Posted by: Ross Gardner | July 30, 2018

From Heartland to Heartland

Kite country (scaled)

Kite country in the Welsh uplands

Thoughts were cast back to about a year to a corner of Mid-Wales and the UK leg of our Big Trip.  We found ourselves in one of those places which I sometimes like to describe as ‘nowhere in particular’ – somewhere that doesn’t tend to turn up in guide books, but which is no less (or perhaps more) wonderful for it.  Here the sight of Red Kite held a particular significance.

It was in such hidden Welsh Valleys as this that this stunning bird found its final stronghold when by the end of the 19th century persistent and misguided persecution, largely attributable to game preservation, had made them extinct elsewhere in Britain.  There were perhaps only a dozen or so birds hanging on in Wales at the beginning of the 20th century.  The 50 odd birds present in the 1950s was for subsequent decades considered high.

With our thoughts moving away from the Welsh Hills and back to about a week ago and we find ourselves in the Chiltern Hills of Oxfordshire.  Here we find the formerly ailing raptor in a heartland of a different kind and markedly happier times.  This part of the Chilterns was chosen in the late 1980s as a reintroduction site intend to revive their fortunes.  Efforts were successful, as has been the recovery of the Red Kite in general.  They are a regular sight to travellers on the M40 and M4 motorways and the bird is seen widely across the southern part of Britain as well as increasingly to the north.  There are now 1600 pairs across the UK.

A short stay in the wonderful countryside around Watlington (a fine place whose superb chalk grassland may well feature on these pages again) brought us closer to these impressive birds than ever before.  It was hot, but the sweltering air resonated with the whistling cries of several birds on the wing at the same time.  They were ever-present, but an image not to be tired of.

Red Kite 5 (scaled)

A Red Kite (Milvus milvus) surveys Oxfordshire countryside.

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