A Kestrel for a Knave the novel by English author Barry Hines was  published back in 1968. Set in an mining town in Northern England, the book follows Billy Casper, a young working-class boy troubled at home and at school, who finds and trains a kestrel whom he names “Kes”.

male Kestrel, c. Shay Connolly.

The novel’s title is taken from a poem found in the Book of Saint Albans. In medieval England, the only bird a knave (male servant, or man of low class) was legally allowed to keep was a Kestrel.

I have been fascinated by Kestrels ever since watching the movie adaptation ‘Kes’ which popularised the novel and luckily for me back then, Kestrels were a common bird of prey across our landscape.

Things have not gone so well in recent years for Kestrels: their population has dropped across Ireland with a number of possible explanations including agricultural intensification, the presence of rodenticides and increased competition from other, larger birds of prey.

We were glad to do our bit locally, to try and encourage Kestrels by providing purpose built Kestrel nest boxes. in appropriate habitats   Boxes need to be provided in an open farm environment or in a newly planted area of forestry, where the birds can do a sustainable job controlling small rodents in return for a suitably positioned nest site. putting up nest boxes is like planting spring bulbs in autumn: an investment in the future.

Box installation, Cooley Farm, Glenealy.