In the early 1990s, when I was a student at the University of Wales Aberystwyth, I used to visit the town dump. Not to scavenge because I was flat broke (well not quite) but because it was the best, and actually one of the few, places in the UK where it was still possible to see red kites in the wild.
Red kites were once common throughout England and Wales; being one of the main scavengers in the streets of London. Even Shakespeare referred to London as “The city of kites and crows.” By the by the end of the 19th Century however they were driven to extinction in England by humans, while only a tiny population survived in the woodlands and valleys of Wales.
What are you thinking, my wild friend
As you claim supremacy of the summer sky?
What magic holds you there without a single flap
Of your gorgeous wings?
Who dressed you today wondrous one,
In a rust coloured waistcoat and a starched white shirt?
Your taloned wings outstretched, embrace the sky
You truly are God’s work.
Who are you nagging with that fishwife song?
They can hear you from Garreg Dan to Caban Coch.
Keep on calling my brave beloved, someone will come,
You cannot be the last Red Kite.
Written by Allen Williams
Between 1989 and 1994, red kites were imported from Spain and released into the Chilterns: a stunning protected landscape of rolling hills and beech woodlands only a few miles north of London. The introduction project was run by English Nature and the RSPB. The birds started breeding in the Chilterns woodlands in 1992 and the population has expanded massively to the surprise and delight of both naturalists and local people. Today there are over 300 breeding pairs in the area. I frequently enjoy walking in the beech woodlands of the Chilterns where large gathering of red kites provide a spectacular display.
So successful has been the introduction that since 1999, chicks have been taken from the Chilterns and used to re-introduce the red kite to other parts of the UK including Scotland and various locations in England (The Midlands, Yorkshire, Newcastle). In January 2006, the first wild red kite for about 150 years was seen on the streets of London (read more). The reintroduction of the red kite must be one of the greatest conservation success stories of the 20th Century.