Red kites make ‘triumphant comeback’ to England in just three decades

The return of red kites has been hailed as a "triumphant comeback" 30 years on from the start of the scheme to reintroduce the bird to England's skies.

In what environmental experts say may be the biggest species success story in UK conservation history, the once-vanished bird is now soaring over countryside, gardens and towns across swathes of England.

In three decades, the species has gone from a small number of breeding pairs in Wales, to thousands of birds across the UK, thanks to a reintroduction scheme seen as "radical" at the time, conservationists said.

30 PHOTOS
Britain's ancient animals making a comeback
See Gallery
Britain's ancient animals making a comeback
BRISTOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 13: A young male wolf, one of five that has recently arrived, looks out as it explores its new enclosure at The Wild Place Project on March 13, 2014 in Bristol, England. A pack of five all male European grey wolves are the latest residents at the recently opened attraction which is an extension of Bristol Zoo Gardens, just off junction 17 of the M5. Originally from Scotland, the wolves and are now living in the new Wolf Wood exhibit; an area of woodland at The Wild Place Project which has been left as natural as possible to replicate their native woodland habitat in Europe. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
BRISTOL, ENGLAND - MARCH 13: Two young male wolves, two of five that have recently arrived, look out from their enclosure at The Wild Place Project on March 13, 2014 in Bristol, England. A pack of five all male European grey wolves are the latest residents at the recently opened attraction which is an extension of Bristol Zoo Gardens, just off junction 17 of the M5. Originally from Scotland, the wolves and are now living in the new Wolf Wood exhibit; an area of woodland at The Wild Place Project which has been left as natural as possible to replicate their native woodland habitat in Europe. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
The Stare
Brown mother bear protecting her cubs in a Finnish forest
She-bear and cubs. Brown bear cubs climbs a tree. Natural habitat. In Summer forest. Sceintific name: Ursus arctos.
Red Squirrel in the wild, Scotland
A wild Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) on an old mossy fallen Oak. Photographed on the Isle of Wight, one of only a few locations in the UK where Red Squirrels are safe from the larger Grey Squirrels.
Red squirrel munching on a hazel nut sitting in his mossy tree
European Wildcat (Felis Silvestris Silvestris)
Close up view of a Eurasian Lynx, Headcorn, UK
Eurasian lynx/bobcat, Lynx lynx, resting/sleeping between tufts of grass on a sunny summers day.
lynx, Lynx, close up portrait during a bright autumn day in September.
Group of wild boars, sus scrofa, running in spring nature. Action wildlife scenery of a family with small piglets moving fast forward to escape from danger.
A herd of wild boars, sus scrofa, on a meadow wet from dew. Wild animals in nature early in the morning with moisture covered grass. Mammals in wilderness.
Wild boar standing amidst plants on field
wild boar portrait in black background
A beaver carrying building material through the water.
A large magnificent beaver climbing over the beaver dam towards the viewer
A wild Beaver collecting food and swimming towards his lodge.
Crested Goshawk bird (Accipiter trivirgatus) standing on a log at puddle, looking at camera before drinking water.
Crested Goshawk ( Accipiter trivirgatus ) is standing on one leg in the water, suspected injury by bleeding under neck.
Eagle Owl Flying Over Field
A close up portrait of a eagle owl with its prey. It is perched on a post with a mole in its beak
Eagle Owl Hunting
Photo taken in Sparks, United States
A white tailed sea eagle flying in Inner Hebrides, Scotland.
The white-tailed eagle is an endangered species, a relative of the bald eagle, but found in Eurasia. Here at the Shiretoko National Park, Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan
White-Tailed Eagle
White-tailed eagle or sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) hunting in the sky over a Fjord near Vesteralen island in Northern Norway.
White-tailed sea eagle flying
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Red kites, a large bird of prey that largely feeds on carrion and worms and cuts a distinctive silhouette with wing tips that look like splayed fingers and a forked tail, were common city scavengers in medieval London.

Shakespeare writes of a "city of kites and crows" in his play Coriolanus, while their reputation for stealing laundry hung out to dry for their nests gets mentioned in The Winter's Tale.

But the birds' fortunes declined in the face of persecution and also egg collecting, and by the 20th century they were extinct in both England and Scotland.

Red Kite

While a small population hung on in Wales, it was not big or healthy enough to recolonise the rest of Britain, even once the species was protected.

So to return them to England, 13 young red kites were brought from Spain and released in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in an area on the border of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, in July 1990.

A scheme had also started in Scotland and further reintroductions followed in both countries, with the first birds successfully breeding in 1992, and by 1996, at least 37 pairs had bred in southern England.

Across the UK, there are now thousands of breeding pairs, according to the RSPB.

The Nature Conservancy Council (now Natural England) collaborated with the RSPB, Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Zoological Society London and British Airways for the reintroduction scheme.

Natural England chairman Tony Juniper said: "Red kites are one of our most majestic birds of prey with a beautiful plumage, and are easily recognisable thanks to their soaring flight and mewing call.

"Persecuted to near-extinction, they have made a triumphant comeback in England over the past three decades.

"Thanks to this pioneering reintroduction programme in the Chilterns, increased legal protection and collaboration amongst partners, the red kite stands out as a true conservation success story. "

Jeff Knott, RSPB operations director for Central and Eastern England said: "In the 1980s, anyone wanting to see a red kite had to make a special pilgrimage to a handful of sites.

"Today it is a daily sight for millions of people. In a few short decades we have taken a species from the brink of extinction, to the UK being home to almost 10% of the entire world population.

"It might be the biggest species success story in UK conservation history."

Danny Heptinstall, senior International biodiversity adviser at the JNCC, added: "Thirty years ago the reintroduction of a lost species was a radical act.

"Thanks to pioneering projects like the Chiltern red kites, it is now a standard tool in the nature conservation toolkit.

"In 1990, the UK had only a few dozen red kites, 30 years later there are over 10,000."

The red kites are a common sight in the Chilterns, but are also now seen across the South East, Yorkshire and the Midlands, and even over urban London, making the capital once again a city of kites and crows.

Read Full Story Click here to comment

FROM OUR PARTNERS