The Lone Dancer-A Window of Renewed Opportunity for returning a second Golden Eagle back to Cumbria.

Resulting from renewed concern at the plight of the single male Golden Eagle at the historic Haweswater nesting territory in the Mardale Valley, Cumbria, we are bringing the story written by Ewan Miles up to date. Anyone who has been reading recent comments posted by Doug Tricker will already know that a proposal has been put forward to reintroduce a female Golden Eagle back into the nesting territory with the aim of establishing a breeding pair of Eagles within the valley. For may years the single male Eagle has been without a mate and if something isn’t done to rectify the current situation as soon as possible, the chances are the resident male will die alone and the window of opportunity to restore a breeding pair to Haweswater will be lost for ever. Terry Pickford, one of the original group who helped establish protection for the first nest site in the early 1960’s after the site had been discovered by Geoff Horne, has now suggested that a working group to investigate returning an introduced female eaglet into the valley. We would be interested in hearing what you have to say, all suggestions and comments as well as support welcome.

It is early spring in 2012 and I am watching an iconic lone male Golden Eagle performing spectacular sky diving displays in the valley of Riggingdale in the stunning remote location of Haweswater, Cumbria. The huge raptor can be seen patrolling his resident territory along with Red Deer grazing the hillsides and the first Meadow Pipits, Lapwing and Skylarks taking up their early breeding grounds, the area is teaming with life. It is peace and tranquility with the only sounds heard are gronking Ravens overhead and the odd screaming of a nearby Peregrine. With nothing but wilderness all around me I feel like I am the only person in the whole national park. Haweswater is surrounded by dramatic mountains and glacially gauged valleys and is regarded as one of the most picturesque locations in Lakeland. The neighboring valley of Mardale occupied residents less than a hundred years ago before a dramatic change in fortunes had a huge impact on all the surrounding area…


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The iconic Golden Eagle

The year was 1919 and the sad news reaches the people of Mardale Green, they awoke to learn that the Manchester Water Corporation had just secured the long awaited Haweswater Act, a compulsory purchase agreement of the day, which granted them permission to build a dam and drown one of Lakelands jewels in its crown.  The act read that farmers must abandon their homes along with hundreds of acres of land. Once the dam was built in place the waters will rise to cover the houses, schools and church in the valley to provide added water supplies to the ever growing empires of the north west of England.

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The construction of the Haweswater dam

Ten years later in 1929 and work starts on building the large dam construction to the north end of the valley of Mardale. Today there is very few Mardalians, or any of the children remember the flooding back in the 30s. Mr John Henry and his sister Majorie remember it better than most for their father owned and farmed Chappel Hill before the flooding. The time for them to move loomed ever closer so the whole family decided to up sticks and move to their grandfathers farm in neighbouring Wet Sleddale. After comfortably settling in at their new home they later heard that included in the area of 110,000 acres bought from Lord Lonsdale for £130,000 was Wet Sleddale. A double blow as they would all have to relocate again to make way for a second dam to be built to provide Mardale with a backup water supply if needed.
During this time a local Mardalian farmer went missing without a trace. The story told by a relative tells how William Martindale, a well to do family man with an affectionate wife and four children mounted his horse and simply rode away one morning. His steed was found in a stable at Kendal a few days later but no other evidence could be found of Williams disappearance as he was never seen again.

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The last farewell, 1935

The Mardale people watched on through the next couple of years as work on the dam continued and started to take shape as the locals were supposed to try and get on with their lives. Work was halted in 1931 because of the great depression for four years although I am sure there was some sense of hope for the local communities until work started again. The last farewell for the Mardale residents was on the 18th August 1935 and a service took place at the Holly Trinity church with 75 people present inside the building and over a thousand people gathered on the hillside outside listening to the moving service via loud hailers fastened to the church tower by a local radio expert from Penrith. Brickwork from the church and other major buildings was later used to contribute to the completion of the dam construction as water levels rose and covered all evidence of inhabited communities in 1940.
The building of the dam raised the water levels by 29 meters and created a reservoir 4 miles long and half a mile wide.  The dam wall measures 470 meters long and 27.5 meters high and at the time of construction it was considered to be cutting edge technology as it was the first hollow buttress dam in the world. An estimated 140,000 cubic yards of concrete, requiring 190,000 tons of stone and 30,000 tons of cement were used during the dam’s construction. An estimated capacity of 75 million gallons a day are used to supply Manchester. When the reservoir is full it holds 82 billion liters of water which is enough to give every person on the planet 3 baths!

