Working quarries are not places to watch wildlife and even where there is public access to them, care has to be taken around disused quarries too.
Few animals and plants in the Dales are associated especially with quarries but the high ledges provide some of the nesting sites for cliff-nesting birds like Jackdaws, Ravens and Peregrines.
Family name: Falconidae
The Peregrine is a large falcon renowned for being one of the fastest flying birds that has reliably been recorded, reaching speeds of 350 kph (217 mph). It reaches these incredible speeds when hunting a range of medium sized birds, as it dives down knocking unsuspecting prey to the ground.
The Peregrine, like many other birds of prey, has had rather a chequered history. It was revered for many hundreds of years as the favoured bird for falconry and in the Middle Ages was protected by royal decrees to ensure that only the nobles were allowed to fly these magnificent birds. Declines in the 19th and 20th centuries were attributed to persecution and although protected by law, Peregrines were legally controlled in certain areas during the Second World War to ensure that they didn’t take homing pigeons carrying messages vital to the war effort. The Peregrine population crashed in the late 1950s due to agricultural chemicals such as DDT accumulating in the food chain causing egg shell thinning and reduced breeding success. These chemicals were banned and from the mid 1960s the Peregrine population began to slowly recover despite persecution and the threat from egg collectors.
During the 1960s, the Peregrine disappeared as a breeding species in the Yorkshire part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and was restricted to perhaps one or two pairs in the North West (now in Cumbria). The first pair to return to Yorkshire nested in 1978 and thanks to the diligent efforts of a number of organisations in protecting these birds; they have continued to spread so that there are now around 20 sites where Peregrines have been known to nest within the National Park. However, problems still persist, as recent research has shown that the number of Peregrine chicks raised from nest sites on grouse moors in the Dales is much lower than nest sites away from grouse moors. Subsequent monitoring work has shown that occupancy of traditional sites on grouse moors in the Yorkshire Dales National Park has continued to be extremely low, with no successful breeding on this land use type since 1997. This contrasts with a relatively stable population away from grouse moor sites. There are no natural factors that can explain the differences between site occupancy on and away from grouse moor sites.
Whilst it is not possible to publicise most sites, a viewing scheme run by the RSPB and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is in place at Malham Cove during the breeding season as part of the RSPB ‘Aren’t Birds Brilliant’ project. Wardens are on hand with telescopes to show visitors the Peregrines and other wildlife in and around Malham Cove from early April until late July. To date, over 250,000 visitors have stopped to watch these stunning species, generating a direct income to local tourism businesses of over £1.7m, and has had a significant role in bringing around £3.5m into the local economy.
More information can be found on the RSPB website.
The Raven is the largest member of the crow family found in Britain. Identification of this buzzard sized corvid is straightforward if good views are obtained as the large size, long wedged shaped tail and large head are all diagnostic features. Identification of distant, lone birds can be problematical especially when it is difficult to determine just how big, or how far away the bird is. When walking across suitable upland areas, it is often the far carrying “kronk, kronk” call of the raven that first draws the attention to the bird flying over.
Ravens are relatively long lived birds that may not begin to breed until they are at least three or four years old. Pair bonding between birds will often involve a spectacular aerial display as birds ‘tumble’, ‘roll’ and dive over potential nest sites. Ravens will pair for life and if left undisturbed, will use the same nest site year after year, occasionally resulting in the gradual construction of huge nests.
A number of local place names such as Raven Scar and Raven Crag give an indication of the sites where ravens historically bred in the Dales. This species has in the past suffered from heavy persecution but in recent years, numbers have increased with nesting attempted at 16 different nesting sites in the Dales in recent years. The Raven population does seem to have stabilised in the last few years and it is not clear why they no longer nest at a number of formerly occupied sites or have not occupied other potentially suitable nesting sites. The majority of known nesting sites are all in the south of the National Park but there are an increasing number of records from northern areas. It is not clear whether these relate to non-breeding birds, possible from Cumbria, or whether there are a number of yet undiscovered breeding pairs.
More information can be found on the RSPB website.