SAS man keeps the red kite flying

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The Independent Online
THE SERGEANT was a hard man. Ex-SAS; active service in Northern Ireland, Malaysia and Oman. But the nest of birds was too much for him.

His mission had been to sneak up unseen to the tree that offered the family of red kites shelter and plant a listening device in it. No chance; they saw him before he could even get close. The sergeant - caution learned in the SAS meant he would give his name only as Frank - was rueful: 'I'd have outwitted a human enemy.'

The real enemies that Frank and his 70 Territorial Army colleagues were watching out for were collectors desperate to acquire the white and reddish- brown speckled eggs of the red kite, which, after centuries of persecution, was driven almost to extinction. Now there are 90 breeding pairs in Britain, most of them in the Welsh hills that Frank and his men have been secretly watching for the past five weeks.

Frank, 47, left the SAS five years ago and now runs a smallholding. But his surveillance skills made him an obvious choice to be put in charge of 70 soldiers of the Royal Regiment of Wales, called in by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The work has military value: the soldiers learn to move about the countryside unseen and how to use the latest surveillance equipment.

The nest that worried Frank was in a large oak tree on a rocky hillside in the Elan Valley, Powys. It was near a footpath providing easy access for thieves, and a nearby wood was ample cover for an escape. The radio microphone was needed so the soldiers on 24- hour guard duty in an observation post 300 yards away could listen as well as keep watch with night- sight binoculars. But it had to be done without upsetting the kites. They will abandon nest and eggs if disturbed too often.

'It's an offence to disturb the birds, even if there's no intention of stealing the eggs,' Frank explained. 'Once they abandon the nests, that's it. No chicks.'

The Nightingale, Sunday Review

(Photograph omitted)