Red Kites and Wildlife Tourism

Red Kites were once so common in Britain that they even adapted to feeding around the streets of towns and cities picking up man’s waste and catching rats and mice. They then were persecuted so badly that at one time only 8 breeding pairs were left in Wales with non in England or Scotland. Reintroduction programes were created bringing birds from Spain and Scandinavia. This article compares the 2 introductions to Galloway and Cumbria. The two locations are just 60 miles apart [as the Kite flies!] with the Solway in between. Both locations had 90 birds released at each site and both sites have seen a number of ‘wing tagged’ [specially marked] birds released at one flying to the other.

At the Galloway site the RSPB were very much the main group pushing the scheme while in Cumbria it was the Forestry Commission. Dumfries and Galloway have a small tourist industry with 2.5 million visitors in 2015 while Cumbria had a huge tourist industry exceeding 41 million visitors in 2015, 10 million of which were foreign visitors. Galloway wanted to encourage more tourism to the area with their kites while Cumbria did not seem to use the birds as a marketing example.

Galloway created a ‘Red Kite trail’ and have a private farmer offering the kites a free meal as a way to bring in the public to see the kites at close hand – a feeding station. An economic survey carried out annually by the RSPB between 2004 and 2015 found that visitors to the trail have spent an estimated £54.6m in Dumfries and Galloway, with £8.2m directly attributable to people visiting the area to see the kites. In Cumbria, the web site for the Grizedale Forest gives wildlife well below walking, mountain biking, ‘Go Ape’ activities, art and sculpture trails. Even the wildlife list puts Red Kites below Buzzard and Barn Owl – a nocturnal species!

By keeping the kites together in an area safe with food over 100 pairs of Red Kites now breed in Dumfries and Galloway compared to 2 – 4 pairs in Cumbria. Although Cumbria was a more recent programe the forestry officer in charge of the kites claims many of the kites have left Cumbria. This can only put down to lack of food in the release area and especially the lack of a ‘feeding station’!

In Scotland generally wildlife tourism is one of the fastest growing aspects of tourism. Galloway has the opportunity to expand its wildlife tourism with several species especially if the Golden Eagle project is successful in the Borders and the expansion of White tailed Eagles back to the area with recent wintering birds found in the west of Galloway. A reintroduction of White tailed Eagle to the area would also be a possibility given their potential of drawing the tourist. An old survey gave £5 million the income drawn from White tailed Eagles on the Island of Mull alone.

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