Majestic in flight at thunderous speeds, watching a peregrine falcon in action is an awesome sight. But we must consider ourselves lucky to be afforded glimpses of a bird of prey which has, like many others, been the victim of widespread persecution.
The story of this species is one of survival however. While its numbers crashed in Britain in the 1960s, which conservationists have blamed on the impact of pesticides, a subsequent ban on the use of certain chemicals and better legal protection has seen peregrines increase in numbers.
There are now thought to about 1,300 breeding pairs in the UK.
In the Yorkshire Dales National Park, there is something of a stronghold. Malham Cove boasts one of the most successful peregrine nest sites in the area, with at least 59 young having been raised there since a pair first nested in 1993.
This week, in what is a sure sign that spring is here, a viewpoint opened at the Cove for visitors to watch peregrines nesting in their natural environment.
The opening marks the start of the 16th year of the Malham Peregrine Project, a partnership between the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and the RSPB, and during the new season organisers hope to welcome the 250,000th visitor to the viewpoint.
The viewpoint is free for the public to visit at the base of the Cove, where information assistants and a team of volunteers are on hand to show people the birds through telescopes.
It is open between 10.30am and 4.30pm five days a week, from Thursday to Monday until July 30.
RSPB area manager, Anthony Hills, said: “We’re really excited about being back for the 16th year in a row. The viewpoint gives visitors an opportunity to see the fastest animal on the planet up close.
“Project staff and volunteers will be on hand with telescopes so we are hoping lots of people will come to see these impressive birds, as well as some of the other special wildlife that lives at Malham Cove.”
Ian Court, wildlife conservation officer at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, added: “When peregrines returned to Yorkshire and nested at the Cove in 1993, it was a huge moment for the National Park. These are spectacular birds to watch and a big draw.
“From a peregrines’ perspective, the Cove is a great place to nest. It provides a safe place to lay eggs and raise chicks, with a superb vantage point from which to spot prey.”
Climbing restrictions have been agreed with the British Mountaineering Council to remain in place while the viewpoint is open. A small area at the top of the Cove has been fenced off to prevent unintentional disturbance to the nesting birds below.