Red Kites Bird Project
PUBLISHED: 14:58 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 11:42 28 February 2013
The majestic spectacle of a red kite soaring into the sky can be seen by thousands of people in the region each year, thanks to a successful reintroduction programme
Its astonishing to think that in the UK, the once widespread red kites were reduced to just ten pairs in Wales by the 1930s. Protection by landowners and other passionate enthusiasts only just prevented them from becoming extinct, but even by the mid-1980s there were still fewer than 100 pairs in Wales.
Although this population was recovering, it remained concentrated in Wales, until a successful reintroduction programme to England and Scotland began in 1989, and by 2009, there were estimated to be more than 500 breeding pairs at seven localities outside Wales - including an estimated 30 breeding pairs in the North East.
The success of these birds of prey in the North East is due to the Northern Kites project, an initiative to reintroduce the species as a breeding bird in the region, which had previously persecuted to the point of extinction.
Established in 2004, the project released 94 birds in Gatesheads lower Derwent Valley. The first birds bred successfully in 2006, with the pair raising the first wild kite chick to be born in the region for 170 years.
The success of the project means that red kites can be seen every day in the lower Derwent valley and birds have spread into Northumberland and County Durham.
Hundreds of thousands of people in the region have now seen a bird that until recently was one of the UKs rarest birds of prey.
The completion of the funded phase of the project in July 2009 has not meant the end for kite activities in the region. A volunteer group called "FoRK" (Friends of Red Kites - in the North East) has been established to continue monitoring work and to help people to enjoy these magnificent birds.
Interestingly, on the continent, poisoning has led to huge declines in the European red kite populations. Numbers on the birds main wintering grounds have halved since 1994 and there have been big falls in the number of breeding pairs in its heartlands of Spain, France and Germany.
Dr Pat Thompson of the RSPB, who played an instrumental role in setting up Northern Kites said: It is wonderful to see red kites thriving two centuries after they were made extinct in the region. As populations decline in Europe, it is doubly important that we cherish our red kites in the North East.
The Northern Kites project was managed by the RSPB and Natural England, in partnership with Gateshead Council, Northumbrian Water, The National Trust and the Forestry Commission, with additional funding from The Heritage Lottery Fund and SITA Trust.