Bergenias – fan or foe?
Shrubs and climbers for cutting

Bird conservation success I can see every day

Red kite,Milvus milvus. Image ©Thomas Kraft (ThKraft). This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.
One of the joys of sitting here at my desk in Northamptonshire, in a small town two hours north of London, is that almost every day a red kite flies by. Centuries ago these elegant birds of prey, with a wingspan of almost 6ft/1.8m, were common in Britain; Shakespeare described London as "a city of Red Kites and Crows". They filled the scavenging niche that seagulls took over more recently.

But, owing to poisoning by gamekeepers and the effects of pesticides, by 1939 they were reduced to just ten pairs in a valley 200 miles away to the west in Wales. Research has shown that in 1977 the entire British population was derived from just one female bird.

But, as pesticide use declined and gamekeepers became more enlightened, numbers began to grow. Birds were then re-introduced to parts of the country from which they’d been gone for hundreds of years. Not far from where I now sit, eleven birds from Spain and from earlier re-introductions further west in England, were released in 1995. Now, I see them from my office window every day and there are probably almost 2000 pairs in Britain. They've gone from 20 to 2000 in just a few decades.

Just a couple of days ago, driving round the M25 (London’s 117 mile orbital motorway), I spotted two red kites soaring in the sky above.

This is a truly successful conservation story.


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dheckert (Scholar's Garden)

Even during my adult life, when I was younger I remember when seeing an osprey or a red-tailed hawk out here on eastern Long Island was a rare and special thing. Now during the warmer months I see them almost daily. And, I was visiting a community garden in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, and I was shocked to see a red-tailed hawk flying overhead! It is still a thrill, and yes, thanks to the conservationists!


I remember as a child taking holidays in Wales, seeing a Red Kite would be the highlight of our whole holiday. We visited the Dinas bird reserve each year and hoped to see them. These days we see them almost as often as Buzzards on our trips. They haven't made it as far as Essex yet (to my knowledge) but the Buzzards have so maybe the Red Kites and Ravens will follow on behind.


Going past the K-Mart the other day, which sits between some cliffs and the Delaware River in Milford, Pennsylvania, I saw two bald eagles soaring overhead. Another success story from the brink of extinction; we sometimes see them from our kitchen window diving in the lake. There are nearly 200 nesting pairs in Pennsylvania now, increasing every year, and there are even some nesting in Philadelphia itself, which I'm sure the founding fathers would be glad of. There were only 3 PA nests in 1983, in just one county, when the seven-year bald eagle restoration program began with the importation of eaglets from Saskatchewan, Canada. Now some 50 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties have bald eagle nests.

Graham Rice

These birds of prey always seem to capture our imagination - a rare sparrow doesn't have the same resonance, does it!

Another bird of prey which has done well in Britain recently is the kestrel. This success is largely down to the fact that mowing roadside grass was cut back dramatically, often to just once a year, and this has allowed a great increase in the numbers of mice and voles - which are the kestrel's main food.

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