A LANDMARK Forestry Commission conservation project has entered a new chapter with the arrival of 30 more birds of prey in Grizedale Forest.
Red kites were successfully reintroduced to the heart of the Lake District in the summer of 2010. Now their numbers are set to double with new hatchlings arriving from the Forestry Commission’s flagship breeding site in Rockingham Forest, Northamptonshire.
The latest group of juvenile raptors are spending a month gaining strength in a custom made pen at a secret location in the forest.
An expert Forestry Commission team is caring for the young birds and feeding them until they are ready to fly and fend for themselves.
Forestry Commission wildlife ranger Iain Yoxall, who has led the project to reintroduce red kites into Grizedale, said: “The release of the first 30 birds last year was a momentous sight and has given us cause for great confidence in the project.
“We are feeding the new arrivals on a variety of food, with the staple diet and nourishment coming from dead grey squirrel, rats and mice. The birds of prey are primarily scavengers in the wild and feed mostly on carrion.
“We will care for the hatchlings for three or four weeks until they have grown strong enough to take wing, giving them the best possible opportunity to thrive in the wild.
“Before release, we have a vet on hand to give each of the birds a full health screening which includes delousing, worming, visual inspections and blood tests.
When the birds are released, they carry tags on each wing, an orange one on the left to show they are from Grizedale, and one on the right to indicate the year of release – white ones for 2011.
The Grizedale birds also carry radio transmitters to allow the forest’s rangers to monitor their progress and the scheme’s success, but the Forestry Commission is keen for people to report sightings of the birds to help judge their movements and support the project.
The Forestry Commission North West England has been granted a special licence to release 90 red kites in Grizedale Forest over a three year period. The latest arrivals mark the second phase of the landmark final reintroduction of the birds in England. There will be another 30 birds released in 2012.
Red kites were almost eradicated from the UK following changes in farming practices and human persecution between the 16th and 19th centuries. The UK population is now expanding and there are thought to be over 1,000 pairs of the birds in the country.
There have been sightings of the tagged Grizedale birds in Dumfries and Galloway to the north and as far away as East Sussex in the south.
The arrival of the birds co-incides with a critical report by the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management which describes re-introduction programmes as “potential man-made threats to biodiversity.”
Bird experts from organisations like Natural England, the RSPB and the British Association of Shooting and Conservation have come together to form a special advisory group to help ensure the project’s success.