Rural: Nature Note

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With its large dimensions, slender wings and deeply forked tail, the red kite is one of our most spectacular raptors, and its re-establishment in England and Scotland has proved one of the most spectacular conservation successes of recent times. Although a few kites hung on in the isolated uplands of central Wales, those elsewhere were persecuted so drastically that they died out in the 1880s. Their reintroduction began in 1989 when the RSPB, working with English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage, imported young birds from Spain and released them at secret sites. Since then, the numbers have built up with amazing speed. In the 1997 season 51 pairs in England reared more than 100 young, and earlier this year a gamekeeper on the Wormsley estate in Buckinghamshire counted 70 kites in a single gathering.

Tagging and radio-tracking show that they are highly mobile. One bird, at least, has travelled from Scotland to Devon, and offspring of the original colonies have dispersed over wide areas. Their success appears to be due to an abundance of food and a good habitat. Largely carrion eaters, they probably benefit from road casualties, and in deer country such as the Chilterns they clean up the grallochs left by stalkers culling in winter. Because they rarely take pheasants or partridges, they do not generally worry gamekeepers. Nevertheless, several birds have been illegally poisoned, and one man was fined pounds 1,000 after he had buried a kite, not realising that it was carrying a still-functioning radio transmitter in its tail.

Duff Hart-Davis