Threatened red kite numbers soaring under protection plan

A project at Harewood Estate is credited with the revival of the red kite in Yorkshire.
A project at Harewood Estate is credited with the revival of the red kite in Yorkshire.

Endangered red kites have reached unprecedented numbers in the region after a protection scheme was introduced to bring them back from the brink of extinction.

Sixty-nine of the treasured birds of prey were released on the Harewood estate between 1999 and 2003, in an attempt to boost their dwindling numbers.

Now, new figures suggest there may be as many as 800 red kites in the Harrogate district and Yorkshire, with the numbers known to have bred this year to have reached triple figures for the first time ever.

“The numbers are gradually increasing year on year,” said Doug Simpson, MBE, Yorkshire red kite co-ordinator who helped set up the scheme.

“There’s bound to be pairs we don’t know about, they’re quite secretive. There will be even more, squirrelled away in a bit of woodland somewhere.

“I never really knew what to expect when we started out. But certainly I haven’t been disappointed.”

The protection scheme was introduced in 1999, with 69 birds released. This number was boosted further by one more bird who arrived, seemingly out of nowhere, settled and stayed.

Mr Simpson and the Yorkshire Red Kites group check known sites across the Harrogate district and wider area every breeding season, counting mating pairs and their chicks.

In North Yorkshire 40 pairs were found in 2014, compared to 35 last year. In total, 37 were found to have bred (compared to 28), with 63 young born (compared to 46).

One pair in North Yorkshire have even raised an “exceptional” five young in one nest, said Mr Simpson, while 120 were recorded at Harewood estate last winter alone.

And, he added, as the group only tracks paired and nesting birds, the actual number of red kites may well be up to double these known figures.

That means there may now be as many as 800 red kites thriving in the region, almost all descending from those first few birds tagged in the protection programme.

And not only are the numbers thriving, said Mr Simpson, but they are spreading further afield.

As well as frequent spottings in the Harrogate district, they have been seen as far afield as Bradford, Birstwith, and Beningbrough near York, Armley in east Leeds, and even on Whitehall Road.

With the increase in numbers, he believes, they are spreading their wings to find food further afield.

“They are finding more and more habitat suitable for them,” he said. “They are being seen all over the place.”

These latest figures come despite a worrying trend in the district, which has seen a startling number of red kites poisoned.

As revealed in an Advertiser investigation earlier this year, 16 of these birds have been killed in the wider Harrogate district since they were reintroduced.

Nine of these occurred in eight separate incidents in the Washburn Valley around Leathley and Blubberhouses.

That figure has now risen again - with the revelation that two further birds have been found killed in East Keswick.

The grim discoveries were in November last year, just days apart.

One bird, found on the riverbank, had been shot. The other, tests confirmed, had been poisoned.

But one final bird, discovered on the border between North and West Yorkshire, has been nursed back to full health with the help of a Harrogate vet and a rehabilitation pen at Harewood.

The call had come on Mr Simpson’s birthday, June 22, he said, to say the bird had been found shot with a bullet hole right through its thigh.

“Thankfully it was still alive,” he said. “The bullet had missed any vital parts. That red kite was extremely lucky to even be found.

“It was actually a bird I had tagged at Harewood and released 10 years ago, it was only a few weeks old then.”

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Strange finds in red kites’ nests

Stunned conservation volunteers have uncovered a bizarre nesting habit among red kites in the county - hoarding teddy bears.

It seems that breeding kites have taken to collecting items left discarded in the countryside. Among recent discoveries have been a teddy bear’s head and a tea-towel in one nest, three mis-matched children’s gloves in another, and a ‘Bagpuss’ cat, from the popular TV series, found in pristine condition in another.