The International Standards:

This short article describes the evolution of the International Bird of Prey Welfare Standards and their relevance to modern falconers. Raptor Awards CIC maintains the standards on behalf of the International Falconry Community.


Raptor Awards CIC exists to improve bird of prey welfare through education, training and assessment, and we achieve this by providing certificated learning/education opportunities based on the International Standards for Bird of Prey Welfare (‘the standards’). At present we are the only body offering courses properly aligned to these important bird of prey welfare standards.

How do we achieve this?

To ensure that there is a welfare benefit to the work we do, candidates who wish to be awarded a Raptor Awards Certificate must reach a certain level of knowledge and understanding about birds of prey, and must also be capable of demonstrating their practical handling skills. To achieve certification they are assessed by specially trained assessors who are all falconers of long experience. The specialist assessors are issued with a set of written ‘Standards’ against which candidates are assessed.

What is meant by the term ‘Standards’?

In the UK and across the rest of Europe, Governments have funded the development of ‘National Standards’ for most occupations. To receive a certificate for any vocational, work-related activity in the UK and Europe candidates must demonstrate to a properly qualified assessor that they are ‘competent’ to perform the stated actions, and that the have the correct underpinning knowledge and understanding of what they are being asked to do.

For example, here is a short extract from the National Standards for NVQ level 2 for plumbers who install and commission domestic heating systems

Knowledge and understanding: (the candidate must ‘know’ and understand’ – ed)

1. the applications, advantages and limitations of different plumbing

and heating systems

2. the applications, advantages and limitations of appliances,

components and accessories in relation to the working environment

3. the appropriate industry standards and regulations relevant to the

commissioning of plumbing and heating systems

4. how to verify that job information and documentation……. Etc “

Further documentation in the written ‘standard’ describes things like the assessment processes and the breadth of knowledge required.

In the UK, Lantra, the Land-based Sector Skills Council, was the Standard-Setting body with responsibility for the ‘Land-Based Sector’ including animal care qualifications. In the past they offered the ‘Beginning Falconry Award’ for new bird of prey keepers and falconers.

Both Julie Murphy and Derek Hartshorne (who now administer Raptor Awards) were employed by Lantra in senior roles, and are expert on the technical and educational sides of developing Vocational Qualifications. It is the expertise and experience of Standards, assessment processes, quality assurance mechanisms and qualification development that Derek and Julie bring to Raptor Awards.

Who developed the standards?

To answer this question we need to go back to 2003/4 and the first phase of Standards development. At that time, Julie Murphy realised that there were no formally certificated courses for new entrants wishing to keep birds of prey. As no such courses existed at that time, Julie sought permission to make contact with leading figures in the bird of prey world to investigate the possibility of Lantra introducing such a certificated course. She wrote to Jemima Parry-Jones , who was, at that time, the Chair of the Hawk Board asking if they would support the development of a properly certificated course.

Following Hawk Board discussions where both Derek and Julie attended a number of meetings of the Hawk Board in the Bristol Offices of Defra, Julie, assisted by Derek were charged with providing the educational and technical expertise, whilst the Hawk Board members provided the specialist bird of prey knowledge.

Derek was tasked with meeting every individual Hawk Board member to undertake the consultation process and travelled the length and breadth of the UK to meet them. Derek also attended several open meetings where interested falconers could come along and hear about the new plans and make their points about what was needed.

Following an extended period of information gathering, repeated clarification on various points and further discussions over about 18 months it was finally possible to identify the total body of knowledge required at that time, the practical skills required and the assessment techniques to be used in order for someone to be judged as competent to keep a bird of prey.

The new Hawk Board Chair, Jim Chick, and Dee Mitchell of the Education Sub-committee took on the task of final drafting and editing of the content on behalf of the Hawk Board, this was then approved and passed back to Julie Murphy. A workbook based on the Hawk Board expertise was printed and an initial cohort of instructor/assessors recruited.

About 50 falconers applied to become instructor/assessors and Dr Mike Nicholls began the initial training of many of these assessors in the correct educational assessment techniques according to the Hawk Board Standard, and the ‘Beginning Falconry’ Award was launched.

Following the initial launch and representations from the Falconry Clubs, Dr Mike Nicholls drafted a new unit – Unit 12 Flying Free- specifically for the Falconry Clubs. Terry Large toured the country to introduce and promote the uptake of Unit 12 to the BFC regions and other falconry clubs. Many people will remember his talks.

