Scotland’s Red Kites produce record number of young in 2011, but their persecution continues.

It has been reported numbers of red kites were produced this year in Scotland following their reintroduction programme  beginning over 20 years ago has reached record numbers. During  the 2011 breeding season, 314 young red kites fledged from nests in Scotland, the highest number of fledged young since the project was introduced  to return the birds to the wild began in Scotland in 1989.

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Scientists in Scotland have said there are currently 186 breeding pairs of  red kites throughout Scotland, a rise of 22 pairs from 2010.

The species became extinct in Scotland in 1879, largely due to their persecution in a bid to protect game stocks, but this year’s statistics are the latest sign that the reintroduction programme is working.

Since being introduced back into Scotland, England and Northern Ireland from 1989, the red kite has thrived in specific locations in England. The species is so numerous in some parts of England that there have been calls from some people for a cull. In Scotland although the red kite recovery is making significant progress in many areas, it has stagnated since 2001 in others. Disappointingly one possible reason for this is continued persecution.

RSPB Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage, the organisations behind the project, had been worried high winds  during this year’s breeding season would hold back success.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland head of species and land management, said: “There was real concern for red kite breeding this year after May’s severe storms.

“The wind came at a critical time of the breeding cycle when the eggs were on the point of hatching or there were small young in the nests. Fortunately, it appears that the majority of Scotland’s red kites escaped the worst of the extreme weather, and the overall population continues to grow.”

The explosion in the red kite population means the UK now holds between 7 and 10 per cent of the world’s red kite population, making it one of the most successful reintroduction programmes in Europe despite the high level of persecution taking place.

Red kites have also been spreading out in Scotland, with birds that had been reared in the wild in central and north Scotland found breeding in Angus. It is the first time a pair of red kites has nested in this area for nearly 150 years.  Good news but will the persecutors leave these birds alone to breed?

Red kites have also been recorded in the Cairngorms National Park for the first time this year.

A total of 76 young fledged in central Scotland compared to 93 the previous year.

RSPB Scotland said evidence gathered in the north of the country suggests kites are still being “severely restricted” due to illegal poisoning and other means of killing. Despite their reintroduction projects starting respectively six and 12 years later, both the central Scotland and Dumfries and Galloway populations now exceed that of the north of Scotland, the charity said.

Mr Orr-Ewing added: “Sadly it is clear that in the north of Scotland illegal poisoning is stopping the spread of this spectacular species.

“We’re committed to working with the majority of responsible landowners to help solve this problem, which affects not only red kites but other vulnerable wildlife as well.”

Andrew Stevenson, SNH’s ornithological adviser for the red kite project, said: “It is great news that red kite numbers have increased again in Scotland this year with the population showing resilience to the exceptionally poor spring weather.

4 comments to Scotland’s Red Kites produce record number of young in 2011, but their persecution continues.

  • I’ve been monitoring Red Kites in Angus for several years now and it was only a question of time before we had a breeding pair.

    A great asset to our already vast range of moorland biodiversity found and monitored in Angus.

  • Jock Scott

    Angus is a great county for birding as long as you’re not looking for raptors!
    It’s a shame that so much of the county is managed grouse moor and the lack of hen harrier, peregrine and golden eagle etc. reflects this.
    If the Black Isle population of red kites weren’t so relentlessly persecuted you would have had breeding kites in Angus years ago.


  • Hi Jock,
    I’m a little puzzled over your recent comment regarding lack of raptors in Angus. This is just a quick brief summary for your information.

    I’m sure you’ll agree, the virtual absence of harriers is a universal problem throughout the UK on all managed grouse moors, not just specific to Angus.

    Peregrine numbers could always be higher but are found in reasonable numbers.

    We have several breeding pairs of Golden Eagle. Our largest managed estate in Angus consistantly has 2 successful breeding pairs of GE. This year one of the pairs raised triplets which is virtually unheard of in the GE world. Could we possibly say that this is a triumph to this estates good management?

    Angus holds a very stable Merlin population of between 15-20 pairs. In many moorland areas this little raptor is declining.

    Depending on the vole cycle we can in some years record more than 10 breeding pairs of Short-eared Owl.

    The declining Kestrel is still found in reasonable numbers in several areas. We have breeding Marsh Harrier, Osprey,Goshawk,Tawny and Barn Owl and of course huge numbers of Common Buzzard.

    Great news to add breeding Red Kite to our list and with a little luck in the next year or two we can add breeding White-tailed Eagle which I see regularly up the Angus Glens at present.

    Jock I hope I’ve managed to convince you that Angus is a great county for birding including raptors.


  • Jim Dunlop

    I spent four hours of this glorious day wandering in the Sidlaws, the highlight being ten minutes spent watching a red kite in the skies above. Great to hear that red kites are breeding in Angus.