The Welsh Kite Trust was pleased and honoured to host the annual meeting of the UK and Ireland Red Kite Co-ordination Group last Thursday at the Brynafon Hotel adjacent to Gigrin Farm, Rhyader. Unfortunately our Scottish colleagues couldn't make the journey but Dr Marc Ruddock and Adam McClure arrived from Ireland together with representatives from the Chilterns, East Midlands and Shropshire. We were especially pleased to welcome Ian Carter, renowned kite expert, from Natural England.
The breeding season report, published in full in Boda Wennol (Issue 27 Autumn 2012), was discussed and below is the map summarising current breeding status for those non-members of WKT. It was of course a poor breeding year given the awful weather experienced during critical times in the nesting cycle and followed two very harsh winters which resulted in reduced productivity in all areas.
There followed a roundup of other threats experienced in the regions which identified accidental secondary poisoning by highly toxic second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides and lead as major problems. The rodenticides are ingested when feeding on rodents killed by poison and, being persistent, can build up to lethal levels. In some cases, the poisons used are so toxic that just a single rodent body may be enough to deliver a lethal dose. Publicity campaigns to encourage the use of alternative methods of rodent control and to use poisons with care have been undertaken to try to minimise the dangers. The recent widespread use of slug pellets in fields has also shown up in post-mortem analysis as these are attractive to other birds such as pigeons which are then scavenged when dead by kites and other animals.
Secondary poisoning by lead occurs when Red Kites scavenge on pest or game species that have been killed by lead ammunition, mainly from shotgun cartridges. A recent study found that 14% of Red Kites found dead in England had lead levels in their tissues sufficient to have caused their death. Whilst lead has been banned from use over most wetlands and for killing waterbirds it remains in common use in terrestrial habitats with consequences that are largely unseen unless specific studies are undertaken. It was agreed to ask Natural England to pursue this issue with the government and for lead poisoning to be added to the list of tested for poisons at post mortem.
Dr Rob McMahon then gave a most lucid explanation of the DNA research being undertaken at Aberystwyth University with a student funded by the Welsh Kite Trust, which has thrown up a host of further interesting lines of enquiry.
After a hurried but tasty lunch interval we hastened up the lane to watch feeding time at Gigrin which never fails to impress...thank you Chris and staff at Gigrin Farm.
Reconvening to tie up loose ends it was widely agreed that it was important to keep up kite monitoring, despite funding and manpower difficulties in many areas, and that there was still a need to fight the corner for what remains one of the world's rarest birds.