One of the UK’s most iconic birds of prey – the peregrine falcon – is showing signs of recovery at a key breeding site in the Peak District thanks to the partnership between leading conservation bodies, volunteers and stakeholders to protect these birds.
The peregrine was almost brought to extinction in the 20th century but initiatives to revive its fortunes have been encouraging and numbers are doing well in most parts of England. For many years though the north east Peak District has been a black-spot for peregrines, and birds of prey generally.
This year there has been an encouraging sign that birds of prey are starting to breed at one traditional nesting site: in June 2014, a pair of peregrines nested and two chicks hatched and fledged from Alport Castles, a site that has been unsuccessful for several years.
It is hoped that this initial success with the peregrines may be repeated with hen harriers due to the efforts of partner organisations across the Peak District. Hen harriers have been at serious threat in England for more than sixty years with numbers plummeting primarily due to illegal persecution. Last year, just two breeding pairs were reported in the country but for the first time in fifty years no young fledged.
This year there have been a number of reported sightings of hen harriers in the Dark Peak: a couple of male hen harriers were seen giving spectacular skydancing displays on National Trust moorland throughout the nesting season, and at least one female was reported to be in the area.
Jon Stewart, the National Trust’s General Manager for the Peak District, said: “The activity of the peregrines in the Dark Peak is brilliant news. Last year the National Trust launched its ambitious High Peak Moors Vision and, within this, there is a commitment to increasing birds of prey on our land, so these results are really, really encouraging.
“A key strand to the National Trust’ s High Peak Moors Vision is working with tenants, partners, and those that make a living from the land, including the shooting communities, in managing this area of the Peak District. We’re fully committed to improving the situation for birds of prey and are only able to do so through the combined efforts of all the partners working together with a clear common goal.”
The Peak District Birds of Prey Initiative, which includes the National Trust, Natural England, the RSPB, Peak District National Park Authority, the Moorland Association and Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, combined with a close working relationship with the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, and Derbyshire Constabulary has shown huge commitment to these birds of prey. The partnership has provided the backbone for a core team of monitoring volunteers, contributing invaluable experience, expertise, time and equipment to monitor and protect nest sites.
Mike Price, from the Peak District Raptor Monitoring group, speaking about the hen harrier work said: “I have never before seen such pro-active protection implemented for a wildlife project in our area – perhaps even in England – and, although we haven’t yet seen the outcome we are all hoping for, it has been a pleasure to be involved with the project and it has served as an excellent example of what can be achieved.”
Tim Birch, Conservation Manager for the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, said: “We’re thrilled that the peregrines have returned to their traditional nesting site near to the Snake Pass and bred successfully this year.
“We really hope that they come back safely next year and that this site and other traditional breeding sites are occupied in the coming years.
“It is vital that in our most spectacular and treasured landscapes some of our most iconic wildlife, such as the peregrine, returns to breed in its old haunts.”