Thursday 18 June – today field workers visited one of the last peregrine territories in the Forest of Bowland still containing un-fledged young. The site established on a steep sandstone cliff is located in one of Bowland’s more remote moorland locations and is owned by United Utilities. The site when first examined in the spring contained 4 eggs. On today’s visit both parents were calling above the site as we approached the nesting cliff almost 300 m. away. Using binoculars we could see 3 large well feathered chicks perched on the edge of the nesting ledge almost ready to fledge. It was therefore decided after capturing several record images to proceed no further.
This nesting territory is positioned in a very interesting upland location. In 1974 the site was the first peregrine eyrie in the Forest of Bowland to be re-occupied following this species forced extinction from the region 27 years previously in 1947 . In May of 1947 following a period of very heavy snow fall lasting into late spring, the nest was found by a trainee keeper aged 16 named Joe Pye. After climbing up into the nest on a snow drift Joe found the scrape containing 4 fresh eggs. Eager to report his discovery Joe returned to the head keeper’s house and reported what he had found. The next day accompanied by his boss Joe Pye returned to the nesting site where he was forced to watch the head keeper first shoot the incubating female before proceeding to smash the clutch of eggs. Following that fateful event of 62 years ago, estate gamekeepers ensured very few, if any, peregrines were permitted to raise their family at the site again. Indeed this nesting territory only became semi productive in the late 1980′s following the privatization of the water company and the removal of estate gamekeepers shortly thereafter.
In 1974 Paul Stott located a single peregrine egg contained in the same nesting ledge as used by peregrines in both 1947 and this season. Sadly Paul a highly experienced and respected raptor worker passed away several years ago. Paul was disappointed to find the nesting site containing the single egg had already been abandoned by peregrines due to human interference by a local gamekeeper. Some weeks after this first egg was discovered Paul Stott was informed by a reliable informer the female peregrine had been shot after being flushed from her nest.
Between the years 1974 and 1985, 12 clutches of Peregrine eggs were recorded at this nesting site, including 3 double clutches. Without exception, each clutch laid being unproductive having been annually destroyed by gamekeepers. In each of these years, one or both of the breeding falcons completely disappeared, presumed shot, prior to the full clutch of eggs having being completed.
It is also very significant that throughout these terrible years, a change in peregrine behaviour was observed by field workers when visiting any occupied territory in the Forest of Bowland. This unusual change in behaviour suggested falcons were being regularly disturbed and shot as they were flushed from their nesting ledge. Under normal circumstances where peregrines are not being shot at when incubating eggs or brooding young, when flushed from the nest the pair usually fly several hundred metres above the territory calling in alarm at the human intrusion. At some nests containing young for example, the female falcon will very often stoop at anyone who gets too close to her young; on occasion flying at high velocity within a matter of a few metres from the intruder. We can assure the reader this can and often is a spectacular but frightening experience.
Throughout the 1970′s and early 1980′s, field workers noticed a distinct change in peregrine behaviour at nests which had been subjected to sustained persecution over many years. Instead of flying above their territory when disturbed screaming in alarm, falcons were now being observed slipping from their nest incomplete silence flying just above ground level before disappearing out of sight. If you were lucky it was just possible that a single falcon could be seen almost out of view flying high in the sky up to a mile away from the nest.
In 1986 the first successful nest in 39 years fledged 2 young at this territory. In the 23 years between 1986 and 2009, although the territory had been continually occupied by Peregrines each year, only 15 successful breeding attempts were recorded producing 27 young. In all other regions of the Forest of Bowland today, Peregrine territories regularly under perform produced below average brood sizes, curiously only managing to produce single fledgling year on year, or no fledglings at all, despite food availability remaining very high.
Today we have attached a number of images of the 3 chicks in this years nest together with a historical image of an abandoned stone hide located below the nesting ledge. The hide or blind originally constructed by gamekeepers at the beginning of the 20th century, now almost destroyed, would have originally have been built about 1,5 metres high and covered with heather to conceal anyone hiding inside holding a fully loaded firearm. Gamekeepers ensured that the hide was strategically positioned just below the peregrine nesting ledge occupied today, where they could then shoot birds flying in or out of this nest each season with ease.
We will never know how many peregrines met their untimely deaths at the hands of estate gamekeepers in this lonely and historic nesting territory, but their number must run into many dozens. The sad thing is that the persecution of our countries wildlife heritage still continues throughout our uplands due to human intolerance, indifference and ignorance.