Moving forwards we come to 2015 when Lantra decided to impose punitive fee increases on those offering the Beginning Falconry Award. Many felt that Lantra was no longer the best option for certificating candidates, and this lead eventually to the birth of Raptor Awards when Julie and Derek were tasked by a group of 35 former Lantra Assessors with providing a replacement qualification, revising the standards, and helping to raise the quality of the new Award.

This led to the second phase of the development of the Standards.

Working from the original Hawk Board content, Raptor Awards again consulted widely with leading Falconers and drafted an expanded set of standards in a modern form to reflect best practice at the time.

More than 30 well-known falconers have contributed in many ways to the development of the Standards. However, Raptor Awards would specifically like to express their gratitude to the following individuals whose self-less generosity and support over many years made the development of the Standards possible :

Jemima Parry-Jones MBE

Dr Nick Fox OBE, BSc, CEd, PhD

Nick Kester

Dr Mike Nicholls PhD, MSc, FIBiol, FHEA.

Dr Neil Forbes BVetMed, Dip ECZM(avian), FRCVS

Dr Karl Jennings. BVSc MRCVS

…. and the former members of the Hawk Board.

Following the approval of the Phase 2 Standards Raptor Awards launched modules C1 to C8 which supported two Awards, namely ‘Keeping birds of prey’, and Training birds of prey’. These are:

  • C1 – Accommodation and equipment
  • C2 – Feeding and nutrition in birds of prey
  • C3 – Monitoring and maintaining health in birds of prey
  • C4 – Catching and restraining birds of prey
  • C5 – Legislation and Birds of prey
  • C6 – Falconry furniture and equipment for trained birds of prey
  • C7 – Species characteristics, purchase and collection
  • C8 – Initial training, manning and weight management

A further module C9 ‘Flying unrestrained birds of prey’ joined the basic suite of standards from April 2020.

Standards Review process:

Since the Phase two Standards were introduced in 2016 several changes have occurred in the Falconry world. For example, GPS systems were hardly used at that time and are not specifically mentioned in the current standards. Furthermore there have been changes to the law and guidelines that are not yet included.

Raptor Awards undertakes periodic reviews to maintain the currency of the standards.

Standards for bird of prey professionals and commercial falconers

Representations from various organisations and individuals who use birds of prey in a commercial / professional capacity have been involved with the development of advanced awards for more experienced falconers.

Working with industry groups drawn from the commercial bird of prey world, Raptor Awards CIC continues to develop national standards for higher level and specialist skills.

Interested in helping improve bird of prey welfare?

If you are passionate about bird of prey welfare and believe that education and training is one of the best ways of improving welfare standards then you may wish to consider putting yourself forward as a working group expert. If you have a specific area of expertise, and are able to devote some time to the cause we would be delighted to hear from you. Please note that these positions are not remunerated.

Raptor Awards CIC is recognised as a not-for-profit organisation. Read more about not-for-profit organisations here:

We welcome feedback and comments. Please read our comments policy here


  1. A society may be evaluated by the level of welfare it provides to its animals. An animal orientated organisation must clearly state the standard of welfare that must be provided by its members to their animals. Such an organisation must research, train, educate, assess and publicise the standards which it believes are acceptable to ensure the positive welfare of the animals in their members’ care.
    We must all appreciate that animal welfare is a developing and advancing science, as such the standards that are acceptable today may well not be in 1-2 years time. Learning, training and education must be continual and lifelong.

    1. Thank you Neil for your positive comments and for your long support over many years. We will be starting a formal review process of our standards in April, and will take up your kind offer to be part of the review panel.

  2. I first heard of the Raptor Awards program and became quite interested in it when Derek sent me the materials and standards. I was very impressed with the quality and the critical thinking aspect of the materials that were sent to me. I strongly encourage anyone interested in bird of prey welfare and care take a look at Raptor Awards. They will help people learn how to become better Raptor caretakers and falconers.

  3. Providing a robust set of standards is a requirement for any organisation/group wishing to be classed as professionals. Bird of Prey management is not a simple process and requires a range of understanding with critical analysis of evolving situations. The Raptor Awards provide a basis for tuition and leave candidates ready to develop their husbandry in an informed and safe way ensuring the best possible care for their birds.

    1. Thanks Mike. We have been very fortunate to have had the support and contributions from such knowledgeable Falconers and Vets over many years. This has enabled us to produce a set of standards as good as any available anywhere in the world. The UK should be proud that we lead the way.

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