“ Situated in Batsford Park, just one mile from the market town of Moreton-in-Marsh, in the beautiful north Cotswold Hills. Founded in 1988 by owner Geoff Dalton, the centre's primary aim is to educate people about birds of prey, in order to promote a great „
Birds of prey have always held a fascination for me and having met my husband (who is owl mad) it was inevitable that our mutual love of all things feathered and bearing talons would lead to spending many hours at various birds of prey centres.
Numerous times during our travels in the cotswolds we have seen signs for the falconry centre at Batsford and thought we should visit. Finally when we had a spare week, visit we did. The centre shares its carpark with the adjacent arboretum and in fact you can buy combined tickets to both attractions. On this occasion we just bought tickets for the falconry centre and very reasonable the entry was too (£6 for adults, £2.50 for children).
Entrance is via what looks like a converted stable block which also housed the toilets and the obligatory gift shop. Coming out of the gift shop you are straight into a little courtyard with hawk, eagle and owl mews in front and to the left and a pagoda and picnic area to the right. At first glance, my husband and I were a little disappointed as the centre looked very small, but a pathway bordered by 3 or 4 larger aviaires led us to a demonstration area and beyond that a woodland owl aviary and further aviaries at the bottom of the paddock. There is a varied collection of birds of prey, ranging from the much loved barn owl through to golden eagles and ruppells vultures. The centre also has a lovely collection of caracaras, some of which I had never seen before (which is always nice to visit a collection and see something out of the ordinary). The centre is bordered on 2 sides by a deer park and it was lovely to see the herd milling round the park during our visit.
After a quick wander round we noted that the first demonstration was about to take place and duly took our seats. The show piece of any bird of prey centre is the demonstration; it is a way of bringing the birds closer to the visitors, whilst educating them about the wonderful birds being flown and giving them an idea how birds would fly in the wild. At Batsford there are 4 daily demonstrations, at 11:30am, 1:30pm, 3pm and 4:30pm and it is here the centre comes into its own. Each demonstration lasts about an hour, and whilst maybe not the most polished I have ever seen, they were entertaining, interesting and brought a variety of birds closer to the visitors. Falconers introduced us to each bird, spoke about their history and their habits and commendably explained about the various environmental factors that are seriously depleting some wild birds of prey. Specifically, the falconer spoke about the oriental white back vulture whose numbers have critically declined in recent years due in no small part to the removal of carcasses from the countryside (thus removing the main component of their diet) and the widespread use of anti-inflammatories which are fatal to the vulture. During this first demonstration the falconer most notably flew a ruppells vulture, certainly something to behold (its wingspan is immense). An eagle owl was also brought out, as was a harris hawk who the falconer got to fly to different people (mainly kids). Audience participation was encouraged and kids were called on throughout the day to help out (racing a harris hawk, pulling a lure for an eagle to stoop too etc). Although the paddock where the main demonstration took place was a fair size, when the larger birds were brought out (golden eagle, vultures, tawny eagles) the falconers hopped over the fence and made use of the deer park to encourage longer flights and more impressive stoops once the birds had caught the thermals and gained some height.
At the end of the first demonstration there was just enough time to have a look round a few aviaries and head to the kiosk for lunch. There is ample space to bring your own picnic, however the kiosk sold a variety of reasonably priced homemade sandwiches, crisps and chocolate plus hot and cold drinks and icecreams (the locally made icecream was divine).
Much of the rest of the day was spent watching demos and then popping back for a drink or snack and a quick wander before the next demo began.
Although the centre is small they have packed a lot in and certainly try to pack lots of things into a visit. The centre is nicely laid out and well kept, the birds all seem to be in lovely condition and the aviaries have been cleverly arranged so that more shy birds can withdraw themselves if they get overwhelmed by the visitors. The staff are all very friendly and helpful and will happily answer any questions you may have.
At the end of our visit we cast our eye over the gift shop and found a few souvenirs which were reasonably priced. The shop stocked little bits and bobs that most children would be happy with but also stocked items that may be of more interest of their parents.
The centre made for a lovely day out and a very reasonably priced one too. It is certainly somewhere we will be visiting again... and again.