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Introduction History

The Chilterns was chosen as a suitable release site in 1988 due to its terrain and habitat.

Not since medieval times have red kites soared above towns as they currently do in the Chilterns. Many probably know what has led to this remarkable spectacle but do we know what lays in store for this magnificent bird?

Following the persecution of red kites in the 19th century only a relic population remained in Wales. This situation remained until in 1989 when Natural England reintroduced red kites into the Chilterns, at a secret location near Stokenchurch. Kites were fed close to their release pens during and for a time after their release. Of the first kites 4 came from Sweden and 1 from Wales. This was a mistake because Swedish kites migrate and quickly flew away and did not find their way back the following year. Having learned this lesson early, kite chicks from Segovia, Northern Spain, which are more sedentary, were flown over and released. This proved to be a remarkable success and the birds remained close to the release site. Within 2 years the first kites started to breed and in 1994 1st generation Chiltern birds bred and the population grew and grew. There are several reasons for the success of this release project. The Chilterns provides the rolling wooded farmland that kites like. Very important was the protection provided by Chiltern landowners and their gamekeepers. Red Kites are essentially scavengers, only occasionally taking live prey when carrion is scarce. Another reason is almost certainly the widespread feeding of kites by landowners and by some members of the public. We have noticed higher densities of nests and larger broods of chicks close to sources of artificial feeding.

So successful was this re-introduction that Chiltern birds have been used for re-introductions elsewhere in England and Scotland. The Chiltern population has been monitored by a small group of dedicated volunteers belonging to the Southern England Kite Group, led by Peter Stevens. Since the released birds started to breed this group have located nests, monitored their breeding success and marked the chicks with leg rings and wing tags. A small proportion of chicks were taken from large broods for re-introduction into other suitable parts of England and Scotland. An even smaller number of birds were fitted with radio-transmitters and together with the wing tagged birds provide information about their movements. Several Chiltern birds have been identified making trips to visit their neighbours in Wales and the Midlands while some birds preferred the Chilterns, returning home from the areas in which they were released. Most notable of these radio-tracked birds was a male bird released in Yorkshire in 2002. It has made a round trip between Yorkshire and the Chilterns twice and on both occasions, radio-tracking showed that he made the journey south in a single day.