On Friday 5th April 1996 Gauntlet Birds of Prey Centre opened it's doors to the public, at it's original location at Nether Alderley in Cheshire.
The centre was a dream come true for falconer Graham Bessant. He has been interested in Birds of Prey all his life and trained his first Kestrel at the age of 14. He worked for ten years as an engineer, but his real passion was flying falcons and hawks. The hobby soon became an obsession, taking up all his spare time. When he wasn't actually out training and flying his birds, he would be looking for new birds and new ideas to further his interest. For a long time he has given talks and after dinner lectures to local schools, youth organisations and community groups.
In May 1995 Graham was presented with the opportunity to realise his dream of running his own Birds of Prey Centre. He was unexpectedly made redundant, an event that proved to be just the start of a new way of life. He immediately enrolled on a business course at college to learn the nuts and bolts of running a business. He also began to make enquiries as to possible sites for the new venture. It was a long and hard struggle with many disappointments and let downs along the way. However, all the perseverance and knocking on doors finally paid off in February 1996 when he secured a site at Nether Alderley in Cheshire.
The centre opened on Good Friday 1996 with a selection of around 20 birds on show to the public. From the beginning Gauntlet was a huge success with enthusiastic visitors getting close to the centre's feathered residents. Gauntlet was soon drawing much press attention, appearing in local and national newspapers and appearances on radio and television. One of the birds even took to the stage, taking part in a Shakepearean play.
The centre flourished year on year, adding new birds and attractions, and pursuing Gauntlet's mission to spread understanding of birds of prey and their environment.
In 2000 Graham met partner Lisa Adams and the life of Gauntlet Birds of Prey moved up a gear with further expansion and the arrival of many headline grabbing birds including a pair of American Bald Eagles.
During the next few years the collection of birds continued to grow. By 2003 the centre housed over 50 individual birds from over 25 species and it was clear that Gauntlet needed a new location to allow expansion to continue.
So in March 2004 a new chapter began when Gauntlet Birds of Prey Eagle and Vulture Park opened in Knutsford at the renowned Fryers Rose Nursery.
It has proved to be the perfect site, allowing for large purpose built aviaries, an indoor flying area and a huge flying arena backing onto open fields. The improved facilities have allowed for further additions, including eagles and vultures. Some of the more notable arrivals have included Hannah the Bald Eagle, Marvin the Martial Eagle (pictured here with Lisa), Smokey the White Backed Vulture and Gauntlet's largest eagle, Pamela the White Tailed Sea Eagle.
The other major success has been with the many breeding schemes that have been implemented.
In 2005 Gauntlet was confirmed as the first breeder in the country to cross breed red and black kites. This occurred naturally when one of the female red kites and a male black kite, housed in one of the large aviaries with several other kites, selected a nest site and laid a clutch of 3 eggs.
To ensure the success of this rare opportunity the eggs were swapped for hens eggs and incubated artificially. They successfully hatched (an event that was seen on television on ITV's Animal Tales), and can now been seen as three of the stars of Gauntlet's renowned flying displays.
Gauntlet has also had great success breeding several other species including black vultures, black kites and bald eagles.
A major new extension opened in early 2008 to allow for the many new arrivals. These have included new species of vultures, eagles and of course our magnificent Marabou Storks.
Then in 2011, after a 10 year engagement, 3 children, the relocation of Gauntlet and a house move, Graham and Lisa finally found the time to get married, marking a whole new chapter for their family and for Gauntlet Birds of Prey!