There has recently been some form of muted backlash to the ever growing population of red kites in Galloway, and the Scottish Gamekeepers Association appear to be looking into claims that they have taken pheasant poults. I really doubt that a kite would take pheasant poults beyond a few weeks old, but it will be interesting to see what the SGA make of it all. I was watching kites flying behind the rush cutter on the Chayne yesterday like gulls would follow a plough, and I must admit that I resented them.
My objection to kites is not based on anything except the obvious reasons for their reintroduction, which are clearly shallow, greedy and largely irrelevant in an ecological sense. Eleven years ago, the biggest and most popularly respected conservationists in Scotland decided that the answer to an overall decline in biodiversity in the region was to reintroduce red kites. Yes, kites are an indiginous species and they “belong” here (which is in itself a slightly spurious argument), but in what possible world is their reintroduction a priority that supercedes the conservation of the region’s landscape?
The money spent on kites will only ever benefit red kites. If the same money had been spent on managing an area of moorland or woodland, dozens of species would have benefitted. Why on earth should the conservationists’ priority be the reinstallation of extinct species when so many others are failing and dwindling every year? And what benefit does the red kite bring to any other species? In fact, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that they are applying pressure on the other birds and mammals in their environment.
There are no reasonable answers to these questions, because red kites were reintroduced not for the benefit of the region’s biodiversity, but for the benefit of the region’s human population. We like kites, and they’re here because we wanted them. Unless you’re a human being with a pair of binoculars, Dumfries and Galloway has not been improved one iota by the addition of red kites. It has reached the stage now that we are so keen to see them that we will prevent them from dispersing naturally across the landscape and sustain them artificially for the delectation of bird enthusiasts who, frankly, are too damn lazy to get off their arses and look for wildlife on its own terms.
You could release predatory birds from across the world into Galloway and most would find a way of surviving on the local fauna. A peregrine falcon can live in Glasgow city centre – all it needs is pigeon meat, water and somewhere to breed. Converserly, if you want to release a species from further on down the food chain, you need to put in extensive work to make sure that the habitat is satisfactory. A black grouse needs a slowly rotating supply of natural vegetation that can only be provided by a very specific type of habitat. If you want to release black grouse, you have to get the habitat right, and this will inevitably suit a huge range of other species. By comparison, and as seen with the red kite reintroduction project, literally no habitat improvement is required prior to the release of birds of prey, so they arrive bringing nothing to the party whatsoever.
Reintroducing birds of prey is not inherently wrong, but doing it in 2012 when so many less exciting species are failing and passing into non existence is the act of an extremely selfish minority who like what they like and don’t give a damn about anything else but making money and being seen to be making a difference, no matter how superficial and shallow that difference really is.