This amazing bird just became extinct in England, but there’s still cause for optimism

Support us and go ad-free

The golden eagle, one of the world’s most iconic birds, has become extinct in England. The last remaining wild male lived in the Lake District region of north-west England and was monitored by staff at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Haweswater reserve. With no sightings of him this spring, they have announced that he has almost certainly died. He was about 20 years old so could well have died of natural causes. He had been single since his mate died in 2004.

“His disappearance marks the end of an era,” said Lee Schofield, Site Manager at RSPB Haweswater. “He has been part of the Haweswater landscape for the past 15 years. During this time thousands of visitors have travelled from across the country hoping to catch a glimpse of him.”

With him gone the Lake District has become a bit less wild

Although golden eagles may once have ranged much more widely, in more recent times they only came to the Lake District in the 1950s – a breakaway from the southern Scottish population. It’s hoped that more birds may cross the border and recolonise the area in the future. Schofield points out that although the Lake District “isn’t particularly attractive to golden eagles” at the moment, work is in hand to improve and diversify the habitat. This will benefit the environment generally and will also increase the amount of potential food available for incoming eagles.

Such forward thinking gives hope that all may not be lost for golden eagles in England. Birds care nothing for the arbitrary boundaries of humans and if the conditions are suitable, they will come. Young eagles seeking to establish their own territories can travel hundreds of kilometres and are especially likely to settle in unclaimed areas.

And there are plenty of encouraging precedents. Many birds of prey are now at their highest population levels in living memory. Buzzards, for example, have been recorded in every county in England since 2000, while peregrine falcons are nesting on tall buildings across the UK’s cities and can be followed on webcams. The hugely successful re-introduction of red kites to England and Scotland, after they had been driven to one tiny corner of Wales, is a sign of what can be achieved.

Their numbers are recovering from a very low point, however. Mid-20th century pesticides such as DDT, which persisted through the whole food chain, caused huge problems for ‘apex predator’ birds of prey due to thinning of eggshells. Although DDT was banned in the UK in 1984, it has taken decades for the residual impact to diminish.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

The worst effects of DDT came at a time when birds of prey were being granted protected status, putting an end to the legal practice of culling birds thought to be a threat to farming or game-shooting interests. Unfortunately, the reality has lagged behind the legislation and persecution has become the biggest limiting factor.

The rise in buzzard numbers suggests that some lowland gamekeepers at least may be becoming better educated about the very low risk to their lucrative young pheasants. Although there are still appalling cases coming to light, such as England’s worst poisoning incident which led to the conviction of the senior keeper at one of Norfolk’s most highly regarded estates. A poisoning regarded as the worst ever in Wales has recently been reported, although the identity of the estate, in the Brecon Beacons, has not yet been revealed.

Species that rely on the uplands are having a harder time. Hen harriers, which nest on moorland often used for the curiously British activity of driven grouse shooting, remain on the cusp of extinction as a breeding bird in England. Nonetheless, the hen harrier was awarded the title of Countryfile Conservation Success of the Year in view of the enthusiastic campaigning on its behalf, which has led to a nationally-supported Hen Harrier Day. Support for the hen harrier has been closely tied to calls for a ban on driven grouse shooting. Although this could potentially have much wider benefits than saving hen harriers, such as reducing flood risk below the moors, campaigners are pitting themselves against the power of landowners, big money, and even perhaps, royal opinion.

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. There are compelling reasons to seek the reintroduction and advancement of birds of prey, especially eagles. Beyond the ecological role they play as genuine top predators, they make an intangible contribution to the “wildness” of a location, as Lee Schofield said, and a very tangible and lucrative role in boosting rural economies. White tailed eagles are credited with adding millions of pounds to tourism revenues in the Scottish islands.

Golden eagles remain in Scotland (despite persecution), an iconic symbol of the country’s natural grandeur. There is no ecological reason why they shouldn’t strengthen in southern Scotland and then move into England. If they can be welcomed with understanding rather than fear and mistrust they will be able to re-establish themselves as part of England’s natural wildlife.

Get involved!

Looking after the natural world requires a long view often missing from politics. Sign up to support teenage blogger Findlay Wilde’s #Think500YearsAhead campaign.

Sign the petition to ban the destructive practice of driven grouse shooting.

Support The Canary as we seek to expand our reporting on environmental issues.

 

Featured image via Flickr / Jon Nelson

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us

Comments are closed