In the Victorian era, Red Kites were branded vermin and seen as a direct threat to the food supplies of a fast-growing human population.They were consistently persecuted until there weren’t any left in England at all.
But in 1989, dozens of birds were shipped over from Spain in the hope they would recolonize the country. They did so well down in the Chilterns that ten years later, 70 were brought up to Yorkshire and released at Harewood House.
It was a joint effort between conservationists, Yorkshire Water, the Harewood Estate and lots of other people who wanted to see the kites return. Doug Simpson led the project and was awarded an MBE for his achievements. About a thousand chicks have been born since 1999 and there’s now thought to be hundreds of breeding adults. People have reported seeing them across the region, from inner-city Leeds to East Yorkshire.
But both Mr Simpson and the RSPB are concerned about Red Kites being found shot or poisoned. 30 birds found dead since the reintroduction had been illegally killed and the RSPB reports that over the last 20 years, North Yorkshire has had the most reported incidents of bird of prey persecution. They say that in 2012 alone, there was twice as many reported incidents in North Yorkshire than in any other county.
But there have been very few prosecutions, as it’s extremely difficult to track down and prove who is responsible. Many conservationists suggest indiscriminate methods used by some gamekeepers or farmers may be to blame. The suggestion is that they use poisoned bait to protect their game stocks or livestock from predators. Red Kites are not necessarily the intended target, but as scavengers, they will feed on the bait.
But both the National Gamekeepers Organisation and the National Farmers Union say they do not want a vast majority of responsible people they represent to be tarnished by the actions of a few.
– National Gamekeepers Organisation
The all-too-easily made accusation that gamekeepers have been responsible for persecuting birds of prey often proves, on examination, to be unsupported by the facts. For example the most recent official map (from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) confirmed bird of prey poisoning incidents showed only one in the whole of North Yorkshire in 2011.
The NFU say they are focused on the need to balance essential rat control with the threat of accidental exposure of wildlife to rodenticides.
– National Farmers Union
“The NFU condemns any act of wildlife crime and we are working closely with local Police Forces to target wildlife and other forms of rural crime. However it is important when talking about a relatively small number of incidences not to imply wrongdoing by a wider farming/game keeping community that certainly in recent years has worked hard along with conservation groups to encourage key bird species. Awareness raising and targeted action is what’s needed to ensure a fall in the number of instances."
Conservationists want anyone who finds a dead Red Kite to contact the RSPB, or if any wrongdoing is suspected, the police.