The grounds at The Hawk Conservancy Trust have been evolving since the 1960s. They are always changing, but in many ways the character of the park has remained unchanged. When Reg and Hilary Smith began to create the grounds, their ambition was to create a woodland environment which provided a refuge for many forms of wildlife. After many years, the park has grown into 15 acres of woodland with seven acres of wildflower meadow. Both environments have taken into account the two flying grounds at the park - the lower flying ground amidst the woodland, and the top flying ground overlooking Reg's Meadow.
The most striking feature of the park is the trees. Apart from a number of non- indigenous species such as Norway Maple and Cedar, there is a profusion of native trees such as Birch, Beech, Hornbeam, Cherry and Apples. It is extraordinary to think that when The Hawk ConservancyTrust was a farm there were no trees apart from the very large Beech trees at the top of the grounds. Many of the trees around the park have labels to encourage younger visitors to learn more about the trees they often see every day.
With so many trees, the park is like a woodland oasis surrounded by arable fields. The result is a high proportion of wildlife relative to the surrounding area. There is a healthy population of Tawny Owls who are very vocal during the night. Little owls are also resident, arguing through the aviaries most nights with some of our birds. At a number of locations, bird feeders and nest boxes have been put up to encourage the many other wild birds which can be seen around the park. Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, Green and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers to name a few are all seen regularly. Apart from providing a relaxing setting and suitable habitat for a number of species, the woodland setting also means that most of the park cannot be seen from any one place. Paths lead off in several directions, encouraging our visitors to head off and explore all the different areas of the park. On a more practical side, tarmac paths afford access to most of the grounds. The Hawk Conservancy Trust has been nominated for a disabled ease of access award.
Apart from trees and birds, insect life is also encouraged at the park. Three wildlife ponds have been established to encourage Dragonflies, Damsel Flies, Frogs, Water Boatmen, and an amazing variety of aquatic life. The ponds also provide suitable habitat for a number of aquatic plant species. Younger visitors are encouraged to learn about nature as well and we have established a nature trail next to thew Dragonfly Pond with questionnaires for different age groups to follow.
Another one of the more interesting and picturesque features of the park is the Butterfly Garden. This has been created with an abundance of wildflowers designed to attract not only butterflies, but also moths as well. In the height of summer, there is a profusion of flowers in many different colours. Many people expect the garden to be enclosed, but this is not the case. It is designed to encourage wild butterflies. Even if there are none of these enchanting creatures to be seen, the garden itself is a brilliant example of creative planting made to look wild and incidental. There is a wide variety of different species, from Cowslips to young Oak trees, all planted with the needs of butterflies and moths in mind.
The grounds have been set out with the comfort of two 'species' in mind - birds and people. Wherever possible, the aviaries are designed to provide maximum comfort for the residents. For most birds, this means somewhere they can go to feel comfortable when being watched by our visitors. Most birds of prey are nervous of humans. and many of our more nervous residents feel much more comfortable watching you from the security of a 'hidden' perch. This might, however, be from behind a single leaf! Owls tend to prefer the security of a nest box. During the spring, there is often only one owl to be seen in our aviaries. This is usually the male, whose job it is to supply the female with food. In some species of owl, the female will spend almost the entire 24 hour period of each day for several months inside the nest box. This period will cover the laying of the clutch, incubation, hatching, and rearing.
As far as our visitors are concerned, there are many places to sit and relax. With three flying demonstrations each day, the Heron and Raptor Feed, the grounds, study centre and other features, most visitors feel the need to stay for the whole day. Many will also bring a picnic lunch. Apart from the main picnic area and patio by the coffee shop, there are numerous other seats and tables around the grounds, as well as two other picnic areas. The two smaller picnic areas are particularly relaxing as both are in quieter areas of the park. One in particular offers the relaxing sight of the Butterfly Garden on one side and the large Dragonfly Pond on the other.
Apart from places to sit and enjoy lunch or a coffee, parents can have a break and take their children to the toddlers' play area to let the youngsters amuse temselves for a while.
A more recent addition to the grounds is a play area for older children, with climbing towers, slides and swings. To cater for all ages, next door to the toddlers' play area is the 'Adults' Play Area'. This is where those visitors who have arrived on an adult's ticket can fly a Harris's Hawk not long after the 2pm Valley of the Eagles Display.
Spring is particularly colourful at the Trust. Each year a profusion of daffodils marks the beginning of the summer season, and these are followed by hundreds of Bluebells during May. As the season progresses other flowers can be seen, and once the flowering season has finished, the Autumn colours are brilliant all across the park.
With such an array of colours, wildlife and other features, it is amazing to think that the park used to be open fields. Regardless of what time of year you visit The Hawk Conservancy Trust, if you are a regular visitor, or coming for the first time, there is always much to see.