Red kites soaring in numbers, Wildlife Aid boss believes


Spectacular bird of prey which was once almost wiped out in the UK could now be nesting in the county


One of the red kites rescued by Wildlife Aid

A rare and majestic bird of prey could soon become a common sight in the skies above Surrey, according to a wildlife expert.

Red kites – once almost extinct in the UK – could be nesting here after five were rescued by Leatherhead-based Wildlife Aid in the past few weeks.

The animals are distinctive because of their forked tail and striking chestnut colour. With a 2m-long wingspan, they are incredibly agile and can soar aloft for hours at a time.

While the charity had never tended to an injured red kite, state of the art surgery helped save one of the birds.

It had suffered a fractured leg and would have died without the intervention of Wildlife Aid founder Simon Cowell, presenter of the Wildlife SOS TV series.

He arranged for specialist orthopaedic veterinary surgeons to treat the bird.

In a veterinary surgery first, they delicately pieced the shattered bone back together using tiny bird-sized metal pins and then built a lightweight metal frame around the injury to hold the bones in place.

The kite was then cared for by Mr Cowell and his team of volunteers. The frame was subsequently removed and further X-rays showed the injury had healed.

One of the five rescued by the charity sadly died but three have already been successfully released back into the wild.

Kites were saved after a conservation project in the Chilterns during the 1990s, when 60 breeding pairs were introduced in and around Oxford and numbers swelled as they established themselves.

Mr Cowell now believes the creatures are spreading across Surrey and into the suburbs.

“We [Wildlife Aid] have been running since the early 80s and have never had a kite in before,” he explained.

“This summer we’ve had five. The evidence suggests there are breeding communities establishing themselves in Surrey and into the suburbs of the capital.

“Kites are beautiful birds and are prolific breeders.

“The 60 released in Oxfordshire in the 90s are now a flock of hundreds and the fact that we have suddenly seen several at Wildlife Aid this year is an indication that there are many more in the wild.

“We could absolutely be seeing them soaring through the Surrey and over London in the next years, if not sooner.”

Facts about red kites

1. They pair for life and were bought to the edge of extinction by the end of the last century by gamekeepers and farmers who saw them as a threat to agriculture. Only a few pairs remained in mid-Wales.

2. In 1977 scientific research at Nottingham University discovered that the entire population of kites emanated from just one female bird.
3. The rarity of the red kite made it a prime target for egg collectors and bounty hunters, who robbed up to a quarter of nests each year.
4. In 1980s the red kite was one of only three globally threatened species in the UK, and so it was a high priority for conservation efforts.
5. Between 1989 and 1994, 93 fledgling kites were released in the Chilterns as part of a national conservation programme which saw other birds released in parts of Scotland, the Midlands, Yorkshire and the Derwent Valley.
6. It is estimated there are now more than 1,000 pairs in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.

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