1953, a fine year that saw Everest climbed for the first time, Ian Fleming publish his first ever Bond book in the shape of Casino Royale, Jackie Cochran become the first woman to break the sound barrier. Sadly, it was also the last time peregrines nested at Salisbury Cathedral. Until now that is – because we are delighted to say, that the peregrines are back!
We have been working with the RSPB who advised us on the type of nesting box we should provide and after we made their suggested adjustments we saw (and heard) a lot of increased activity around the spire and the peregrines themselves could be spotted sitting at the top of the tower; there were also a number of carcasses of their prey on various ledges around the building.
Up until 1953 there had been fairly regular fledging of peregrines from the Cathedral. However, the peregrine population went into steep decline throughout the 1950s and ‘60s as a result of of the effects of the widespread use of organochloride pesticides (eg DDT). These chemicals worked their way up the food chain, causing egg shell thinning and failed nests. By the mid 60s the population had fallen to only a few dozen pairs across the UK. However, with the banning of DDT and its relatives, the peregrine population slowly started to recover in the 1980s, with birds returning to traditional sites. Their return to Salisbury cathedral has been long anticipated, with birds regularly wintering on the spire, and we’re delighted they have now settled.
Phil Sheldrake, Conservation Officer with the RSPB is delighted that the new box has been accepted, ‘Salisbury Cathedral really is the ancestral home of the ‘urban’ peregrine, with records dating from the mid 1800’s. It is fantastic we now have one of our most spectacular birds back at possibly the country’s most spectacular cathedral’.
We have three eggs in the nest and will be setting up a screen at eight doors (the top of the tower/base of the spire) in the next couple of weeks so that anyone who takes a tower tour will be able to see the latest happenings without having to open the door, which of course would scare the birds away.
If we are lucky enough to have chicks this year they will be ringed so they can be monitored and we may investigate obtaining a camera so we can put a live feed on to our website for future years.
Gary Price, Clerk of Works
Tower tours can be booked online, by calling 01722 555156 – or in person at the Cathedral visitor entrance.