Joys of observing peregrine success in the Yorkshire Dales

A peregrine falcon effortlessly scything through the air overhead is a spectacular sight, yet it is one witnessed by far too few people. I help to monitor peregrines in the Yorkshire Dales, but often I find myself in the sad position of not being able to publicise their whereabouts because of the threats they and similar raptor species face from illegal persecution.

A peregrine flacon, pictured by Geoff Simpson/RSPB/PA Wire.
A peregrine flacon, pictured by Geoff Simpson/RSPB/PA Wire.

Thankfully at Malham Cove it’s a different story. A long-standing partnership between the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and the RSPB offers visitors to the Dales a viewpoint from which they can see these magnificent birds.

Peregrines were first spotted breeding at the Cove in 1993. It was a huge moment for the National Park. Initially, the details were kept quiet. The birds needed protection. As the crag was popular with climbers, we needed to work with them to make sure there was no unintentional disturbance to the birds. This arrangement worked well, but when nesting success followed nesting success it soon became an open secret that there were peregrines present at the Cove.

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It was time to make the most of the birds. Early in the new millennium, the authority and the RSPB established the Malham Peregrine Project. This involved staff and dedicated volunteers setting up telescopes at a free watch point at the base of the Cove – and answering any questions that came their way.

Sixteen years later, the project is still going strong. We’ve kept count of the numbers coming to the viewpoint and just a few days ago we welcomed our quarter of a millionth visitor. He was a young man from East Morton near Keighley. It was chance that it happened to be a Yorkshireman, as we get visitors from all over the country and the world.

As soon as you give someone a close up view of an adult peregrine powering around the Cove, or later in the season, point out young birds practicing their flying skill, the overwhelming response is ‘wow’.

Children have jumped up and down with excitement in front of me having seen their first ever peregrine. Other times I’ve seen familiar faces, families or couples making a return visit to see how the birds are faring.

There is plenty of wildlife around the Cove, but the peregrines remain the star attraction.

I think it is only by enthusing people about the raw beauty of birds of prey that we will we see a wider change in attitudes towards them – and hopefully, a reduction in persecution.

The viewpoint can have other positive impacts, too. A recent study suggested that the Malham Peregrine Project has directly contributed at least £1.63m to the local economy, and has helped to bring in a further £3.33m.

It is incredibly satisfying to be part of a project that has enabled so many people to enjoy seeing these iconic birds, and to know just how many want to see the peregrine retain its rightful place in our upland ecosystem.

By the way, on the same day that the man from East Morton arrived at the viewpoint, we got confirmation that this year’s chicks had hatched.

We saw the adult male take food into the nest for the first time – a sure sign there were hungry mouths to feed.

The viewpoint at Malham Cove is open from 10.30am to 4.30pm five days a week, from Thursday to Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) until July 30.

Ian Court is a wildlife officer at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.