The history of the Trust is a fascinating tale, and one that cannot be told without referring to the people who have made us who we are today.
Founders Reg, Hilary and Ashley Smith laid the foundations for our Trust family to grow and, with the help of many staff, volunteers, members, supporters and visitors, the Trust has grown into a place we hope you love as much as we do. Below we have shared with you insights to some members of our team so that you can discover more about what inspires them each day.
Andy Hinton our Head of Development
“I first came to the Trust for a twelve week work experience placement that I needed to complete as part of my studies. I’d previously built new aviaries for the three birds of prey at college so a lecturer suggested I try the Trust. I visited before my interview and my wife asked me if I could see myself ever doing a commentary; I went on to do them for over 10 years!
I don’t ever imagine a time when I will stop loving watching wildlife: whether it’s seeing the first swallow or swift of the year, watching a wild Barn owl quartering or a vulture soaring, I get the same feeling, one of awe.
Though I love all wildlife, an early memory of a bird of prey was when I saw a Golden Eagle where I lived in the Highlands many years ago. I couldn’t stop talking about it, what a sight, truly stunning! Nobody believed I’d seen it either!
For me, what sets the Trust apart from other places is that I get to work somewhere that actually contributes to the conservation of birds of prey. That’s very important me.
I’ve worked at the Trust since 1997 so there are far too many highlights of my time here to mention just a few. One of my favourite aspects of my job though is releasing the Bald Eagles to fly across the valley in our afternoon display. Danebury and I go way back!”
Jane Robertson our Registrar, member of our Bird Team and also the Coordinator for the African White-backed Vulture EEP
“I first came to the Trust early in 1994 with my then boyfriend, who was in the army. We loved it so much that we joined as members straight away and, when he was posted abroad later that year, I decided to start volunteering.
Recovering from back surgery in 1997, I realised that you only get one life and after having worked as a volunteer at the Trust for four years at that time, I knew I wanted to work with animals, ideally birds of prey. I decided to go back to college to gain my National Diploma in Animal Care. Ashley wrote a lovely reference for my college application, but warned me that jobs didn’t come up at the Trust very often. However, I was lucky that as part of my work experience I did more volunteering at the Trust and managed to convince Ashley to employ me. It was volunteering that turned my love of raptors into an obsession, Ashley who inspired me and my back op was the catalyst to pursue my dream. Working with a great team of people and birds and the thought that I am giving a little back to nature is what has kept me at the Trust ever since then!
I have so many highlights from my time here that I have lost count, though there are a few that really stand out. The first time Fraggle the White-bellied Sea-Eagle stooped in to land on my fist and releasing Danebury the Bald Eagle for the first time were both incredible. The first bird I trained (Galaxy our Spectacled Owl) and the last (Fawkes our Wahlberg’s Eagle) are both highlights! Rearing baby raptors is always special.”
Ryan Stephens, member of our Bird Team, Work Experience Coordinator, resident biggest owl fan and donkey-whisperer
“I have always wanted to have a job where I can do something to help animals of any shape or size. I wanted to spend my time trying to give as much as I could to the welfare and wellbeing of animals.
I remember going to the Highland Wildlife Park in Scotland when I was very young and learning about indigenous animals in my favourite place. I remember watching the keepers, knowing that that was exactly the career I wanted. I especially remember learning about Scottish wildcats; that memory stuck with me for some reason.
My first memory of the Trust was attending Thruxton village fete when I was young, and looking up and seeing a Bald Eagle flying over. I now know that this was Cheyenne as I can remember what the eagle looked like even all that time ago (Danebury was probably in a river somewhere anyway). But I vividly remember that day. I fell in love with the Trust when I came on work experience 11 years ago. I loved the place and I wanted to keep that feeling I got when I arrived on my first day. It is still what motivates me today.
I have a number of highlights in my time working at the Trust. I’ve been fortunate to go to South Africa twice as part of the Trust’s International Vulture Programme work. I was thrilled to be asked to looked after our Miniature Donkeys, Mickey and Molly, and this remains one of my absolute favourite parts of the job. Another great highlight for me was that I was the first person for whom Satara our White-headed Vulture flew a circuit for. Any moment with Danebury is fantastic too!”
Mike Riley, a lead member of our Bird Team
“My earliest recollections of wildlife and birds of prey are back when I was about 5 or 6 and family summer holidays nearly always took place on the Isle of Wight. My Dad has always been into wildlife and I can remember running around the Culver Downs which overlooks Duver on one side and Sandown on the other, catching butterflies with my Dad and then sitting on the cliff paths watching kestrels as they hovered in the wind hunting.
I always wanted to work with animals from a young age but sadly the opportunities back then were very limited. l remember being told at college that they could offer me beef or dairy farming if I wanted to work with animals. Oh, how times have changed!
What inspires me at work is the passion we all share for working with these amazing creatures and getting to meet wonderful people through our doors.
My earliest memories of The Trust were when I was much younger and back then there were different animals here. I can always remember a fox that use to curl up in a hollow log in his enclosure but there were always flying displays of some sort going in as well. I was lucky enough to join the team after I came to the Trust to do work experience like many of the other staff around that time.
