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The Case for Occupational Standards for Bird of Prey Keepers and Professionals

In many roles and occupations, the knowledge and skills that an individual must hold in order to be considered ‘trained’ and ‘qualified’ are perfectly clear. This normally involves the completion of specific qualifications[1] which describe and assess those knowledge and skills. National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) and their Scottish counterpart Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs) are good examples of qualifications that clearly articulate and assess knowledge and skills. These and many other qualifications are based upon national occupational standards which describe what a person needs to know (knowledge) and what they are able to do (skills) to in order to be able to do a specific job.

Achievement of certain qualifications then enables individuals to access work/employment opportunities in that occupational area, and these qualifications are generally accepted as demonstrating the competence of individuals to undertake particular roles.

So to undertake specific roles and to gain entry/ employment to many occupations the requirements are clearly defined through the specification of certain qualifications based upon occupational standards. This is not however the case for those roles that relate to bird of prey keepers and professionals. There is no suite of qualifications, or occupational standards upon which to base qualifications that actually reflect the bird of prey sector and the roles within it.

This may be because the knowledge and skills required for such roles have not been identified or articulated. Yes there are useful guidelines as developed by the Hawk Board. There is also a wealth of publicly available material that indicates what one should or should not do in keeping and working with a bird of prey.  But this is not the same thing as defining the knowledge and skills that qualify the individual to be deemed competent in a particular role.

There are also plenty of thorough training courses, robust assessments, and good trainers and assessors (though sadly some poor ones too). But that is not the point. The point is that in the absence of occupational standards upon which training and assessment for bird of prey keepers and professionals can be based, the content of such training and assessments and the knowledge and skills that these impart will inevitably be variable and inconsistent across providers. In the absence of those Standards upon which training and assessment can be based there is no reference point to ensure that what is being delivered meets a minimum standard. That is not the fault of the providers, trainers or assessors. This situation arises simply because those Standards do not exist.

So why does it matter if the bird of prey sector doesn’t have occupational standards that reflect the roles within it?  It matters on a number of levels. It matters for the individual who may be unable to prove their competence when he or she applies for a job, for example as a pest controller. It matters to employers, making selection more difficult for those that employ or contract individuals to undertake certain roles or tasks. How is the employer to establish the individual’s competence? But most of all it matters for the birds as the absence of Standards for those that keep and/or work with them may be detrimental to their welfare. So this is more than just about having Standards to prove competence; it’s an animal welfare issue.

I wanted to establish the appetite and receptiveness of the bird of prey sector to Standards. To do so I ran a consultation earlier this year that involved a number of proposals. 54 responses were received, not a huge amount but enough to begin to establish whether the proposals made were generally acceptable or not. Note that there was no description of what these Standards should include – the proposed content of these is a project in its own right. I was simply proposing that these Standards should exist, and the proposed roles relating to these. I appreciate that roles overlap but sought to classify these so that distinct Standards could be developed against each.

The proposals and responses to the consultation are shown below.

Proposal %


% Disagreed %


There should be minimum standards for those that keep and/or work with raptors 100% 0% 0%
Standards developed should form the basis of courses/awards delivered to those that keep and/ or work with raptors. Such courses/awards should incorporate these Standards as a minimum. 98% 2% 0%
There should be specific Standards relating to specific roles.

These roles are shown below.

100% 0% 0%
There should be a Standard for a ‘Keeper’ that would be a basic raptor welfare standard for those that keep/ maintain raptors. They may own these personally or work in a bird of prey centre or for some other organisation where they may come into contact with raptors e.g. vet nurses, RSPCA staff etc. 98% 2% 0%
There should be a Standard for a ‘Falconer’ that would apply to those that handle and fly/ hunt with raptors. 93% 2% 5%
There should be a Standard for a ‘Pest Controller’ that applies to those that use raptors for the purpose of controlling pests. 97% 0% 3%
There should be a Standard for a ‘Display Giver’ that applies to those that use trained raptors in displays. These may be flying demonstrations, film, television or stage work or static displays such as those found in zoos, farm parks and bird of prey centres. 97% 0% 3%
There should be a Standard for a ‘Rehabilitator’ that applies to those that rehabilitate raptors. 98% 0% 2%
There should be a Standard for a ‘Breeder’ that applies to those- that breed raptors. 100% 0% 0%


The outcome of this part of the consultation therefore indicated that the bird of prey sector appears to be receptive to the development of occupational Standards for the roles shown above.

I then proposed a structure for the Standards starting with ‘Keeper’. This structure actually changed as a result of the consultation (which had shown falconer as a stepping stone to other Standards). The structure that has come out of the consultation has the Keeper Standard as a pre-requisite to all of the other Standards, in other words an individual should meet the Standard having the knowledge and skills required of a Keeper before progressing to the other Standards.


Diagram 1 – Structure of the Standards


Next steps

Based upon the structure above, it is proposed to take forward the development of Core and Specialist Standards that reflect this. The Core Standards will be set at a basic level and will underpin the more Specialist Standards.  These will be applied to the roles identified as appropriate.

Diagram 1 – Model of the Standards as applied to roles


The actual development of Standards involving the identification of knowledge and skills for each role is an ambitious task, but one which is necessary for the reasons outlined earlier. It will also help to ‘professionalise’ the bird of prey sector, allowing for the development of training and assessments to meet those Standards.

The consultation along with many discussions with bird of prey keepers and professionals has indicated to me that the sector is receptive to occupational Standards, and to training and qualifications to evidence that these are met. This is not to say that such Standards will be a mandatory requirement at all; I would hope however that given a framework of Standards, with training and qualifications based upon these, that the bird of prey sector will engage with this.

There has never been such a framework before, and the introduction of one will for the first time provide an infrastructure which means that the bird of prey sector would be able to police itself. So for example event organisers would require individuals to meet the Standard for a Display Giver; Breeders would require those purchasing a bird from them to hold have met the Keeper Standard; Employers require employees that use birds of prey for the purposes of pest control to have met the Standard for a Pest Controller, and so on. This may seem like a long shot or even a dream. But with a framework in place of Standards and the availability of training and qualifications based upon those Standards then there’s no excuse, and for the sake of the birds we at least have to try.

Julie Murphy

Co-Director (Raptor Awards)

[1] May include appropriate training and awards

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