Hope springs eternal”.
So said Alexander Pope in his ‘Essay on Man’ written in 1732. This is a metaphor for man’s ability to keep on hoping that everything will work out for the best in the end no matter what the odds and it perfectly sums up the attitude of Raptor Workers at the start of every breeding season.
Autumn and winter in the northern uplands can be long, cold, wet dreary months. Eventually the wet grey days and long dark nights give way to warmer days; the clocks go forward and nature wakes up and bursts into life again.
However; despite following Pope’s philosophy spring time in the northern uplands always induces a mixture of elation and trepidation for NERF members. Having spent hundreds of long cold hours on the fells monitoring and protecting Hen Harriers on their roosts, often in dreadful weather, spring offers new hope. With luck the coming raptor breeding season will be successful; the weather will be kind, prey will be plentiful, clutch sizes will be large and by mid-summer young fledglings will be on the wing. That’s the hope but unfortunately the spectre of raptor persecution is never far away.
We understandably spend a great deal of time discussing and condemning Hen Harrier persecution however we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there is evidence that all bird of prey species face the threat of persecution throughout the whole of the NERF raptor study area. Along with Hen Harriers we know that Buzzards, Goshawks, Short-eared Owls and Peregrine Falcons remain victims of egg collectors and they continue to be trapped, poisoned and shot to death annually. The problem is particularly acute in North Yorkshire and the Dark Peak but no region is totally immune.
Peregrine populations have been suppressed by persecution in the northern uplands for decades and in the Dark Peak Peregrines have had a torrid time for many, many years. This latest incident, which occurred in the Peak District National Park, involved an active Peregrine nest where the adults ‘disappeared’ leaving 3 unhatched eggs.
On the 26th of March 2019 two licensed Raptor Workers, from the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, were checking an historic peregrine breeding site on a remote crag on a grouse moor in the Glossop area when they witnessed a food pass between a male and female Peregrine Falcon. Along with this observation the Raptor Workers watched the adult male drive off a Kestrel that had strayed into the potential breeding area. From experience they quickly realised that this was a precursor to a breeding attempt and determined that they would return two weeks later.
The Raptor Workers returned to check on progress at the breeding site on the 8th of April 2019. After observing the nest site from a suitable distance for some considerable time they were dismayed when they realised that there were no adults present on the crag. In order to confirm whether or not the Peregrines had actually commenced breeding they made a licensed visit to the nesting ledge and there they discovered three cold Peregrine Falcon eggs. Whilst we may never know what actually occurred at this site research tells us that Peregrine falcons do not abandon their eggs unless one or both of the birds have been either killed or kept off of their nest for a very long period of time. The average incubation period for Peregrine eggs is 31 days [BTO] and yet adults are so committed to hatching their eggs they will continued incubating infertile eggs for periods considerably longer that the normal 31 days. Taking into account that the adults were absent, that the eggs were cold, that the nest was located in an area where raptor persecution is rife it is difficult to perceive a cause of this failure that doesn’t involve human interference at the site.
Peregrines are one of the earliest raptors to breed and this incident reminds all of us, not just Raptor Workers, that we must be vigilant whilst monitoring, or simply enjoying watching, all raptor breeding attempts. They are all vulnerable and NERF will play its part in protecting them in the months and years ahead. To some, following the philosophy ‘hope springs eternal’ may appear naïve when persecution of birds of prey continues apace. However; if we lose hope we lose everything. We will never lose hope; our magnificent birds of prey deserve no less. Persecution is pernicious and there is no place for it in modern day society.
For future information on the level of raptor persecution in the Dark Peak click on the links below.
Peak Malpractice 2006 – RSPB,
Peak Malpractice update 2007 – RSPB,
The Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative 2018 – Peak District National Park Authority, National Trust, Moorland Association, Natural England and both of the local Raptor Groups [The RSPB left the Initiative in early 2018 due to a lack of progress and ongoing raptor persecution incidents].
Raptor Persecution in the Peak District National Park – Melling et al 2018, highlighting the fortunes of breeding peregrine and goshawk in the Peak District National Park and the association of raptor persecution with driven grouse shooting.
This incident has been reported to the Police. If you have any information that would aid the investigation please contact the authorities. There are several ways to pass on information; you can contact:
- The Police on 101
- Crimestoppers on 0800 555111
- RSPB Investigation Team on 01767 680551
- RSPB hotline on 0300 999 0101
18 April 2019