During the last few decades direct human persecution of birds of prey throughout England’s moorland uplands have taken a different and sinister tack. No longer do we find nests containing smashed eggs or dead chicks with their heads decapitated. No, the strategies being used today to reduce brood sizes have now become much more subtle and shrewd. To the ordinary bystander nothing would seem odd when nests containing eggs are found abandoned or broods of several healthy young are regularly reduced to just a single fledgling. Even the experts sometimes misinterpret the clues and get it wrong; never the less the methods of breeding disruption being used today are no less effective.
Today we are reporting two instances where nests 4 and 6 which are shown in our Private Estates gallery appear to have been subjected to human disturbance and disruption. We would like to comment on site 6 first. Yesterday afternoon 11 May when the nest was re-visited by licensed field workers a single egg from the clutch of three was discovered with a dead chick hatching from the open shell. On closer examination of the two remaining eggs, it appears both eggs contain well developed dead embryos. As the eggs are still being incubated, the nest will be rechecked in a few days time to establish if the eggs are viable. However the nervous temperament and behaviour of both falcons observed yesterday during our nest examination, indicates that the nest had recently been subjected to sustained human disturbance. Such activity is a strategy now being adopted to keep breeding raptors away from their rapidly chilling eggs or small young.
The result of human activity photographed at the second nest site 4 yesterday 11 May, has significantly more relevance and clearly highlights what is meant by subtle disruption. Under current UK Wildlife Legislation it is illegal to cause reckless disturbance to occupied nest of a Schedule 1 species, such as Peregrine, when any nest is being built, or containing eggs or unfledged young The Peregrine territory (site 4) located in a stream gully has been in use by a pair of falcons throughout the last decade; last year the pair were unsuccessful. The beat gamekeeper and estate management are well aware of the sites existence, and have allowed the chicks at this ground nest established on a grouse moor to be rung on numerous occasions. On the 11 May raptor workers discovered that contractors working on behalf of the estate had commenced installing an extensive line of fence posts and stock fencing along the entire left hand bank of the stream gully. At one point the line of fencing passed within 40 metres in front of the Peregrine nest containing the 4 eggs being incubated. The tons of fence posts together with hundreds of metres of fencing materials had been flown by helicopter to the location, passing over the nesting site while delivering and unloading several separate loads of materials on 7 May. Considering the level and duration of disturbance that must have been caused by a helicopter flying within metres of the nesting site, it was a minor miracle two chicks managed to hatch and survive at all.
We would like to bring attention to the single eggs being held in the hand of a raptor worker. This egg was on the verge of hatching, however before this process was complete, a part of a second egg shell from one of the two hatched eggs appears carefully inserted over the part of a third egg about to hatch. This extremely unusual situation, almost certainly caused the premature death of the emerging third chick. The circumstances of one shell inserted like a glove over an egg about to hatch is highly unusual to say the least and has never been recorded to our knowledge at any raptor nest previously. It has been suggested that this situation could have been caused by the powerful downdraft from the contractor’s helicopter blowing the eggs and discarded eggs shells about in the nest.
It has just been reported that earlier today the Wildlife Liaison Officer for Lancashire Constabulary has been airlifted by a second helicopter to examine the eyrie and the fencing work being carried out on the moor. An independent source has now confirmed that the officer told him after careful examination of the facts together with an inspection of nest and area surrounding the nesting site, it was his opinion there is nothing suspicious about the activities being conducted close to the nesting site.
We understand the police have now instructed the estate to halt all further work along the stream gully until both young have fledged. Interestingly one of our images taken standing at the nest shows the largest bundle of fencing materials placed 40 metres directly opposite the nest. After the comments made this morning by the Wildlife Liaison Officer, we can only comment that placing this bundle of fencing materials in such a strategic position opposite the nest must have been sheer coincidence.