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Walking with hawks in Gloucestershire

PUBLISHED: 11:43 23 March 2015 | UPDATED: 13:29 23 March 2015

Clare with the beautiful four-year-old Great Grey Owl ‘Phoebe’ who comes from the Northern Hemisphere

Clare with the beautiful four-year-old Great Grey Owl ‘Phoebe’ who comes from the Northern Hemisphere

Archant

A Gloucestershire couple’s love of birds of prey has led to an unusual business that allows members of the public to ‘Walk With Hawks’

Clare and her husband Phil with ‘Henry’, a three-year-old Barn OwlClare and her husband Phil with ‘Henry’, a three-year-old Barn Owl

If you fancy taking up a sport of kings and caliphs, then may I suggest you contact Clare and Phil Lott. These two enterprising birds of a feather have managed to develop a one-time hobby into a thriving business with customers flocking to the door.

It all began because as a young lad Phil, who was later to become a Gloucestershire firefighter, was mad on birds. I must state the winged kind, in fact, birds of prey. He raised and trained his own private collection and became so experienced, folk were arriving at his home with injured and exhausted kestrels, falcons, owls and hawks, in fact a whole range of wild birds, which he and his wife willingly took in to nurture back to health, before releasing them into a free and natural habitat. The cost of feed and feathered attention, plus in many cases incurred vets’ bills, were offset to a degree with talks along with demonstrations offering the opportunity of hands-on experience at a variety of village fetes, schools and organisations throughout the Cotswolds. No fees were requested, only donations towards their cause and the outlay in saving these wonderful creatures of the air.

Everything was going fine for these two love birds (who first became friends at Charlton Kings School when Clare was 11 and Phil 12) until Phil was struck with a back injury during a firefighting training session, the result of which brought his bells-and-whistles career to an end.

The couple battled on bringing up two children and coping with Phil’s continuing back problems, then out of the blue in 2009 a golden opportunity arose. News of their prowess with birds of prey reached Center Parcs Holidays, based at Longleat, with the outcome being a three-day weekly contract entertaining hotel guests with falconry displays.

Clare with her Aplomado falcon, eight-month-old ‘Buzz’ from South AmericaClare with her Aplomado falcon, eight-month-old ‘Buzz’ from South America

Clare, then catering manager at Gloucestershire College, was persuaded by Phil - who felt he could not handle the physical demand of big demonstrations - that it was an offer they shouldn’t refuse. And anyway, she would shine as well if not better than him running the display side. And she took to it like a duck to water, becoming an instant success. Four years later she is still at the helm, making the drive with her precious cargo three days a week to Wiltshire, facing new people and bringing avian excitement to Center Parcs guests as they stand with outstretched arms excitedly waiting the breeze of wings and strong clutch of claw on wristed leather. Just as King Henry VIII once did, and noble blue-robed Arab Bedouins before him.

But Wiltshire is not the only venue to experience the art of falconry, for the couple have also developed another outlet for their skills named ‘Walks With Hawks’ offering a selection of packages to a maximum of four guests (intentionally kept small to ensure everyone gets plenty of time with the birds), giving the opportunity to handle and fly birds of prey in their natural habitat amid the Cotswold countryside.

As the party rambles on over fields, the hawks will ‘follow on’ and glide down to land on raised gloved fists.

Clare and Phil are ready now to find new territory for these creatures of the skies and wonder if there is any landowner out there in the region of Cirencester or the water parks, who can come to an arrangement to allow Walks With Hawks to spread their wings and operate among new acres, possibly being able to use the birds to hunt, reducing vermin or rabbits that might plague the land.

Ian Finlayson on his first experience, with Sid the Harris HawkIan Finlayson on his first experience, with Sid the Harris Hawk

In finishing I must say I found the short time spent with Phil and Clare among the beloved birds at their home and during Walks With Hawks one of the most fascinating events I have covered in years of recording news and features. Being with them you are transported immediately back to the natural world and the historic flavour of how folk once managed to put food on their gold and silver platters via the dexterity of birds of prey. The arrival of the gun curtailed the need for birds to bring creatures to the table, but the art of falconry still lives large, showing no sign of fading away, courtesy these two ‘birds in a Cotswold bush’.

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For more information, visit: www.walks-with-hawks.co.uk

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