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Old building remains show signs of past inhabitance

In 1969 with the reservoir in place and covering any evidence of the past residents in the area a pair of Golden Eagles moved in and took up territory in the neighboring valley of Riggingdale. These iconic birds are prone to any form of disturbance and need a vast remote wilderness area to survive in. Golden Eagles are very elusive and secretive as it was proved when a pair nested in the Wastwater area in the 1970s for 7 years without been made aware by the public. The RSPB provided a hide and view point looking into the valley of Riggingdale to give visitors the opportunity to admire these majestic birds and learn about them.  The Eagles holding a territory at Riggingdale produced 16 chicks since the first birds took up residence in the valley. Most of the fledged birds would move off into the pennines and over grouse moors where they would never be seen again. The latest pair lasted until 2004 when the female disappeared without a trace just like local Mardalian family man William Martindale did nearly a hundred years previous. In the last few decades when an eagle from the pair did go missing at Riggingdale a replacement moved in straight away to take up the territory as there was nearby pairs in Wastwater, Kielder and the Borders producing young birds through the years looking to take up breeding attempts, but by 2004 the surrounding pairs had decreased and there wasn’t any suitable birds around ready to take up the vacancy which has not been filled since. Another eagle did turn up in the valley in 2010 which must have gave the lone male hope, but when they came to interact it turned out to be a White-Tailed Eagle which had ventured south from Scotland. It was the same false hope the Mardalians got when work was halted on the dam construction before starting again a few years later leading to completion.

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RSPB viewpoint looking into Riggingdale valley

Back to the present day and the lone male Eagle can still be seen displaying at the head of the valley over the famous old Roman road of High Street. The road was built to connect the forts at Brocavum near Penrith and Ambleside. The high street range had quite gentle slopes and a flat summit which encouraged the Romans to build the road on the higher ground rather than through the valleys which were densely wooded and marshy during that time making them susceptible to ambushes. The Roman Empire used an eagle as their emblem as the bird represented strength, courage, far-sightedness, immortality and was a symbol of the power of the Roman Legion. The birds were considered to be the kings of the air and the messenger of the highest gods. You could say that the lone eagle is one of the last living representations of the dominant reign of the Roman Empire in England.

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The eagle was the ensign of the Roman Legion and a symbol of its power and was the most important possession of the empire

There is new hope for the future of the lone eagle at Haweswater as the RSPB has just taken over tenancy of two farms of 7200 acres of the total of 26,000 acres owned by the United Utilities. The change in management was undertaken because the water company had concerns of the water quality deteriorating, and the right management of the upland areas will provide cleaner water supplies. Over 7 million pounds was spent improving filtration at a small water treatment plant at Castle Carrock reservoir a few years ago, so add a few extra 0’s to the figure for Haweswater reservoir which provides over 75 million gallons of treated water a day to millions of people. The necessary management will mean taking grazing pressure off to promote natural growth, and new tree plantations to stop the erosion of soil into the reservoir. This will provide a healthy balance to the biodiversity of species in the long term, encouraging a range of habitats and giving more food source options to opportunist Eagles. ‘Goldies’ are regarded as the most successful predators on the planet as over 200 species of mammal and bird have been recorded on their prey list around the world. A large part of Golden Eagles diets in Britain is Sheep and Deer carrion. The condition of upland areas dictate our water quality and it just shows that upland land management is far more important for the majority of people and their health along with potentially saving £millions, not just for a small minority that want to shoot Red Grouse for a hobby.

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Present day Haweswater looking north

So what does the future hold for England’s Golden Eagles? Will there hopes be washed away like those Mardalian residents nearly a century ago…or will the birds show their true strength, courage and immortality with the return of an Eagle Empire…

Article  and images by Ewan Miles.

References –

12 comments to The Lone Dancer-A Window of Renewed Opportunity for returning a second Golden Eagle back to Cumbria.

  • Terry Pickford

    May I correct the editor, it was Derek Ratcliffe who first discovered the pair of Golden Eagles in the Mardale Valley in 1957. The first nesting site discovered by Geoff Horne had then been established at the head of the Haweswater Valley in 1961 contained 2 eggs. Sadly as we now know over the bank holiday weekend the eagles deserted the nest following extensive disturbance below the nesting cliff. In total 13 eagles were raised successfully after the pair relocated to the top of Riggindale. One year during particular bad weather,MUCH BETTER FOR THE SUCCESS OF NESTING EAGLES, I witnessed the female feeding twins.

    • Great news that Mr Terry Pickford is to become involved as he has been a champion of Birds Of Prey for decades. I have been scanning the adverts since I think an adult female that had been hunted for a few seasons is the best option. A young eagle would be easily trained and entered, or put out at hack, but would take at least 5 years to become sexually mature, time the male may not have.
      One eagle falconer, resident in Scotland,
      recently described how his mature female Goldie, whilst being flown, joined up with a wild male in a 2 hour mating display. Such a bird would be an Ideal candidate.
      Meanwhile the working group should concentrate on raising the funds to finance the purchase of the bird. Would a £5 or £10 donation from all RP contributors be enough?

