Over the last decade, birders in East Glamorgan have witnessed a rise in the number of Red Kites in our area. Indeed the species is no longer considered rare, with sightings spanning across the whole region and throughout the year. It’s a regular winter visitor roaming the hills or the Vale, and we’ve a few pairs breeding too. It was of course, not always this way.
On 12 November, Tony Cross of the Welsh Kite Trust, told an audience of the Welsh Ornithological Society the success story that is Red Kite conservation in Wales. The story began in the 1880s with Brecon’s Edward Cambridge-Phillips and later with the creation of the British Ornithologists’ Club Kite Committee in 1903. Kites were a relatively common bird in centuries past, but had been persecuted to the edge of extinction in the United Kingdom, only just clinging on in the remote valleys of mid Wales.
An attempt to reintroduce birds from Spain to Radnorshire in the early 1930s failed, and in 1932 the plight was perilous, with just two known nests in Carmarthenshire. Though Wales has been the last refuge and in more recent times a strong-hold of the Red Kite in Britain, it seems Wales is not the best place in Britain for Red Kites. Research shows that our wet climate is a factor limiting breeding productivity, with brood sizes and chick survival lower in Wales that other parts of the UK. It was the remoteness of our valleys that enabled the Kite to cling on.
In the 1990s, DNA studies showed that 25% of Welsh female kites were descended from a German female that arrived around 1970. Successful reintroductions in England and Scotland have taken place and studies are under way to determine whether birds in these populations have contributed to the recent rise in Welsh numbers. As yet, no tagged reintroduced birds are known to have bred successfully here. Our population is a direct result of breeding success since the 1930s. No Red Kites have been reintroduced in Wales.
Over the decades, a dedicated band of conservationists have worked tirelessly to protect our birds from persecution, including egg-thieves and deliberate poisoning. Round the clock nest watches, building relationships with land owners, winter feeding stations, tagging and recording have all played a role. It’s thanks to this great effort, by many, that we enjoy watching Kites in our county today.
By 2010, we had an estimated 1000 pairs and modelling predicts continued growth to 3500 pairs by 2050, enabling chicks from Wales to be exported under licence to Ireland as part of a reintroduction scheme there.
Tony’s talk concluded with a hint that attention may now turn towards other raptors in Wales. The Welsh Kite Trust is well-placed to look at other species, and with knowledge gained from conserving our Red Kites, we may look forward with hope, that the fortunes of our Kestrels, Honey-buzzards and others will improve.