UK sends red kite chicks to SPAIN to boost dwindling population

Red kite chicks are to be sent to Spain where their population is dwindling, after a successful reintroduction scheme saw numbers skyrocket in Britain.

The birds of prey were initially imported to England and Scotland from Spain over 30 years ago, as part of a scheme to reintroduce the species after it became extinct in the countries in the 1870s.

Thanks to the efforts of conservationists, there are now estimated to be around 6,000 breeding pairs across the country.

However, breeding populations in Spain are known to be in decline due to a legacy of illegal poisonings, wildlife experts said.

A new scheme from the RSPB and Accion por el Mundo Salvaje in Spain will see 30  wild red kite chicks a year for three years shipped across.

It is hoped the results of the UK's reintroduction scheme, which is said to be the country's most successful bird conservation project to date, will be replicated. 

The RSPB's Duncan Orr-Ewing, who organised the first red kite reintroduction programme in Scotland and is now advising the latest project, said: 'The red kite population is confined to Europe.

'Compared to most of our other native birds of prey it has a relatively small global population.

'Following concerted conservation action in the UK in recent decades, this species' population has greatly recovered.

'It is amazing that we are now able to support conservation action for red kites in Spain and to reciprocate their previous generosity in supplying donor stock for our original reintroduction project in England.'

Red kites, or Milvus milvus, are large birds of prey that can have a wingspan of 5ft, but typically weigh between 0.9 and 1.3kg. 

They largely feed on carrion and worms, and cut a distinctive silhouette in the sky with splayed wing tips and a distinctive forked tail.

They were common city scavengers in medieval London, and were mentioned in Shakespeare's 'Coriolanus' when he described the capital as 'city of kites and crows'.

The birds also had a reputation for stealing laundry hung out to dry for their nests, which gets mentioned in 'The Winter's Tale'.

However, persecution over a 200-year period from shootings, poisonings and egg collectors saw numbers fall.

By the 20th century the birds were extinct in England and Scotland, and while there were few breeding pairs in central Wales there were not enough to recolonise the rest of Britain.

The red kite was one of only three globally threatened species in the UK in the 1980s. 

This sparked a trial reintroduction project involving bringing kites from Spain, as the kites were doing well there in comparison to the UK.

Between 1989 and 1994, kites from Spain were imported and released in England by the RSPB and English Nature, now Natural England. 

Birds were also brought from Sweden for the Scottish releases, leading to the species incredible recovery across Britain.

By 1996, at least 37 pairs had bred in southern England, and the population in Britain is now at an estimated at 6,000 breeding pairs.

Between 4,500 and 5,000 of those are in England, and the UK is now home to more than 10 per cent of the world's population of red kites. 

Conservationists say the project has been so successful that red kite chicks can now be donated back to Spain, where populations have been decreasing.

The decline is mainly due to the illegal poisoning of birds of prey and vultures, and lack of food. 

Spanish authorities have taken major steps to address in recent years, wildlife experts said, and many of the other bird species have recovered.

However, the red kite population has remained at low levels, prompting the  collaboration between Spanish and British conservation organisations.

The RSPB and Accion por el Mundo Salvaje are set to supply 30 wild red kite chicks a year for three years from the large healthy population in the East Midlands.

The project will involve some of the people from the original England and Scotland red kite reintroduction projects.

This year, all the chicks going to Spain have been collected by Forestry England from nests in the public forests it cares for, as well as from the Boughton Estate in Northamptonshire. 

Juvenile birds are set to be flown to Extremadura and Andalusia, and will be acclimatised in aviaries before being released.