Sunday, 14 May 2017

Help from the Gurkhas

It’s been a long time coming, and I really find it hard to believe, but I’m out searching for breeding red kites on Gower. They’ve been seen in this northeast corner several times this spring, but may have been prospecting for some time. I’ve noticed them in winter, but assumed that they were wanderers.

The success story of the red kite is well known. In Wales there was no need for reintroductions, and we probably now have several hundred breeding pairs. It’s taken years, but with their rapid spread, it’s inevitable they would eventually colonise these southern shores. I probably won’t find the nest, and I may not even see them today, but they’re over the woods and estuary regularly, and have caused much local excitement. There are heated arguments about publicising their presence in case it attracts the attention of egg collectors. This hobby from the Victorian age is in decline, and in any case with red kites so common now, any self-respecting egger would have stolen one for his collection a long time ago.

How times have changed, thirty-five years ago I spent hours sitting under trees in mid-Wales guarding precious nests. The trunks were greased, sometimes wired, and we even employed the help of the Gurkhas at one point. It was necessary at the time, but thankfully these magnificent birds are now able to look after themselves whilst we devote attention to restoring other lost wildlife. Many would argue that although kites were a worthy cause, it might have been better to concentrate on the wider countryside rather than on a few iconic species. Protecting avocets, red kites, peregrines, ospreys and the like attracted the public’s attention. Organisations such as the RSPB gained profile, and it brought gained them valuable members, but at the same time skylarks, yellowhammers and other common species declined dramatically, and are now in serious trouble.

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