Red kite numbers begin to soar once again
REINTRODUCED red kite numbers are on the rise throughout much of Scotland, with at least 283 pairs in 2015, but a new Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH) report has found the population in north Scotland continues to grow more slowly than other reintroduced populations.
The report updates earlier work and suggests that illegal killing is still considered to be the main reason red kite numbers are not higher in north Scotland.
The report, commissioned by SNH and carried out by RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science, found that, although not at risk of decline, the red kite population in north Scotland continues to grow very slowly. There are currently around 70 breeding pairs in north Scotland. The report shows that, had there been no illegal killing, there could have been as many as 1,500 pairs. However, it also estimates that, even with this mortality continuing, there could still be around 131 pairs by 2024, and in the longer term, there could be around 550 pairs by 2044, although predictions are less certain over a longer time period.
Survival rates, and the proportion of illegally killed birds being found, were similar to the previous study. Of 57 dead red kites recovered between 2007 and 2014, 24 (42 per cent) were confirmed to have been illegally killed. This compares with a figure of 40 per cent of recovered dead birds confirmed to have been illegally killed throughout the period from the start of the reintroduction in 1989 up to 2006.
Most red kites being killed are young birds, resulting in lower numbers reaching the breeding population. As a result, the population growth has been much slower than elsewhere.
Assuming the level of persecution remains unchanged, the study also assessed the impacts of a 2014 incident of illegal poisoning of red kites in Rossshire as well as potential risks from wind farms. The incident in Ross-shire, in which 16 red kites were found dead with 12 subsequently confirmed to have been poisoned, raised fears of a significant impact on the kite population. The report found that when modelled as a one-off event, the Ross-shire incident had a relatively small impact in the short-term, but reduces the predicted 2024 population by 5 per cent to 124 pairs and the estimated 2044 population by 7 per cent to 513 pairs.
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: ‘It is of course, good news that red kite numbers are increasing in Scotland. But it must be said that it is extremely disappointing that this success is being lessened by illegal persecution of these magnificent birds. I want to be clear that wildlife crime is not acceptable in a modern Scotland and this is why we are doing all we can to end the illegal killing of birds of prey and working in partnership with stakeholders to achieve that. Scotland already has the strongest wildlife legislation in the UK and earlier this year, we accepted proposals to introduce tough new maximum penalties for those who commit crimes against wildlife.
‘The Scottish Government has ordered a review of satellite tracking data – we want to make sure we are getting the most information we can on when and how birds are disappearing.
‘Last year, we also funded the free pesticide disposal scheme which removed over 700kg of illegally held poisons in Scotland, to allow those still in possession of illegal substances to have them removed. I’m also seeing some really encouraging best practice from the farming community on the responsible use of rodenticide, which can be used by wildlife criminals to persecute raptors.’