I can see a Red Kite from my Northamptonshire home every day of the year. I often pause to look at them even though I see them more often than I see a Buzzard or a Kestrel. I pause because they are just wonderful birds but also because they are a conservation success story – perhaps like no other in the UK. And this book is an insider’s account of that success story.
Dr Mike Pienkowski is a former Chief Ornithologist and then Assistant Chief Scientist of the Nature Conservancy Council and subsequently the first Director of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee as well as a range of significant roles in non-governmental organisations. He was the chair of the group who planned and executed the reintroduction of this remarkable bird into those parts of the UK from which it had been missing for at least a century and a half. He is thus well-equipped to tell this story in some detail and with some authority.
The author sets himself the task of writing an accurate and readable account of two decades of work and he succeeds. I suspect that he has boxes of papers and reports from those times still in his possession because this is not a slightly hazy recollection of what happened but a detailed documented and well illustrated telling of the story. The annexes contain transcripts of the file note from the Kite Meeting in March 1987 and other contemporary documents produced as briefing and guidance in the early days.
This is definitely a readable account with well-chosen graphs and tables, and a wealth of photographs of the birds, localities and people involved. There is lots of information about the birds themselves, of course, but it is largely an account of a conservation project, and as such it is a very worthwhile collection of the thinking and action that led eventually to success.
Unless you were there, back then, you might glance up at a Red Kite with pleasure and think that the process of bringing them back was easy and non-contentious. Not so! Not remotely so! It did, in essence, amount to letting a load of Red Kites out of a box and letting them get on with it, but how many kites? From where? And to where? And how do you persuade people to accept them and to fund a long-term project? The answers are here.
I was very peripherally involved with this work (so were loads of people) and I remember thinking (when joining the RSPB as a very junior member of staff in the mid-1980s) that reintroducing Red Kites to the south of England wasn’t going to work but it might work in the north of Scotland. Well, we now know that both worked (so I was wrong) and that the releases in the Chilterns did much better than those in the Black Isle (so I was wrong again!). But whereas I was always keen to see what would happen, others, some inside but rather more outside nature conservation were dead against this project.
There were those who prophesised that Red Kites would wipe out lots of important and endangered species (they haven’t), eat loads of Pheasants (they eat a lot that have already been killed by motorists) and those who said that this expensive project would suck money away from better conservation causes. On the last point, the relatively small amount of money spent has provided a massive return on investment and secured a greater, but also more visible, conservation legacy than other alternative avenues of spend. Even some birders were against the project because the released Red Kites wouldn’t be ‘real’. Tell that to the generations of young people growing up with magnificent Red Kites as part of their wildlife normality today.
The author of this book was a leading figure in bird conservation and wildlife conservation back in those days, and is still making important contributions now. He was not universally loved, nor did everyone always agree with him, but this book reminded me of his enormous contribution (and not because he bigs himself up in the book, he doesn’t). This book, long-awaited, is an account of one area where he made a difference, and a very significant difference it has been. It also describes a time when statutory sector conservation staff were leaders – and that is rarely the case these days.
The cover? That’s definitely a Red Kite and is a fitting cover for this book, and what a bird it is, so I’d give it 8/10.
When the kite builds…; why and how we restored Red Kites across Britain by Mike Pienkowski is published by Overseas Territories Conservation UK.[registration_form]