In the United Kingdom, red kites were ubiquitous scavengers that lived on carrion and rubbish. Shakespeare’s King Lear describes his daughter Goneril as a detested kite, and he wrote “when the kite builds, look to your lesser linen” in reference to them stealing washing hung out to dry in the nesting season. In the mid-15th century, King James II of Scotland decreed that they should be “killed wherever possible”, but they remained protected in England and Wales for the next 100 years as they kept the streets free of carrion and rotting food. Under Tudor “vermin laws” many creatures were seen as competitors for the produce of the countryside and bounties were paid by the parish for their carcasses.
By the 20th century, the breeding population was restricted to a handful of pairs in South Wales, but recently the Welsh population has been supplemented by re-introductions in England and Scotland. In 2004, from 375 occupied territories identified, at least 216 pairs were thought to have hatched eggs and 200 pairs reared at least 286 young. In 1989, six Swedish birds were released at a site in north Scotland and four Swedish and one Welsh bird in Buckinghamshire. Altogether, 93 birds of Swedish and Spanish origin were released at each of the sites. In the second stage of reintroduction in 1995 and 1996, further birds were brought from Germany to populate areas of Dumfries and Galloway. Between 2004 and 2006, 94 birds were brought from the Chilterns and introduced into the Derwent Valley in north East England. In Northern Ireland, 80 birds from wild stock in Wales were released between 2008 and 2010, and the first successful breeding was recorded in 2010. The reintroductions in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty have been a success. Between 1989 and 1993, 90 birds were released there and by 2002, 139 pairs were breeding. They can commonly be seen taking advantage of thermals from the M40 motorway. Another successful reintroduction has been in Northamptonshire, which has become a stronghold for the red kite. Thirty Spanish birds were introduced into Rockingham Forest near Corby in 2000, and by 2010, the RSPB estimated that over 200 chicks had been reared from the initial release. So successful has the reintroduction been that 30 chicks have been transported from Rockingham Forest for release in Cumbria. From the Chilterns they have spread as far east as Essex and can be seen over Harlow. To the west they have recently (2021) spread along the M4 as far as the Cotswold Edge overlooking the Severn near Bristol.
A sighting of the first red kite in London for 150 years was reported in The Independent newspaper in January 2006 and in June of that year, the UK-based Northern Kites Project reported that kites had bred in the Derwent Valley in and around Rowlands Gill, Tyne and Wear for the first time since the re-introduction.
In 1999, the red kite was named ‘Bird of the Century’ by the British Trust for Ornithology. According to the Welsh Kite Trust, it has been voted “Wales’s favourite bird”.
In June 2010, the Forestry Commission North West England announced a three-year project to release 90 red kites in Grizedale Forest, Cumbria under a special licence issued by Natural England. The Grizedale programme was the ninth reintroduction of red kites into different regions of the UK and the final re-introduction phase in England
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