Last year saw an encouraging decline in the number of illegally poisoned birds of prey recorded in Scotland, but the resident stunted red kite population isn’t necessarily out of the woods just yet.
Red kites were a ubiquitous feature of the medieval British countryside, however ye olde red kites were driven to near extinction at the hands of humans. For most of the last two centuries red kites eked out an existence as a vanishingly small population in Wales. Their fate has since improved due to an initiative launched in 1989 to re-establish the red kite across the UK, and after reintroduction efforts in southern England and northern Scotland, the project has been largely heralded as a conservation success story.
There is however some disparity in success between the English and Scottish reintroduction sites in terms of population growth rates. The red kite population originating from the Chilterns boomed and has since dispersed across much of the south of England, whereas the population of kites released at Ross in northern Scotland, has soared to less dizzying heights.
Researchers from the RSPB announced in 2010 that illegal killing is the proverbial mud in which the Scottish red kites are stuck. Accidental or intentional poisoning is to blame for the reduced population growth rates in Scotland compared with their English counterparts. It would seem persecutory attitudes towards the red kite are far from extinguished.
A recent report from the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime in Scotland (PAW) however does provide some respite for persecuted raptors, as the figures for 2011 show a marked decline in the recorded number of poisoned birds of prey. This comes as welcome news after 2010 saw a peak in poisoning incidences.
Don’t rush out and high-five your local red kite just yet, as whilst poisoning cases were down, levels of nest destruction, shooting and illegal trapping have remained unchanged. Also the emphasis here is on ‘recorded’ numbers of poisoning, there is no way of knowing if these figures truly reflect the situation de facto.
Optimistically the report could signal the beginning of a downward trend in red kite persecution in Scotland, and with upcoming new laws making landowners liable for persecution by their gamekeepers, this downward trend is conceivable. Encouraging statistics and tighter laws are all very well, however they may represent a poisoned chalice, as it’s likely that the underlying tensions and negative attitudes towards red kites felt by some will persist. Unless addressed, this problem could continue to poison Scottish red kites for years to come.