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Wildlife lovers are being asked to keep an eye out for red kite chicks, released as part of a Forestry Commission-led reintroduction programme in Cumbria’s Grizedale Forest. A dedicated Facebook page has been created to help people report sightings, get updates on the birds’ progress and to share photographs.
A dispersal map has been produced by Forestry Commission wildlife rangers at Grizedale. It shows that most of the red kites that were released in the first two years of the reintroduction programme have been spotted in the North West – particularly Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Lancashire. However, other birds have travelled into Scotland and as far south as London and over the English Channel.
Iain Yoxall, the Forestry Commission wildlife ranger who has led the red kite reintroduction programme in Grizedale, said: “The birds appear to be faring as well as we expected and are adapting to life in the wild.
“The birds from our first release, in 2010, should start looking for nesting sites in the South Lakes area between April and July this year. Although we do not expect any successful mating attempts this year we should see displays of courtship behaviour such as hunting for nest sites in woodland, pairing up and building nests.
“We would really like the public to help us monitor the progress of the red kites. The more information we can get back from people the bigger the picture we will have on how the kites are faring. We would like people to let us know if they see any of our birds, which are marked with distinctive tags, by using our new Facebook page or by sending us an email.”
All of the birds released in Grizedale carry an orange tag on their left wing. The red kites released in 2010 have a blue tag on their right wing, and last year’s birds carry a white tag on their right wing.
One local resident who recently spotted a pair of red kites in the South Lakes was Geoff Halford, 65, a retired software developer from near Meathop. He was called by his daughter Rebecca Reid who spotted them near High Newton and told him to bring his camera.
“Rebecca just happened to be passing on her way to Cartmel Fell when she saw the birds above her,” he said. “We were aware of the re-introduction programme and had spotted one of the 2010 released birds previously, but not close enough to photograph.
“Because the birds were recently released and had been fed and reared by hand for some time they had no fear as I approached. I felt both excited and privileged to be allowed so close. I am used to the sight of buzzards and smaller birds of prey, but to see this pair of red kites so close and unfazed by my presence was a truly impressive sight.
“I think the red kite reintroduction is an excellent, exciting project. For a bird, once so common, to have disappeared from our landscape leaves a gap in the wildlife chain. The reintroduction of these birds, as with the ospreys, is both a re-balancing of the natural order and an exhilarating sight.”
Another 30 birds will be released this summer in the third and final phase of the reintroduction programme, which aims to re-establish red kites in North West England – a region in which they roamed freely until they were almost eradicated from the UK in the 19th Century.
The red kites are brought to Cumbria as hatchlings from the Forestry Commission’s breeding site in Rockingham Forest, Northamptonshire, itself a result of a previous reintroduction scheme. Red kites are predominantly carrion feeders and a special advisory group is in place, consisting of experts from Natural England, the RSPB and the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, to help ensure the project’s success.
Red kites are coloured chestnut red and have white patches under their wings. The wing span of fully fledged adults can be around five feet. They typically begin breeding in their second or third year and usually pair for life. The long term aim across the country is that the kites expand into other areas and eventually join together. The UK’s population of red kites is expanding and there are now thought to be more than 1,000 pairs in the country.
For more information about the Forestry Commission in the Lake District please visit www.visitlakelandforests.co.uk.
Picture isof a red kite in flight above High Newton taken by Geoff Halford