It has been revealed that hundreds gyrfalcons and hybrids of the species have been released into the Scottish countryside before being recaptured and, it is believed, exported to the Middle East for use in the falconry industry where such animals are priced in the thousands of pounds. In the training method known as ‘wild hacking’, falconers release captive birds into the countryside to ‘toughen them up’ before being caught again.

As gyrfalcons and gyr hybrids are not native to Scotland, it is an offence to release them. However, Scottish Natural Heritage shockingly issued a licence for the release of ‘no more than 150 gyrfalcons to be released between 1st June and 15th September’ this year in Moray, with no more than 40 at any given time. An SNH spokesperson said that this was the first licence for ‘wild hacking’ that the authority has issued, despite the practice happening in previous years. The licence stipulates that all released birds must be fitted with GPS devices and radio transmitters and that SNH must be notified if any of the birds travel further than two kilometres their release site for 12 – 36 hours.

Local residents have expressed concern, claiming that local wildlife has suffered due to the release of an extraordinary large number of non-native falcons in such a small area. Although a bird survey of the release area was required by SNH, this covered just one kilometre around the release site and was carried out on a single day.

Earlier this year, Freedom for Animals highlighted the lack of scrutiny of the falconry industry and exposed the cruel practice of tethering at bird of prey centres across the UK. A report released by the anti-captivity charity in July 2019 found that birds involved in falconry were involved in brutal training practices such as being starved so that their appetite would outweigh their fear of humans. Over 40% of bird of prey centres were found to be lacking zoo licences despite meeting the criteria to require one.

Sam Threadgill, Director of Freedom for Animals said;

This bizarre decision to licence the release, and then recapture, of these falcons is detrimental both to the ecosystems of the area and to the welfare of the birds themselves as they will spend the remainder of their lives in captivity far away from their natural habitat.

He continued,

As our report, Tether and Torment, shows, the falconry industry has existed under the radar of public scrutiny for too long. However, Freedom for Animals will continue to shine a light on this often overlooked area of animal abuse.

Learn more about the Tether and Torment campaign here: freedomforanimals.org.uk/tether-and-torment