The Bassenthwaite ospreys have provided many of the raptor headlines from Cumbria during the last few years but that situation might change in the near future with the release of red kites in Grizedale forest. When the kites begin to breed they will, no doubt, generate a huge amount of publicity for the people involved and probably some self-congratulatory back-slapping.
As with the ospreys, though, to justify the effort and resources required on this project attention will be diverted away from other species and it is a sad indictment of attitudes and fashion that the species most likely to suffer in this way will again be England’s rarest bird, the magnificent golden eagle.
It is safe to say that the golden eagle has been resident in Cumbria for at least fifty years but its fame has followed its fate. The necessary secrecy which added to the mystique of the early years was replaced by publicity as its breeding status became established but in its decline the cessation of breeding saw interest waver and the loss of an established pair saw professional concern disappear altogether. The RSPB continue to monitor the site but with biodiversity still a buzz-word it is odd that there is no apparent effort or desire to improve the eagle’s status or secure its future in the north of England. So with kites being released nationwide, with ospreys released in the English Midlands and elsewhere and, after Scotland, there being proposals to release white-tailed sea-eagles in Suffolk, of all places, why is there so little effort on behalf of the golden eagle?
The taking of Scottish eaglets for release in Ireland has had some success so why could one female not be considered for release in the long-established and still occupied Haweswater territory here in Cumbria? On a broader scale, why can there not be a golden eagle reintroduction project for the north of England? It cannot be through a lack of suitable habitat or food supply as visiting many parts of the Pennines reveals richer habitat and prey diversity than is found in many Scottish territories and it would take very little effort and resources to improve the situation at Haweswater.
The risk of persecution cannot be an issue either. In fact, some people might consider that to be beneficial because if the general public were prevented from seeing golden eagles by criminals directly linked to field-sports the outcry would be deafening. There would appear to be few good reasons not to take a more proactive approach to golden eagle conservation.
[SinglePic not found]In reality, the problem with eagle conservation has long been largely one of political expediency. It is easier to work with kites, ospreys and sea-eagles because they are more amenable to public display. Regardless of its ‘iconic’ status the golden eagle is apparently too dull to attract the general public in large numbers or to generate significant income. A reintroduction project would not see flocks of eagles coming to feed close to major roads at a set time every day, there would no birds to track to Africa and back every year, and no flying barn doors that would happily spend time at Leighton Moss or Martinmere, just a bird or two that might be seen briefly from several kilometres away or missed altogether as it sits on a rock for hours on end. But is that really a sufficient reason to shun the golden eagle or to leave the remaining Haweswater bird forever trapped in a wasted life?
Eagles first returned to Haweswater about 1967, the first clutch of 2 eggs were laid in 1969 but they were unsuccessful. Geoff Horne removed both abandoned eggs; currently the clutch is retained in Tullie House Museum.
The first male from the territory disappeared in 1976, followed with the loss from the site of a second male in in 2001. The territory is currently occupied by the third male of unknown age.
The first female died in 1981 and was then replaced by a second female which disappeared in 2004.
Successful Breeding Years.
Between the years 1970 – 1996 a total of 16 eaglets successfully fledged from eyries at Haweswater, one single chick in each of the years
David Walker (Cumbria)