-based International Fund for Houbara Conservation. The meeting, supported by the UN-affiliated Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species and the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi, examined threats to migratory birds moving between Africa, Europe and Asia and discussed initiatives to reduce those threats.
The conflict between the two camps has been fading as both have recognised that there is scope to work together and that the two passions are not mutually exclusive. After all, there can be no long-term future for falconry if the survival of wild falcons and their favoured prey, the houbara, is in danger. At the same time, the conservation of the habitats in which these species live has a beneficial effect on all other creatures that live there. There are both shared interests and potential conflicts of interest and the identification of a happy medium is, surely, the way forward.
As a boy growing in the English countryside, I developed a profound interest in the environment and the wildlife around me. With a father who was a top horticultural writer and a mother who taught biology, that was, perhaps, not surprising. For years, I used to shoot as well, deriving satisfaction not so much from the quarry as from the gradually honed ability to observe wildlife around me. I no longer shoot but I’ve never found it difficult to combine passion for the environment with support for some forms of country sports, field sports or blood sports, whatever you might call them.