Red kites

I see red kites quite often over my garden in east Northants now – practically every day if the weather is OK and I spend enough time looking.  I saw one as I was on my way to the Post Office on Tuesday, and on both Tuesday and Wednesday, on trips to London, I saw red kites just south of Luton Airport Parkway railway station.  Each sighting brightens my day.

And red kites are generally doing well – thanks to the work of conservationists in reintroducing them to areas from which they were removed over a century ago.

But taking a long look at the RSPB 2010 Bird Crime report, I notice that the following incidents featured red kites on the receiving end of persecution:


Poison – carbofuran, Dumfries and Galloway


Poison – alphachloralose, North Yorkshire (2 birds)

Poison – fenthion, Ceredigion

Poison – mevinphos, Lincolnshire


Poison – alphachloralose, North Yorkshire

Poison – bendiocarb, Northants (2 incidents)


Trapped – Highland

Poison – carbofuran, Ceredigion

Poison – alphachloralose, North Yorkshire

Poison – carbofuran, Co Durham


Poison – aldicarb, Highland (2 incidents)

Poison – carbofuran, Highland

Poison – carbofuran, Angus


Poison – carbofuran, North Yorkshire (2 birds)

Poison – carbofuran, Northumberland

Spring trap – Highland


Poison – mevinphos, Stirling

Poison – carbofuran, Perth and Kinross


Shot – Cumbria


Poison – alphachloralose, Perth and Kinross


These cases are spread around the country, some quite a long way from where red kites are normally found (the young birds wander quite widely), and involve a wide variety of poisons.

These cases contribute to the 227 cases of shooting and destruction of birds of prey and 128 cases of poisoning recorded in 2010.  Each of these cases (which were fewer than in 2009) represent a dead bird which was protected by the law in theory but not in practice.

Have a look at some information about the posons used: mevinphos (here, here), alphachloralose (here), aldicarb (here), carbofuran (here, here), fenthion (here) and bendiocarb (here).  What a lot of nasty insecticides being used imaginatively to kill birds of prey.

On 26 May this year a former gamekeeper from the Moy Estate was convicted of possessing a dead red kite and fined £1500.  The body of the kite was found duriing the execution of a search warrant and the remains of two more red kites, six illegal baited spring traps, a trapped hen harrier and a poison bait laced with carbofuran were also recovered over a period of time.

A study of red kites published this year compared the success of the two original red kite release sites of the Black Isle in north Scotland and the Chilterns in southern England. It says that taking into account the numbers of birds released that illegal persecution has limited the north Scottish population to 41 pairs whereas the Chilterns’ population makes up over 300 pairs of the UK total of 1500+ pairs.  The Scottish birds had low survival in their first two years and 64 red kites have been found poisoned in Scotland between 1989 and 2009.

It’s a shocking litany of illegality and wildlife destruction.  Poisoning in particular is a cruel and cowardly way to mete out death.

In Scotland landowners are vulnerable to legal action if their staff break wildlife laws through the introduction of vicarious liability in recent years.  Please support this epetition to introduce vicarious liability in England too.  It’s not a magic bullet – but it is a brick in the wall to protect birds of prey.

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7 Replies to “Red kites”

  1. Good article Mark, the RSPB and similar organisations do a quite brilliant job in their work to try to protect birds of prey. It is a shame and, to some extent, a disgrace that our law makers and judicary do not support their efforts to a much greater extent than they do. Although in Scotland their has been some progress, as you point out, with now making landowners vulnerable to legal action, the penalties and sentences generally handed out against those who would seek to destroy our natural world are still far too weak. I have signed the e-petition, let’s hope it meets the necessary target numbers.

  2. Just clicked from your blog to this one – sadly it fills a gap in your monthly list Hen harriers and peregrines appear to be taking a beating (no pun intended) in this area too.

    I would urge anyone who hasn’t signed the petition to do so and encourage others to sign to. If the RSPB has million members surely the petition can muster almost a million signatures.

    As for punishment if the law ever gets passed and convictions are gained the only sentence I can see being of any use is the suspension of shooting rights for one or more years as I can’t see fines , even substantial ones, denting the finances of some of the estate owners round here – any thoughts

  3. I rather like David’s insinuation. As a punishment these landowners could lose their shooting rights for a set period and be instructed to carry out positive conservation work for raptor species.

    This is however just a dream. The current Government has a vested interest in the very landowners carrying out these dreadful crimes and the other lot do not have a clue what happens in the countryside.

    Who do we turn to?

  4. Estate owners and gamekeepers are well aware that the heaviest penalty they can expect to face is a fine. This fine will probably be paid by the estate owner and the gamekeeper gets to keep his job as well as his house. Furthermore the fines levied against individual gamekeepers are only a fraction of what companies or estate owners would have to pay if charges had been brought against them instead. In May this year Dean Barr the Skibo estate gamekeeper was fined only £3,300, despite possessing 10 kilos of Carbofuran, enough to poison the entire Scottish bird of prey populations several times over. As far as I am aware, he didn’t lose his job.

    I believe that until gamekeepers start facing terms in prison for these crimes they will always be more than happy to accept the blame on behalf of their employers. More importantly, their ‘spineless’ employers will be more than happy to let their employees take the blame. Gamekeepers may well think differently when the first one goes to prison.

  5. David McGrath,what a sad state of affairs raptor persecution is and just as sad in my opinion the big majority of the million + members cannot be bothered or will not sign the petition,think maybe they see them catching other birds for food and they do not like this.

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