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Peregrine flies high.

Byline: By Tony Henderson

This weekend Journal readers will be helping to mark the 25th anniversary of the biggest birdwatching survey in the world. As they tick off the visitors to their gardens, one species which will not be in evidence is that bird of the crags, the peregrine.

But while the garden survey has highlighted the declines of various bird populations, the peregrine has bounced back from near extinction in the region.

The recovery of the bird of prey has been revealed in a study by the British Trust for Ornithology.

The reproductive performance of the bird was badly hit in the 1950s-60s by the use of organochlorine pesticides such as DDT and dieldrin, plus continued persecution.

Peregrines virtually disappeared from the North-East and only three breeding pairs were identified in Cumbria.

Now, with the toxic chemicals phased out, peregrine numbers in Cumbria have risen to around 100 breeding pairs.

In Northumberland there has been a 15pc increase in the last 10 years with up to 30 breeding pairs.

Geoff Horne, who lives at Dalston, near Carlisle, has been monitoring peregrines in Cumbria for 40 years. So devoted is Geoff to the peregrine's recovery that he undertakes about 20 abseils off crags each year to create nesting ledges for the birds.

"Cumbria now probably has the most dense population of peregrines in the world.

"From the point of extinction the population has kept growing as the environment has been cleaned up," he says.

But there are still problems with nest raiders - described by Geoff as "cowboy falconers" - who are after eggs and chicks. He says that persecution in the North Pennines means that the bird no longer breeds in the area.

Bryan Galloway, secretary of the Northumbria Bird Ringing Group, is part of five teams from the body which monitors peregrines.

"But three to five nests are still pillaged every year. Peregrines are totally protected so this is obviously illegal," he says.

"The bird has had a very up and down history. I had to wait for 10 years until I saw one."

During the Second World War when pigeons were used to carry messages, its predator the peregrine paid the price and was culled.

"Now the peregrine is back and most of the classic nest sites on moorland crags are occupied," says Bryan. Peregrines attempted to nest at the former Blyth power station and in Northumberland a trial has begun using an artificial nest pole and tray structure.

"The peregrine is a very charismatic bird and it is fantastic to watch.

"Few species have suffered what they have suffered but they have proved so resilient."

A BTO spokesman said: "The peregrine is an icon of success for conservation.

"They are top predators and can act as indicators of the quality of the food chain and of the surrounding environment.

"They can be considered to be an equivalent of the miner's canary for large tracts of our wilder countryside."
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 24, 2004
Words:490
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