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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