Friday, 27 July 2012

Falcon- a retun to the Roaches



I have just heard that Peregrine Falcon chicks have been successfully reared on the Roaches estate. I have always been in awe at the majesty of this bird. Its plunging dive at prey at speeds of approaching 120 miles an hour must be one of the marvels of nature, killing with the shock of impact as much as with the slash of talons. I have seen the falcon in landscapes as varied as the cliffs of Pembrokeshire and flying over a park in South London.

The bird is the main character in a treasured and rather battered paperback I have of JA Baker’s book Peregrine published in 1967. This wonderfully evocative book is partly an elegy for the hawk and for the landscape in which the bird moved. By the mid 60s the terrible impact of pesticides on the British raptor population was becoming evident. At the start of the 20th century there were over 800 pairs of birds, by the middle of the century this had been halved. The countryside particularly in East Anglia where the book is set was under threat by the remorseless march of agribusiness as hedges, woods and spinnys were being destroyed.

It must have seemed plausible to Baker and others that the peregrines and the landscape would become extinct. "I remember those winter days", he mourns, "those frozen fields ablaze with warring hawks. It is sad that it should be so no longer. The ancient eyries are dying".

The plot of the book runs as follows. One autumn, two pairs of peregrines come to hunt over an area of coast: a mixed landscape of marshland, wood, field, estuary and sea. For a reason, which is never fully explained, the author becomes obsessed with the birds. From October to April, he tracks them, and watches as they wash, fly, kill, eat and roost. It describes them in language so intense and spellbinding and yet also so amok with beauty, that the act of bird watching becomes a liturgy. It is a masterpiece of the literature of place: a book, which sets the imagination aloft, and keeps it there.

The return of the Peregrine Falcon to the local landscape is therefore a moment to be treasured and another sign of the amazing recuperative powers of nature