The disappearance of peregrine chicks from the Roaches Upper Tier in Staffordshire is a bitter blow following five years of successful breeding and an immense co-operative effort between nature conservation bodies, local volunteers and user groups – including climbers.
Roaches warden Jeff Sim of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust (SWT), which took over the running of the estate on 1 May from the Peak District National Park, said the chicks were probably taken illegally during the night of 29 May. There was no evidence that they had they fallen from the nest and been predated, he said.
The chicks were 28 days old and only had two more weeks until they fledged. Sim said it would be possible for a knowledgeable individual to keep the peregrine chicks alive. He said it was much more likely the chicks were stolen for illegal falconry practices than by any shooting interest.
The RSPB has said that following the government’s removal of some restrictions on keeping peregrines in 2008, there has been a surge in disturbance of nest sites. There are around 25 peregrine pairs in the Peak District and 1,400 nationally.
In 2010, Jeffrey Lendrum was sentenced to 30 months for attempting to smuggle 13 peregrine eggs collected from nests in South Wales out of the country in socks bandaged to his body for warmth. He was arrested in the Emirates business lounge at Birmingham airport before he could board a flight to South Africa, which included a 14-hour stopover in Dubai.
The United Arab Emirates has banned the importation of wild birds and there are two CITES-registered breeding centres in the UK that export to the Middle East. But there is still a market among wealthier falconers for wild birds, which attracts smugglers. Lendrum, who had previous convictions in Canada and Zimbabwe, had his sentence cut on appeal by 12 months.
Jeff Sim says that the SWT had brought more volunteers than ever before to watch the nest. The SWT was also part of Peregrine Watch last year, which saw two full-time PDNPA rangers and 10 volunteer rangers safeguarding the site. “Their survival depends on careful surveillance against disturbance,” Sim said.
Last year the peregrines nested on Hen Coud, but this year, because of late snow on the Hen Cloud nest site, the peregrines returned to their original 2008 nest on the Roaches Upper Tier. Before then, no peregrines had nested at the Roaches for a hundred years.
“We'd like to thank the many volunteers from the local area along with the Peak District National Park Authority volunteers and ranger service who worked with us in partnership to keep a watch on the nest site in rain, hail, snow and driving winds,” Sim said. “We'd also like to thank the British Mountaineering Council and its members who also helped us care for the nest site by observing the climbing restrictions.”
Sim says the SWT is reviewing its security measures for next year.
• The SWT is appealing for anyone who may have seen anything suspicious to get in touch with Staffordshire Police by dialling 101 and quoting incident 259 logged on 2 June.