A PAIR of nesting peregrine falcons have been one of the biggest visitor attractions in the Yorkshire Dales National Park this summer.
Some 21,000 people visited a special "hide" at Malham Cove over a period of three months to see the birds, members of a species that was once one of the most threatened in the UK.
And the birds pulled in these big crowds despite the fact that they reared no young, possibly because of the cold, damp spring. Although this was a disappointment to national park and RSPB officials who stood guard over the pair, they hope that they will breed next year.
Under the Falcon Watch scheme, people queued up to observe the birds via powerful binoculars. No one was allowed too close because, over the years, peregrine nests have been robbed either of eggs or even young chicks.
The reason: the falcon is officially the world's fastest animal, reaching speeds of over 200 mph in swooping on its flying prey. This has made it the bird of choice for ruthless falconers, mainly in the Middle East, who were prepared to pay several thousand pounds for a single bird.
Andy Bunten, RSPB North of England Regional Director, said: "The Malham peregrine viewing project has exceeded all our expectations. Visitors to Malham Cove responded enthusiastically to the scheme and we hope that being able to watch these fantastic birds has increased the enjoyment of people coming to this area."