There are many things that I could list as highlights of the job but I do really love running the incubation side of things and getting to see the eggs develop and hopefully eventually hatch. Of course, releasing the eagles over the valley with Andy is always a favourite activity. Getting to meet Lloyd and Rose Buck and getting to work with them on a number of occasions and becoming friends has been fantastic.
I’ve had many favourite birds too over the 23 years I’ve worked here: Macawber who was a Eurasian Griffon, Kipling and of course Cassius, I’ve always loved training the big vultures!”
Matt Williams, Bird Team
“My first memory of being really intrigued, excited and in awe of birds of prey was being able to see them up close. I was very young, maybe around 5 or 6 when my friend’s Dad allowed us to go to the bottom of the garden and peek into the aviaries housing his birds of prey. To me, they were shrouded in mystery and my interest grew and grew from there.
My first memory of the Trust was when I visited around the age of 10. The sheer excitement on the car journey there and the rush to see which birds they had in the aviaries. Of course, seeing the eagles fly across the valley and all the way home was firmly etched in my mind!
The core values of the Trust are what motivated me to want to work here particularly. Being actively involved in the various branches of our work; conservation, research, rehabilitation and education of birds of prey. They aren’t just buzz words but areas in which the organisation makes a real difference and to be a small part of that is what motivates me everyday.
Now, having those same eagles that I watched over 20 years ago fly in and alight gently on my glove during the Valley of the Eagles display, is a massive highlight of my time working here. There are many other parts to the job though that I really love; that breakthrough with a bird that you are just beginning to work with as they gain confidence in your presence or watching as they learn to fly and build on those skills. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to train and work with a number of large eagle species – including Saxon the Golden Eagle at the Trust – which is something that I really love.”
Ben Cox, Bird Team
“The first memory I have of the Trust is visiting when I was 10 years old. I loved running round and completing the stamp book and before long I knew where they all were. I also have fond memories of watching the flying demonstrations with birds like Madeleine and Frodo. The fact that I have since been able to work with those birds just blows my mind.
I always loved animals, however once I visited the Trust I knew that birds of prey were the animals I wanted to work with and specialise in. I think what motivates me are the birds that I work with, the sensational people that I work with and the visitors I get to meet. I love to talk about what I love and my passion which is birds of prey.
Every day, I’m doing something I love. It’s all I dreamt of doing since I was 10 years old. If you had told me at that age what I would be doing now, I would have laughed at you and said no way! But the facts are I’m literally living my dream and loving life.
The biggest highlight of my career so far has to be hands down, without a doubt going to Africa! That was another one of my dreams and to be able to have gone so young I truly feel blessed! Another highlight would be doing my first ever commentary – it was the Woodland Owls display and I had such a sense of achievement after doing it, and now it is one of my favourite parts of the job. One final highlight would be calling Cheyenne in for the first time over the hill! She is such a respected bird here by not just our visitors but by all members of the Bird Team, so to have worked with her was just epic!”
Kat Ives, Bird Team
“I have been surrounded by animals and nature my entire life – I always had plenty of pets as my parents were heavily involved in breeding and showing rabbits, guinea pigs and fish so I mucked in with the feeding and cleaning from a young age. In fact, there hasn’t been a time in my life where I haven’t had animals in my life! I was always encouraged to play outside and embrace nature and when it came to watching television, the only programmes I could watch for more than an hour or so were nature documentaries and, at that time, just like now, they were mainly narrated by Sir David Attenborough. Nature and wildlife of any kind is incredible, important, diverse, resilient, amazing, beautiful and inspirational. Despite David’s ‘The Life of Birds’, it was actually the Hawk Conservancy Trust that inspired me to take more of an interest in birds.
I first visited the Trust as a teenager and was converted to being a vulture lover within the first couple of hours. After that, we became members and visited whenever we could – I loved photographing all the birds on each visit. At this time, Ashley Smith was doing a lot of the commentating!
During my studies to gain qualifications in animal care and to help me in getting my dream job of working with animals, I had no difficulty in choosing where to undertake my two-week work experience placement – the Trust. Following my work placement, I became a volunteer and helped out once a week whilst I finished off my studies and knew, even then, I would love to work with birds. Although my career started at a different collection, I still visited the Trust and kept in touch and up to date with all the work that was being done with my favourite group of birds – vultures!
I am highly motivated to work for the Trust because of the role it plays in conservation and education, and every day I get to help spread the message about the importance of conserving and protecting a variety of species in the UK and overseas. It’s a complete circle for me, giving me the opportunity to carry out training, fly the birds, provide enrichment and have the ability to help rehabilitate wild birds too.
I have many highlights from working with the birds at the Trust over the past couple of years. To name a few, training my first bird Mamushi, a young black kite; working closely with Molly the Eurasian Eagle-Owl and Amber the Rock Eagle-Owl, starting to learn how to swing a lure with Iris the American Kestrel and flying Burdock the Turkey Vulture.”