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30-year anniversary of landmark release of red kites in the Chiltern Hills - Natural England

One of the UK's biggest conservation success stories celebrates its 30 year anniversary.

Conservationists are celebrating a landmark moment in English wildlife conservation this month, as July sees the 30th anniversary of the re-introduction of red kites to the Chiltern Hills.

In July 1990 in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 13 young red kites - recently flown over from the Navarra region in Spain - took to the skies in their maiden flight in England, as part of an ambitious reintroduction programme.

The red kite is one Britain’s most distinctive birds of prey with an unmistakable reddish-brown body, angled wings and deeply forked tail, and known for instantly recognisable mewing call.

Red kites used to breed across much of the UK, but persecution over a 200-year period saw numbers fall as they increasingly became a target for egg collectors, reducing them to a few breeding pairs in central Wales. By the 1980s, the red kite was one of only three globally threatened species in the UK.

The re-introduction 30 years ago was hugely successful and helped established a thriving population of the birds in the Chilterns area, selected due to its suitability in meeting the criteria set out by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).

The move led to further introductions and the eventual re-establishment of red kites across the UK. By 1996, at least 37 pairs had bred in southern England and today red kites can be seen regularly in most English counties with an estimated 1,800 pairs breeding across the UK.

Natural England chair Tony Juniper said: “Red kites are one of our most majestic birds of prey with a beautiful plumage, and are easily recognisable thanks to their soaring flight and mewing call. Persecuted to near-extinction, they have made a triumphant comeback in England over the past three decades. Thanks to this pioneering reintroduction programme in the Chilterns, increased legal protection and collaboration amongst partners, the red kite stands out as a true conservation success story. The flagship red kite reintroduction project paved the way for further species re-introductions, helping to reverse the historic deterioration of our natural environment and our precious species that inhabit it.”

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