A previously endangered species of bird is now thriving, 25 years after the conservation project to reintroduce it began.
25 years ago the world was a very different place. 1989 seems like a lifetime ago and of course for some people it really is. It was the year that Daniel Radcliffe (best known for his film role as Harry Potter) was born and the year that George Bush (Senior) succeeded Ronald Reagan as President of the USA. Sky TV was launched in Europe, Steffi Graf and Boris Becker were Wimbledon champions, the first full length episode of The Simpsons was broadcast, Rain Man took the Oscar for best picture and de Klerk became President of the still apartheid South Africa.
On 1 August that year, a much more low-key event took place here in the UK. The first five Red Kites, imported from Spain, were released on the Buckinghamshire-Oxfordshire border. Another 88 birds were released by the RSPB and English Nature (now Natural England) over the following five years. Red Kites had been driven to extinction in England by human persecution by the end of the nineteenth century. The false belief that Red Kites killed lambs and game birds led to their widespread persecution when, in fact, they mainly scavenge on dead animals and hunt just very small mammals. A small population had survived in Wales, but there was little chance of these birds repopulating their original areas.
The reintroduction programme has turned out to be one of the UK’s most successful conservation projects. There are now more than 1,000 breeding pairs across the Chilterns covering Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Berkshire. Since 1999 chicks have been taken from the Chilterns for reintroduction across other parts of the country.
Visit the Chilterns on a clear day and you’re almost guaranteed to be rewarded with a site of this magnificent bird soaring through the sky. With a wingspan of almost 2 metres they are a beautiful sight and a welcome addition back into the Chilterns glorious landscape. Why not come and see for yourself with our Red Kites and Ridgeway walk.