AN AMPFIELD man has been appointed as the first official falconer in centuries in Beaulieu.

Lord Montagu has revived Beaulieu’s association with the ancient art.

Paul Manning, believed to be the first falconer recruited by the Montagu family for more than 300 years, will be based in the grounds of the 13th century Beaulieu Abbey. Paul, of Ampfield, already runs a falconry school on the 7,000-acre estate.

Now a facility known as Abbot’s Mews has also become an exhibition centre where visitors can learn about the kings, queens and nobleman who practised the sport.

Paul said: “It’s a real honour to be Lord Montagu’s falconer, particularly with Beaulieu’s rich history of falconry.

“The wonderful thing about falconry is that it’s truly living history - what I do is exactly what people did 700 years ago. Nothing has changed, from the birds to the equipment.”

The 57-year-old father of two has been a practising falconer for 30 years and a professional one for ten.

He said: “UNESCO has classed falconry as an example of ‘intangible cultural heritage’ as it was traditionally practised all over the world by many different cultures.

“But today it’s seen as quintessentially British and has been enjoyed by powerful people including King John, Henry VIII and James I.”

Visitors to Beaulieu will be able to see Paul in action next week when he gives a series of falconry displays during half-term.

The birds of prey expert, who runs his own falconry business, has been staging displays on the estate for ten years as part of its living history programme.

Falconers have been based in the New Forest for centuries and some of the earliest exponents of the art were mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. King John, who founded Beaulieu Abbey in 1204, was a passionate supporter of falconry. But other enthusiasts included Henry VIII, whose dissolution of the monasteries in 1538 resulted in the building’s destruction.