Red kite num­bers be­gin to soar once again

The Oban Times - - FARMING -

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.’

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