Falconry Festival: Flying the flag for the UAE

The UK’s second International Festival of Falconry was dominated by the UAE’s presence. This week, visitors to Reading’s Englefield Estate were treated to a rare spectacle.

By Bianca Brigitte Bonomi

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Published: Wed 15 Jul 2009, 6:12 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:31 PM

The UK’s second International Festival of Falconry, hosted by the UK Hawk Board and supported by the Emirates Falconers’ Club, showcased an array of birds from around the globe and transported elements of UAE culture to English shores.

Arabic dance, Bedouin customs and roaming camels aren’t what you would usually expect to find in the heart of the English countryside, but for three days, the scents of Emirati bukhoor wafted through the air as visitors were invited to sample the foods of the desert and to learn more about the crafts and animals of the world of Arabian falconry.

Designed to promote and protect the art of falconry, the festival welcomed falconers from over 50 nations spanning Europe, Arabia, Central and Southern Asia and South America, and in excess of 10,000 visitors, including government officials, MPs and royalty.

The art of falconry is over 4,000 years old and is practiced in 65 countries. The UAE’s deep-rooted passion for the sport is reflective of the role that it has played in shaping the nation and falconry is today recognised as being integral to the region’s tradition, history and culture. As part of the UK festival, exhibitors were invited to share their experiences of falconry with an international audience, ranging from seasoned professionals to interested novices. Enabling people from different national and ethnic backgrounds to come together and unite over a shared pastime was a key motivation behind the festival’s inception last year.

“The festival gives us international outreach and cultural exchange, taking us a step closer to our aim of ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy this important part of our culture”, says H.E. Majid Al Mansouri, Executive Director, Emirates Falconers’ Club.

“We are very excited about the response to the festival”, he continued, “and believe that the combination of participating nations, events, exhibitions and demonstrations have made it a fascinating and enjoyable event for all visitors.”

In addition to falconry demonstrations and parades, exhibitors offered workshops on falconry-related activities including breeding, training, desert culture, wildlife conservation and leather craft. The history of falconry was explored through photographic displays, art exhibitions and manuscripts from the archives of international falconers.

The highlight of the festival was the Abu Dhabi Village, a vast enclosure that housed exhibitors from the UAE, including the Emirates Falconers’ Club, the Sheikh Zayed Falcon Release Programme, the International Fund for Houbara Conservation, Arabian Saluki Centre, the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. Demonstrating both the significance of falconry to the region’s history and its continuing relevance in contemporary society, these organisations helped the international visitors to understand the development of falconry through the ages and opened their eyes to a hitherto hidden world.

“The Emirates Falconers’ Club, which represents falconers of the UAE, has been the festival sponsor since its launch two years ago”, says organisation spokeswoman Laila Al-Hassan. “This year, we have brought a lot of our partners with us to the UK. We are here with a very clear message: falconry is crucial to our culture and heritage and it continues to link us to nature. Living in such a modern country undergoing rapid development and urbanisation, it is increasingly important to think about our surroundings and our environment and falconry enables us to do this. It helped our ancestors to survive in the desert and we are trying to protect this legacy. To protect it fully, we are spearheading the UAE’s international submission to UNESCO, on behalf of 12 falconry nations, for falconry to be recognised as part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage.”

“The UAE is filled with a wonderful and unique culture”, adds Dr Mousa Al hawari. “Here at the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, we recognise the importance of disseminating this culture on a global platform. We are showing visitors to the festival exactly why we are so interested in sustaining falconry.”

The cultural exchange at the heart of the festival was bolstered by the gifting of a majestic white female gyr falcon to HRH Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. This royal gift, which was presented on behalf of Abu Dhabi by His Highness Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, signifies the importance of the relationship between the UAE and the UK and demonstrates the necessity of promoting a cultural dialogue between regions.

This cultural exchange was also encouraged through an educational programme of events. “We have introduced a new element to the festival this year”, says Al-Hassan. “The young falconers corner is an interactive section designed to enable children to become involved in the world of falconry. On the opening day of the festival, we had 500 visiting students from local Reading schools and we have since received fantastic feedback from their teachers.”

“Many of the children had never even heard of Abu Dhabi and didn’t know anything about falconry outside of the UK prior to the event”, she continues, “so we explained to them the differences between our brand of falconry in the UAE and that practiced elsewhere. In terms of educating and stimulating children, our participation in the festival has been a huge success. We have also had a great response from adults. There are falconry enthusiasts here and our message to them is to explain what falconry means to us, so that although we don’t share the same language or race, we can bond over our common love of falconry.”

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