Who on Google Earth is killing the world's fastest bird of prey?
Shocking new research by the RSPB and the Northern England Raptor Forum has revealed the true extent of persecution of peregrine falcons - the world's fastest bird - that attempt to nest on England’s grouse moors.
The paper is published in the international scientific journal Biological Conservation. The study used Google Earth to map the characteristic 'strip burning' that is typical of moorland managed for intensive grouse shooting. This map was then combined with nearly three decades of nest monitoring information that had been collected by teams of dedicated volunteer monitors from raptor groups across the north of England.
Comparisons of the fortunes of peregrine falcons breeding on grouse moors with those breeding in other habitats in northern England revealed that breeding success was half that in other habitats, for example on other moorland, open country and forested areas. Only a third of nests produced young on grouse moors.
Dr Arjun Amar, of the The Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town is the paper’s lead author. He was formerly an RSPB scientist. He said: “I was shocked at just how low the bird’s breeding output was on grouse moors; they were significantly less likely to lay eggs or fledge young.”
He added: “The few birds that did lay eggs or fledge young on grouse moors did just as well as those breeding off grouse moors, which suggests that a shortage of food supplies can be ruled out of the equation.
The only logical explanation for these differences is that persecution is rife on many driven grouse moors.”
In the 1950s and 1960s, the global population collapse of the peregrine alerted the world to the long-term effects of pesticides, such as DDT, which built up in the food chain and caused the peregrine to lay eggs with dangerously thin shells.
The UK's peregrine population thankfully recovered after these pesticides were withdrawn, and ultimately banned.