Red kite comeback may help restock Europe

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The Independent Online

Birds of prey that once faced extinction in Britain have made such a dramatic recovery they may help to replenish declining European populations.

Birds of prey that once faced extinction in Britain have made such a dramatic recovery they may help to replenish declining European populations.

The comeback of the red kite started in 1989, with more than 200 young birds now having been imported under licence from Europe and released in England and Scotland. The species had not nested in either country for a century.

But populations are dropping in several European countries, including Spain, which supplied many of the birds that fuelled the British conservation success story. Now Britain is the only country with a rising population of red kites.

Grahame Madge, a spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: "We are most concerned about what is happening in Europe. The birds released in England and Scotland were from robust European populations. If the upward trend continues here, it is possible that in 10 years or so Britain could provide kites to bolster failing numbers in Europe.

"But, in the short term, the UK could offer advice to European governments and conservation groups to help them protect their red kites and other birds of prey in danger."

Red kites are scavengers threatened by powerful rat poisons, such as bromadiolone and brodisacoum, which are used where rats have become warfarin-resistant, he added.

Red kites were common in Britain until game preservation began in the late 18th century, then mass persecution wiped them out everywhere, except in central Wales, by the end of the 19th century. When the England and Scotland reintroduction programme began in 1989, there were only 69 pairs in the UK, all in Wales. With many of the imported birds nesting successfully, there are now at least 431 pairs nationwide.

Britain's greatest red kite gathering is at 200-acre Gigrin Farm at Rhayader, Powys, where more than 150 feed on meat put out for them through the year. The Powell family running the farm has developed a tourist industry around the spectacle and they expect more than 20,000 people will come to see the birds in 2002. Chris Powell said: "It's a really thrilling sight."

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