3. Peregrine falcons
In partnership with Aylesbury Vale District Council, Bucks Bird Club and local volunteers, a nesting platform was installed after two peregrine falcons (Falco peregrinus) were spotted flying around the town centre in 2007.
The platform has been successfully maintained since and can be seen from street level on the 12th Floor of County Hall. It provides a safe haven for the birds and encourages them to breed and, in 2012, two chicks successfully hatched and fled the nest!
The peregrines also successfully bred in 2013 and 2014.The offspring of these peregrines were ringed by licensed bird ringers allowing us to track how far the young have dispersed from the nest. The latest sightings have been of one of the young birds in the Oxford area.
Huge thanks should be given to the dedicated volunteers who have made this project a success by investigating prey remains, managing a blog, ringing the chicks and organising public watch events.
How important are the Aylesbury peregrines?
There are currently less than 1500 breeding pairs of peregrine falcons in the UK. Peregrine numbers declined during the 19th and 20th centuries because of illegal killing by humans and widespread contamination by persistent toxic agricultural chemicals such as DDT, which through accumulation in the food chain, caused the collapse of the peregrine population in the UK in the late 1950s.
Most of the present day population breeds on cliff-ledges or other undisturbed inaccessible locations. The UK breeding population makes up around 20% of all European peregrine falcons and every breeding pair is therefore immensely important for the survival of the species.
The birds arrived in Aylesbury without any aid from people. Being the tallest building in Aylesbury, County Hall most accurately reflects their natural habitat. Perhaps more than this there is a plentiful supply of prey such as pigeons, however, we also know they have taken other prey including Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria) and Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) - both wading birds. These could have been caught at Tring or other reservoirs or while flying over in migration.
When is the best time to see them?
The birds are most active at the start of the breeding season around February and March. Egg-laying typically occurs by the end of March to early April and hatching during the first week of May. Once hatched, the chicks are likely to be taking their first flight within just six weeks!
You can see the falcons around County Hall as it gets dark or hunting further afield. If you are lucky you may see a hunting peregrine which will spot its prey at distance, before stooping at speeds of up to 180kph (113mph) when it will attempt to intercept its prey in mid-flight.
Alternatively, you can view the live webcam hosted by Buckinghamshire Bird Club.
Are peregrines protected?
The peregrine is afforded the highest degree of legal protection under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
It is an offence to intentionally take, injure or kill a peregrine or to take, damage or destroy its nest, eggs or young. It is also an offence to intentionally or recklessly disturb the birds close to their nest during the breeding season. Violation of the law can attract fines up to £5,000 per offence and/or a prison sentence of up to six months.
The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 widens this protection and provides additional protection for the peregrine in Scotland.
Presentation on the Aylesbury Peregrine project
In 2012, Mai Nielsen, previously of Buckinghamshire County Council and Matt Dodds from Aylesbury Vale District Council presented a talk on how the Aylesbury Peregrine project provided a positive example of urban biodiversity conservation at an international conference in Zvolen, Slovakia.
The conference proved a fascinating insight into the problems faced by urban biodiversity during refurbishment and maintenance operations throughout Europe, but also how many species have come to depend on buildings for their survival. All expenses were paid by the EU.
All images are © M. Wallen. Used by kind permission.
Last updated: 6 April 2017