Words by Smiley Team
The UK’s most successful bird conservation project for red kites has come full circle and is now donating kite chicks to a similar project in Spain – the country that provided chicks for the UK's red kite reintroduction project to England 35 years ago.
In 1989, a project began to restore red kite populations in England and Scotland after they had become extinct around the 1870s.
Now, conservationists are delighted that the project has been so successful that red kite chicks can be supplied in return from England back to Spain to help with important efforts to conserve the species in that country. This turn-around also involves some of the key people involved in the original England and Scotland red kite reintroduction projects.
At the turn of the 20th century, there were just a handful of red kites in the UK, and those birds that remained were confined to remote Welsh valleys.
With legal protection, reduced human persecution, and thanks to the dedicated efforts of enlightened conservationists and farmers, the Welsh population of red kites began to expand slowly. By the 1980s though, they were still confined to the Welsh uplands and their population was considered fragile and vulnerable to extinction.
A trial reintroduction of red kites to both England and Scotland was proposed as it was felt highly unlikely that these birds would return naturally and within a reasonable timescale.
A jigsaw of red kite reintroductions at 9 sites across the UK began from 1989 to help bring the kite back to its former range. The rest is history, and this initiative then developed into one of the greatest UK conservation success stories.
From being extinct in England and Scotland, 15-17% of the world’s red kite population is now estimated to be present in the UK.
This year, all the chicks going to Spain - working with Accion por el Mundo Salvaje (AMUS) in Extremadura region - have been collected by Forestry England from nests in the nation’s forests they care for, as well as from the Boughton Estate in Northamptonshire, who have both supported red kite conservation efforts for many years.
The RSPB’s Duncan Orr-Ewing, who organised the first red kite reintroduction programme in Scotland, and is now advising the latest project, said: “The red kite population is confined to Europe. Compared to most of our other native birds of prey it has a relatively small global population.
"Following concerted conservation action in the UK in recent decades this species’ population has greatly recovered. It is amazing that we are now able to support conservation action for red kites in Spain and to reciprocate their previous generosity in supplying donor stock for our original reintroduction project in England."
And Natural England Chair Tony Juniper said “The reintroduction of red kites to England is the most successful raptor conservation story in Europe. It’s a clear blueprint for the future of species reintroductions, particularly for some of our most endangered birds.
“I’m hopeful the red kite chicks bound for Spain will flourish in the same way the chicks that arrived to this country a generation ago did, as we support those helping to rebuild the population and the prospects of this magnificent bird in southern Europe.”
JOIN AND DONATE: You can get involved in bird conservation projects across the UK through the RSPB.
VOLUNTEER: Seek out volunteering opportunities near you with the RSPB.