England's last remaining golden eagle has failed to appear this spring, leading RSPB staff and volunteers at its Lake District home to fear the worst.
The golden eagle had been resident at Riggindale at Haweswater in Cumbria since 2001/02 and had been alone since the death of his mate in 2004.
RSPB staff at Haweswater, who operate a special eagle viewpoint at the site, haven't seen the bird since last November but only became concerned last month when it still hadn't appeared. The bird isn't always sighted during the winter but in spring it would normally have been seen nest building and displaying to attract a mate around its territory in Riggindale.
Lee Schofield, Site Manager at RSPB Haweswater, said: "When the eagle didn't appear last month we thought there was a chance he might be hunting in a nearby valley but over the past few weeks we've been gradually losing hope.
"We will probably never find out what happened to him but as he was around 19-20 years old, an advanced age for an eagle, it's quite possible that he died of natural causes.
"His disappearance marks the end of an era as he has been an iconic part of the Haweswater landscape for the past 15 years. During this time, thousands of visitors have travelled from across the country hoping to catch a glimpse of him at the Riggindale Eagle Viewpoint. With him gone, the Lake District has just got a bit less wild."
Golden eagles arrived in the Lake District from Scotland in the late 1950s and a pair first bred at Hawewater in 1969. The original male died in 1976 and was replaced by Britain's oldest known eagle who lived until he was at least 32 years-old. In turn, he was replaced in 2001/02 by the most recent male. The original female was replaced in 1981 by the last female who died in 2004.
Between 1970 and 1996, 16 young were produced at Haweswater, while a second pair of eagles bred in the Lake District from 1975 to 1983, fledging four chicks.
Although the RSPB fear it is unlikely that golden eagles will take up residence again at Haweswater in the near future, the conservation organization is undertaking an extensive programme of habitat restoration, which it hopes will eventually encourage eagles to nest again at the site.
Lee Schofield continued: "At the moment the Lake District isn't particularly attractive to golden eagles as there is a shortage of suitable habitat and food. By restoring a range of natural habitats at Haweswater, we hope this will lead to an increase in wildlife including birds and small mammals, which would provide a sustainable food source for golden eagles."
1. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organizations.
2. Find out more about the RSPB's work at Haweswater at http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/seenature/reserves/guide/h/haweswater/work.aspx