Kestrels are a wonderful sight, hovering over our farm fields or hedgerows, almost motionless with their fluttering, pointed wings and long tails, waiting to strike on their unsuspecting prey below.
For those of us of a certain age, Barry Hines’ brilliant and deeply moving 1968 novel, “A Kestrel for a Knave” made an indelible impression on us in our formative years. It tells the story of a working class northern lad, Billy Casper, living in a mining town, with difficulties at home and school, caring for and training a kestrel. Subsequently made into “Kes”, one of Ken Loach’s most notable films, the novel makes a deep impact. As a teacher, I can well remember reading the novel in the 1970s to a class of tough inner-city teenagers and most of them reduced to tears!
But, despite our having kestrels on our farms in North Devon, the number of kestrels has dwindled nationally since the 1970s. On the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds website, the number of breeding pairs in the UK is now estimated to be down to just 45,000 and the ‘at risk’ rating is “amber”. So what’s to be done to help save this beautiful and adaptable falcon?
Well, in our own modest way, we are now extending our range of bird boxes to include kestrel boxes, to encourage more of these attractive raptors to thrive and breed around our farms. Farm manager, Rob, is putting up another kestrel box this week. Let’s hope that, as a result, in the years ahead we can see more of these beautiful and elegant birds.