Has the golden eagle been wiped out from England? That’s the concern from the RSPB which this week speculated that the last one, which had been living in the Riggindale Valley in the Lake District, has died. The speculation has arisen due to the fact that the bird has not been spotted since the turn of the year. Following this sad news we thought we’d take a look back to our October 2015 issue when Karen Lloyd described the bird and her encounters with it…
Take yourself back to the year 2001. Foot and mouth disease was rife and for almost a year the mountains were completely off-limits. My memories of that time are laden with the frustration of looking at the Lakeland fells and not being able to get at them. But something happened during the absence of humans that may have been more than just a quirk of nature, something that has implications for the way we think about our impact on the land.
It was during the complete absence of anyone walking the fells and valleys that a young male golden eagle arrived, literally out of the blue, and found territory in the Riggindale Valley. It’s likely he’d also been attracted in by the presence of the resident female eagle. She, along with her previous and subsequently deceased mate, had produced a number of offspring over the years. Eagles had been present in the valley since the 1960s. The 2001 interloper was believed to have originated from the small population of eagles across the border in Galloway, and despite his pairing with the female, no offspring were produced. The female died in 2004. This means the male that remains today is England’s only golden eagle.
Golden eagles – unlike their larger, brassier cousins, sea eagles – are easily a affected by disturbance. So it may be that other eagles seeking their own territories reject the Lakes precisely because of the sheer numbers of people now visiting the hills and valleys. Riggindale is one of just a small number of valleys in the Lakes without a footpath through the base of it, which may be what attracted the current bachelor. But, rather poignantly, it seems now that he is destined to display each spring only to himself and the valley’s ravens.
I have great memories of Riggindale’s earlier eagle inhabitants. Back in the 80s I’d climbed the ridge with a bird-mad friend and we’d lain on our backs, eyes shielded against the sun and watched as the male and female soared upwards on thermals. They circled above the confines of the valley, silhouetted against white clouds and continued up and up with barely a wingbeat until they disappeared completely from our sight.
Recently I’ve been going back to explore the area. On two occasions I’ve seen the solitary male eagle; just momentary sightings, but wonderful nevertheless.
Words and landscape image: Karen Lloyd
Eagle image: Laurie Campbell