Foreword by Rt Hon, Lord Randall of Uxbridge PC to "When the Kite builds... Why and How we restored Red Kites across Britain"
We live in an era when sadly, all too often we are subjected to stories of how nature is being negatively affected both here in the UK and internationally. We increasingly hear of the imminent extinction of species through a loss of habitat or other man-made causes. Numbers of formerly relatively common species have declined alarmingly and new generations are growing up missing out on so many of the joys of the wild environment that people of my age took for granted, the purring of a Turtle Dove or the nocturnal snuffling of a Hedgehog.
Regrettably the United Kingdom currently has the distinctly unenviable record of being one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries. It therefore makes a very reassuring change to read the account of a really successful conservation project that has made a thoroughly positive impact on restoring the population of a species that was on the brink of extinction in the United Kingdom. Not all is gloom and doom and humans, despite causing so much devastation, can help nature with a helping hand to heal.
Reintroductions have increasingly become a tool in nature conservation but they can be controversial and certainly need an immense amount of detailed research. One of the key considerations is of course whether a species might naturally return to previous haunts. This could be because of habitat improvement or because of population expansion elsewhere or indeed because of the lack of persecution. The return of Avocets to East Anglia has been followed in recent years by the arrival of southern heron species such as Little and Great White Egrets. Spoonbills are now breeding in the UK with no need for reintroductions. Even within the UK we have seen a notable range expansion of Pine Martens. However other species would not become re-established without human intervention. Both the Chequered Skipper and Large Blue butterflies are two notable cases in point.
The population of Red Kites in the United Kingdom in the sixties and seventies was in a very precarious state indeed. Despite some conservation measures, the prognosis for the survival of the species was not a good one. Like Dr Pienkowski, I and other birdwatchers of our generation needed to make a pilgrimage to a few closely guarded sites in central Wales to have a chance of encountering and watching these magnificent birds of prey. Although we young birders knew that in Elizabethan London they were supposed to be common scavengers, that gave us scant consolation and the relict population did indeed look doomed.
If someone would have told me then that forty years later I would be seeing them on a daily basis over my garden in suburban Uxbridge, I would have laughed aloud at such an incredible suggestion. Amazingly that is exactly what has happened. It is no longer an ornithological fantasy.
This is the story of one of the most celebrated and indeed visible success stories of wildlife conservation in recent times.
It is a tribute to Mike Pienkowski and the huge cast list of dedicated persons that so many people now not only recognise these impressive birds but have also grown to love them. The Red Kite is now such a regular and highly visible feature of many areas of the United Kingdom as a result of the hard work of all the people involved in the scheme.
This modern day miracle of the kites’ reintroduction did not happen easily. Far from it in fact. This was real pioneering stuff which has encouraged many other inspiring reintroductions. In fact the success of the Red Kite project has inspired many ambitious plans but as yet nothing has quite reached the amazing success of the return of kites to parts of the UK that had not been graced by these magnificent raptors for centuries.
This was only possible because of the efforts of many, not just in the UK but from those countries in Europe that allowed some of their precious birds to be used in the project to repopulate our islands. Their efforts have now been rewarded in kind as Red Kites are now being sent from the UK population back to Spain to augment falling numbers there: a real international cooperation conservation success story.
This project succeeded because of the incredible team work of professional ecologists, both in the government agency, which at that time was the Nature Conservancy Council, and many non-governmental organisations, principally the RSPB but also together with other conservation and research bodies. The demise of the NCC is worthy of a chapter in itself if not a book and it is interesting to speculate what effect that has had more generally on nature conservation in subsequent years. There was also an army of volunteers who worked alongside businesses and corporations such as the British Airways Assisting Nature Conservation programme. The armed services in the form of the Royal Air Force worked together with landowners and their gamekeepers, as well as conservationists and authorities across Europe. Together their collaborative work brought about this remarkable transformation of the status of this bird. It ranks alongside many of those equally well-known and worthy stories of bringing a species back from near extinction, such as the Arabian Oryx or the Ne-Ne.
Such was the dedication of all those involved that many, including professionals, worked in their own spare time. That patience and teamwork made things happen.
I have no doubt that many other raptors benefited from the reintroduction as it brought increasing awareness of the dangers of illegal persecution and poisoning. A spotlight was shone on some of those illegal practices as a result of the project and as the author notes, Common Buzzard numbers have also benefited hugely as well as other species such as the Raven.
Red Kites are now truly one of the UK’s most recognisable birds, featured in numerous street names and their image commonly used for commercial purposes by businesses where the birds are now ubiquitous.
This book is a tribute to the hard work of the dedicated men and women who brought the species back from the brink.
John Randall – Rt. Hon. the Lord Randall of Uxbridge PC, former ornithological tour leader and director of department store, Member of Parliament for Uxbridge 1997-2015, Government Deputy Chief Whip and Treasurer of Her Majesty’s Household in the Coalition Government 2010-2013, Special Envoy on Modern Slavery to the Mayor of London 2016, Special Adviser on the environment to the Prime Minister 2017-2019, member of the House of Lords 2018-, Council member or trustee of the RSPB, the Human Trafficking Foundation and the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum.