The great success behind the red kite conservation project in the Chilterns

PUBLISHED: 16:46 21 July 2014 | UPDATED: 16:46 21 July 2014

Photo by Gerry Whitlow

Photo by Gerry Whitlow


This year is the 25th anniversary of the reintroduction of red kites in the Chilterns, one of the most successful conservation projects ever carried out in the UK.

On 1 August 1989, in a quiet tranquil valley near Stokenchurch within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, five young red kites were released into the wild. This project, to re-introduce a native species that had been wiped out over previous centuries, was one of the first of its kind in the UK, and the people behind it could only hope that the young birds would thrive and breed.

As we now know, the project could not have been a greater success. Over the next five years, another 88 red kites were released in the Chilterns by English Nature and the RSPB. With a few exceptions the young birds thrived in their new home and started breeding. The population has steadily built up ever since, gradually spreading out from the release point.

Now these beautiful birds are an incredibly common sight in the southern Chilterns and beyond. There are so many now it is impossible to know their exact numbers, but there are at least 1,000 breeding pairs spread across large parts of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Berkshire.

Cathy Rose of the Chilterns Conservation Board says: “The Chilterns was picked as the first site for re-introducing kites in England because there is plenty of natural food for them to scavenge and places to nest in here. It is also nationally-protected as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It wasn’t a certainty though that the project would be a success so it is absolutely fantastic that the kites have done so well.”

Neil Douglas, Senior Nature Policy Officer at RSPB HQ says: “The Chilterns reintroduction has been fantastically successful in bringing red kites back from the brink. Previously driven to extinction in England, it is heartening to see these impressive birds become a popular spectacle and well-loved feature of our landscape.”

Kites have thrived so strongly in the Chilterns that nearly 300 young birds have been taken to start re-introduction schemes in other parts of the UK such as Gateshead and Yorkshire.

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