Too often we see too many articles, new stories and social media postings that are targeted at generating negative press towards some of our most magnificent species. What are these species? You’ve guess it: our birds of prey. This time however, the news that comes attached to one of our most successful raptor species, is good news. Good news?! No that is not a typo and you did read that correctly! In fact, it’s excellent news, because it is Red kites in Dumfries and Galloway who are responsible for generating £8.2 million to the local economy. How? No, not through their savvy business skills but purely because people want to see them, and as the Red kite is such a beautiful and fantastic bird, why wouldn’t they?
The recovery of the Red kite has been quite a magnificent one. In the 16th century the widespread persecution of these birds began when, labelled as ‘vermin’, a bounty was placed on their heads by King James II of Scotland, who declared that they should be ‘killed wherever possible’. Unfortunately, this persistent persecution continued throughout the centuries until the species was rendered extinct in England in 1871 and in Scotland by 1879. By 1903, protection efforts began when only a few pairs of the Red kite remained in the remote regions of Wales. Although this small population was protected, the DNA of all the remaining birds was found to be derived from one particular female and it took decades for the populations of the Red kite to recover and begin to spread. By 1989, it was decided by the RSPB, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage that a reintroduction programme should be enforced to aid recovery efforts. It has taken 138 years from the Red kite to progress from being extinct in England and Scotland to now holding green status on the List of Birds of Conservation Concern.
In Dumfries and Galloway, the Red kite was reintroduced to the north of Castle Douglas in 2001. Two and a half years later, the Galloway Kite Trail was launched and has provided to be quite the attraction to those who wish to see these birds in the wild. Between 2004 and 2015, this trail alone is thought to have attracted in excess of 100,000 visitors, causing £8.2 million to be added to the economy through the spending of those who have come to see the Red kites. There are now approximately 105 breeding pairs of Red kite in Dumfries and Galloway, proving how wildlife tourism can bring money to local economies.
Although the latest news on the Red kite is good news, there are still those who would complain about the apparent prevalence of this species in some areas. Not so long ago this species was discussed on a popular radio debate show, with some labelling them a ‘pest’ because they believe that there are far too many of them present in certain cities. Now, although none of us here can recall the events of the 16th century in our own memories, we should not ‘forget’ that it was this very opinion of raptors as ‘vermin’ that caused the extinction of so many birds of prey in our country.
The road to recovery for the Red kite was a slow one indeed, as it was plagued by unfortunate events such as the outbreak of myxomatosis amongst rabbits and, of course, illegal persecution and egg collecting. Although the Red kite has now recovered, the species, along with all other birds of prey, is still at threat and still falls victim to illegal persecution. For once it is nice to hear a story hailing a raptor species, rather than damning them. The benefits to the economy that the Red kite has brought is only a small taster of the advantages that such species can bring with them. Ecologically, Red kites, like all birds of prey, are important players in their habitats and where there are healthy populations of raptors, there are healthy ecosystems.
So, good news! Red kites are thriving and attracting the right kind of people who want to see and photograph them. The recovery of the Red kite in the UK is a great success story and one that will hopefully be followed up with more news like this, rather than news of persecution. So, raise a glass to our raptor species, those who fight to survive, increase our natural heritage, support healthy ecosystems and can even bring in a bit of cash too.
“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.” ― A.A. Milne
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