Peregrines have not had an easy time. Because they like to eat pigeons the Government ordered for many to be killed during the Second World War, so that they did not intercept pigeons carrying secret messages. After the war, the side effects of organochlorine pesticides caused a further, more serious decline by thinning egg shells and increasing adult mortality. In fact, until the 1980s Peregrines had disappeared from southern England completely.
After three decades of challenge, the Peregrine started to recover following the banning of some pesticides in the 1980s, and breeding recommenced in Dorset and Sussex. Sightings in Hampshire grew in line with this expansion and in 1993 a pair nested on the chimney of Fawley Power Station. In 1995 a nest was built on a pylon near to Southampton and by 2008 there were nine pairs nesting in the county on a variety of structures and natural sites.
A pair nested twice on the Police Headquarters in Winchester in 2011 and 2012, but as they suffered from exposure to bad weather, the Hampshire Ornithological Society (HOS) installed a nesting box on the roof in 2013. This pair then nested each year until early 2017 when the building was demolished. Knowing that the birds liked sitting on Cathedral it was suspected that they might try to nest there, and indeed they did – in a gulley in 2017. Sadly, heavy rain flooded their nest. In 2018 HOS asked for permission to install a raised nesting tray in the same gulley and within weeks of this being installed the birds laid eggs in March. Three beautiful chicks were reared and stayed around the Cathedral for much of the summer.
Most adult Peregrines remain in their nesting territories throughout the year. Young birds remain with their parents into their first winter but are chased away at the beginning of the new year. Peregrines are more widely distributed outside the breeding season than during it. They often hunt over wide areas looking for suitable prey such as wildfowl and waders on the coast.
The Peregrine is still regarded as being of conservation concern in both a European and a UK context, but after having suffered at the hands of man for many years, this top predator is now benefiting from our protection.