Peregrines in Britain

The changing fortunes of the Peregrine falcon in the UK have been inextricably linked with man.


During the Middle Ages, the peregrine was highly prized as a falconry bird, and nest sites were protected by Royal Decree, but then as game rearing became widespread during the 19th Century, peregrines were ruthlessly persecuted across much of their range. The species came close to extinction during the late 1950’s due to widespread contamination by persistent toxic agricultural chemicals. The organochlorine pesticides, such as DDT, were identified as the cause and subsequently withdrawn, and with increased legal protection, the species began a slow recovery of their traditional haunts.

By the mid 1980’s, the population had recovered to its original pre-war numbers, when breeding was largely confined to traditional sites on coastal sea cliffs and upland crags. Peregrines are highly territorial which has a limiting effect on the number of pairs in regions of favourable habitat. Expansion of their range into lowland areas was facilitated by the nesting in quarries, both worked and derelict, and the first nesting on man-made structures and in urban environments. By 1991, the population had risen to 1,283 pairs with 7 nesting on man-made structures, and by 2002, of 1,402 pairs across the UK, there were 65 pairs found nesting on man-made structures. Today the number of peregrines nesting on man-made structures is believed to have increased to an estimated 180 pairs. There are now many well known urban nest sites across the UK on residential, industrial and ecclesiastical buildings in towns and cities, with tall chimneys, cooling towers, pylons and radio masts occupied in rural areas.

The recovery of the peregrine from near extinction in the UK just 50 years ago, to its current occupation of all counties in Britain as a breeding bird, is considered a conservation success storey. Urban nest sites and the increasing number of UK webcams continue to raise the profile and increase general appreciation and admiration of the peregrine, the fastest creature on the planet.