      Editors Comment. Doug the two financial contribution you are suggesting would be ideal, of course if there are those who would wish to donate more all well and good. What you need to do now is approach a web site designer, establish a suitable web site, with an appropriate title, associated with a bank account in the same name as the project. This would then enable individuals to donate on line direct into the associated bank account. However, before proceeding, you also need to find the experienced people willing to join the ‘Eagle Introduction’ working group. I am sure Geoff Horne would wish to support such an initiative as would Terry. Best of Luck

  • John Miles

    The Lake District national Park are one of the reasons for the demise of visitors to the present site with ambitions to create a bus service to take walkers up the valley instead of driving and also not allowing the RSPB to advertise the eagle[s] as a tourist attraction.

  • Falcoscot

    I believe that most of the captive bred Golden Eagles in the UK are not of UK blood. There was an attempt about 20 years ago to obtain breeding stock from Scotland to set up a breeding programme but licenses were denied and now there’s a surplus of captive bred Golden Eagles that are of non-specific sub-species so have very little use conservation wise.
    This is the consequence of falconry related breeding projects not being given access to wild take and has led to a large surplus of captive bred raptors that have little value when it comes to re-introduction.

  • harrier man

    Not before time good luck to all involved lets hope they can breed once again soon.

  • paul williams

    This could be a fantastic venture, However,please do not involve the RSPB money and glory grabbing machine.

  • tony kelly

    sfter recent comments that i have posted on this site from the rspb,about this unique situation, one, i would not even approach them, two, there not interested anyway, as there answer in the email i received from them proves this. which is posted in the article the (lone dancer). please have a look it makes for a good read, (email and article).

    althrough, this bird has been on its own for a few years i only found out recenctly, and after posting a comment i never imagined it would stoke up so much interest. i can not claim to be an expert, but i do have an obssesive passion for birds, especially birds of prey, and i dont intend to let the last golden eagle in england die out.

    To get this project moveing, im prepared to throw a couple of hundred in the hat, to get the ball rolling, i know there is a lot to do, but were theres a will there is a way!!! so lets get goin.

    Etitor’s Comment. Thanks for this update Tony, Like yourself there will, we are sure, be many people willing to support this worthwhile initiative. Let us hope they will be willing to put a few pounds into the pot to get it off the ground. It would be almost criminal to sit back and let the male die of old age.

  • Falcoscot

    Surely funding isn’t the primary issue, I don’t believe there is a source of British Golden Eagles other than the wild population in Scotland. First step would be to make a Freedom of Information request to Animal Health (Defra) in Bristol for information on any wild female Golden Eagles that are in captivity hence registered with the Department and if any birds exist then ask Animal Health if they would forward correspondence to the registered keeper asking if the bird in their possession is suitable for release and if so, would they be prepared to support a release in the Lake District.

  • This is what I have wished for since the previous pair died naturally,leaving a young lone Golden Eagle.I wish the people behind this proposal and the people involved in the introduction of a young female every success!I wish this is successful and doing so can prove a lot of people wrong,who talked of believing that something like this proposal would not be successful.
    I look forward to seeing a breeding pair of Golden Eagles again in the Lake District!
    I wish everybody effected,could be effected,people who can make and people who could make this proposal successful to get Involved and get united!We are living in the years 2000,lets start thinking of the future and future generations.
    Surprising what people in authority,people with power and a team of enthusiastic volunteers can achieve!Hooray!

  • Jack

    Was a website for donations etc ever set up? I cant seem to find any new information on this venture since the August comments on this forum.

    Editor’s comment. As far as we know there has been no further action regarding this proposal. The single male eagle at Mardale remains totally alone without a mate.

  • Hugh

    Is a license required to release a captive bred goldie? It seems like Scottish birds are in short supply but German/Austrian birds are available and they are the same subspecies. Indeed escapees from falconers will likely already have introduced these genes into the wild population. It ought to be possible to raise the £4-5k required to buy a suitable mature female using GoFundMe or a similar website. It seems little else active is being done by any of our wildlife organisations to avoid this population blinking out into extinction.

    Editor’s Comment. Hugh Raptor Politics has been down this road already, but yes a licence is required. Sadly it appears there is no one willing to take up this challenge, its a great pity. It seems without human intervention the single lonely male eagle is now destined to die a lonely bachelor. It appears even the RSPB are not willing to help provide the male with a mate; no home for eagles in LakeLand anymore.

  • Hugh

    Thank you for the reply. When you say Raptor Politics has been down this road already does that mean that you have had an application for a release license refused? Who is responsible for issuing these? Have the RSPB tried also or are they just not keen on the idea? A great pity as you say.

    Editor’s Comment, Raptor Politics has already published an article about the possibility of reintroducing a female golden eagle into Mardale at the head of Haweswater. The proposal and story was well received and generated many comments. If you search the archive you will find it.

    To answer your question as far as we are aware no one has applied to Natural England for the necessary licence. Its doubtful without the support of the RSPB, who we are told would not support such an application, that a licence would be issued. It seems that having nesting eagles in Haweswater is not what the RSPB would welcome, we don’t know why, but this is what we are being told.