England's only breeding pair of golden eagles have hatched at least one chick after three unsuccessful years of trying, it was disclosed today.
The eagles are feeding at least one nestling at their remote Lake District eyrie in Cumbria, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), whose staff are keeping an anxious watch on them.
It will be some days before wardens can confirm the number of chicks, but golden eagles usually lay two eggs.
RSPB spokesman Chris Harbard said Scotland had an estimated 425 pairs of golden eagles but England has just the one couple, who are nesting within the Haweswater estate owned by North West Water.
"We were beginning to worry that the adult male, who is getting on a little bit, may have become infertile and we didn't have a pair that was capable of breeding," he said.
A round-the-clock guard on the birds' eyrie has been mounted by RSPB staff and a team of volunteer wardens since early this year. Egg thieves present an annual threat to the birds.
The next few weeks will be critical as the chicks remain vulnerable, said the RSPB.
n An international hunt has been launched to find 74 baby ploughshare tortoises - a quarter of the entire population -snatched in a midnight raid on a remote breeding station in north-west Madagascar. It is believed the babies will be offered for sale on the black market in endangered animals.
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