The bird life of the English Lake District needs the support of all who love the region. All birds and their eggs and nests are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Certain rare or more endangered species are further protected by increased penalties under the 1981 act and must not be intentionally or recklessly disturbed when nesting. These birds are listed in the act and are referred to as Schedule 1 species: the Schedule 1 bird species that scramblers, walkers and climbers may most commonly encounter on crags in the Lake District is the peregrine falcon. Ravens, though not Schedule 1 birds, also need care and protection.
Peregrines are the largest falcons in the British Isles. They can be recognized by their distinctive profile, often sighted from the crag, as they plummet groundwards to seize some unsuspecting prey. Seen from below, they are pale coloured birds with dark tips to the tail and wings. Their call is a piercing shriek, once heard never forgotten! When the peregrine is disturbed this is uttered repeatedly for long periods. Peregrines hunt over a variety of habitats, catching medium-sized birds, mainly feral pigeons, by swooping at speeds of up to 200 km an hour to seize them. The preferred nesting sites of peregrines in the United Kingdom are inland crags, such as in the Lake District.
Peregrines are fairly common in the Lake District, which is one of their most important European habitats, but they are rare elsewhere. In fact the United Kingdom supports approximately 14% of the European population. Of these, in Cumbria and the Lake District, there are usually about 85 nesting sites which hold one or more birds each year and approximately 65 pairs attempt to breed each season. This is 6% of the UK's total population and is considered to be the densest breeding population in the world. The Cumbrian birds are especially important because of the population numbers and productivity which is enabling the birds to spread and re-colonise other areas in the UK.
They are particularly vulnerable to the weather, disturbance, poor food supply and illegal activities such as shooting, poisoning, and egg and chick theft. In 2000 in the Lake District there were 83 occupied territories on which 46 pairs reared 111 young. However, in 2002 only 32 young were reared and this was the worst recorded breeding season for 30 years, predominantly due to appalling weather, but also to increased robberies. Climbers can assist by reporting any suspicious characters they see near peregrine nest sites.
Ravens are very large black birds, similar to a rook but a third bigger. They have distinctive deep "pruk-pruk" call and are great aerial acrobats, with skill in soaring and tumbling. Ravens, while not protected in the same way as peregrines and eagles, are still under potential threat from increased disturbance, and there are some voluntary restrictions in the Lake District on their account. Their nests are very large piles of twigs.
Bird Restrictions are agreed annually between the local climbers' committee, the National Park Authority and English Nature. The area of crag agreed to be avoided can vary depending upon various factors including the layout of the crag. Some pairs also vary their choice of nesting site each year either within a crag or between different crags and so agreements may change from year to year. In general, they only apply to the most popular rock-climbing crags but this does not mean that people are necessarily allowed to climb or scramble on all other crags during this period; even where a crag is not subject to a restriction, if you suspect a bird (particularly a peregrine) is nesting on it, you should avoid it.