by Karl Ivens
Karl Ivens works for Forestry England as Wildife Ranger Manager for the Central England Forest District and lives in Glapthorn in Rockingham Forest.
As a younger man he was involved with the reintroduction of Red Kites to this area from Spain and has been part of the team closely monitoring them ever since. Here he describes how the tables have been turned this year.
I could never have imagined that when I came across a Red Kite feeding on a dead Rook near Wadenhoe Great Wood back in 1994 that it would lead to this incredible bird species being once again commonplace throughout the Rockingham Forest, as at that point it had been absent for one hundred and fifty years.
It is evident that Red Kites were a feature of Rockingham Forest in centuries gone-by. Mary Queen of Scots, whilst awaiting execution at Fotheringhay castle in the 1580s, included Red Kites (Glydes as they were known then) into her tapestries, and Lord Lilford records their decline and eventual extinction in the 1840s.
It seems only fitting that something that became extinct from our landscape due to man’s persecution should be rightfully returned now that we live in more ‘enlightened times’, and who can deny that our countryside isn’t all the more richer having this magnificent bird soaring in our skies?
I feel honoured to have shared in the journey of re-introducing Red Kites. That first sighting led to me going to Segovia in Spain just a year later and collecting the first of the donor chicks that we released into our woodlands. For the next three years we collected subsequent chicks from Spain and also the Chilterns in Oxfordshire, where the first of the UK releases had taken place. There was no doubt that Rockingham Forest was ideal Red Kite habitat, and the species has flourished better than anyone could have dreamt.
Pepe Lara, who was head of wildlife in the Segovia region and massively helpful in us obtaining chicks in Spain, during one of our collection trips alluded to the fact that Red Kites were already in decline there and we joked about how one day we’d be sending chicks back to boost the Spanish stocks. A quarter of a century later and that joke has become a reality. Spanish authorities are convinced they have rectified the problems for the decline they were experiencing but numbers of Red Kites in some areas of Spain are so critically low that donor chicks would make a significant improvement to ensuring a population increase. The same organisations (Forestry England, RSPB and Natural England) that came together for the re-introduction into Rockingham Forest have once again joined forces and, along with the Roy Dennis Foundation, are making the translocation of chicks back to Spain a reality.
The Red Kite population in the Rockingham Forest has already donated many chicks to other re-introduction projects. 90 chicks from here went to the release in Grizedale in the Lake District and the same number went to a release in Aberdeen. But this June once again saw me and my team climbing trees and collecting 30 Red Kite chicks but this time they were destined for sunnier climes.
There are two more years of chick collections for this current project to Spain, but Red Kite numbers are still endangered in numerous places throughout Europe and with our Rockingham Forest population being so successful and productive, it is fantastic that we are able to contribute to helping this species on such a large scale.
Karl and fellow ranger Sam with young kites brought down from their nest