Red kite makes triumphant return in England and Scotland but numbers decline elsewhere

A A A

The red kite, the large fork-tailed bird of prey reintroduced to England a decade ago, is booming so much that its population in the Chiltern Hills north-west of London is now believed to be the densest in Europe.

The red kite, the large fork-tailed bird of prey reintroduced to England a decade ago, is booming so much that its population in the Chiltern Hills north-west of London is now believed to be the densest in Europe.

Nearly 150 pairs are nesting in the undulating beechwoods along the Chiltern ridge from Goring in Oxfordshire to Luton in Bedfordshire, new figures show, and the bird is now a regular and spectacular sight along the M40 motorway which cuts through the Chiltern escarpment at Aston Rowant, between High Wycombe and Oxford.

A carrion feeder and once a scavenger on London's streets (and mentioned as such in Shakespeare), the red kite became extinct in England in 1870, and in Scotland in 1890. For most of the 20th century the remoter parts of mid-Wales remained its only stronghold.

But in the late 1980s the decision was taken to reintroduce it to England and Scotland, using birds from Spain and Sweden, and the project has turned into one of the most successful bird reintroduction programmes ever seen.

From having no birds in 1989, England had 177 pairs nesting last year, while Scotland had 50. In Wales, although no survey was carried out last year, it is thought that between 300 and 350 pairs are nesting. The English birds consist of 142 pairs in the Chilterns, 25 pairs in Northamptonshire and a further 10 pairs in Yorkshire.

The full British population of between 500 and 600 pairs, still steadily expanding, is now regarded as the healthiest in Europe, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Other red kite populations, such as those in Spain, France and Germany, are declining, or at best stable.

The concentration along the Chiltern ridge is now probably Europe's densest, said the RSPB's Graham Madge. "The breeding success is really unprecedented."

So common have these birds become that it is rare to drive down the great chalk cutting where the motorway bisects the Chiltern ridge, and not see one. On the M40 they have replaced the kestrel as the common bird of prey.

Drivers should look out for a large bird with a noticeable forked tail, soaring in flight, or slowly flapping long wings with white patches and finger-like feathers projecting at the end.

The Chiltern birds have probably done so well because of an ample supply of tall trees for nesting and thermals the birds can use to soar on to spot the dead animals on which they feed, Mr Madge said.

However, both the RSPB and English Nature, the Government's wildlife agency, are sounding a warning about the dangers that new rat poisons can present to birds of prey, and kites especially, because of their carrion feeding.

A new leaflet spells out the dangers from so-called "second generation" rodenticides, based on anticoagulants, which can persist in the bodies of dead vermin.

Red kites will eat poisoned animals that died in the open and several birds from the reintroduction project have been killed in this way in England and Scotland in recent years. The leaflet gives guidance on how to minimise risk to birds of prey when undertaking rodent control. Other once-scarce large birds of prey, besides the red kite, appear to be doing quite well in England. Honey buzzards, goshawks and marsh harriers all have robust populations now.

In Scotland, the reintroduction of the white-tailed sea eagle to the Hebridean islands is also going well, with several pairs breeding – but nowhere near on the scale of the red kite.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy