Local News


Jun 2011

Red Kites over Downley

Red Kites are magnificent birds of prey with their distinctive forked tail, russet plumage and a five to six foot wing span.

We see them in ever increasing numbers flying over Downley and marvel at the spectacle.

They were once common in Britain but suffered severe persecution between the 16th and 19th centuries.  People mistakenly thought that they were a threat to game birds and livestock  By the end of the 19th century just a handful of these birds remained in Wales.

Between 1989 and 1994 the RSPB and English Nature led a programme to re-introduce red kites to the Chilterns.  Paul Getty who owned the Wormsley Estate near Ibstone was a strong supporter and brought in five pairs himself. There are now over 130 breeding pairs and kites are once again a common and much loved feature of the area. The best locations for seeing them are Watlington Hill (Oxfordshire), Cowleaze Wood (Oxfordshire), Stokenchurch, Aston Rowant Nature Reserve Chinnor, West Wycombe Hill and the Bradenham Estate.

Those of us living in Downley know that Sunday afternoons when the remains of roast chicken dinners are put out on garage roofs, there is no better place to see kites flocking down to our gardens! We have had a magnificent specimen, presumably the scout for the flock, descend on our lawn for a minute or two, checking out our leavings, before half a dozen more descend, diving and swooping, just missing each other like a team of Red Arrows!

A recent report has described kites diving down to a school playground, snatching pupils' lunches at a school in Oxfordshire.  The advice from the RSPB is that , spectacular as they are, its time to stop feeding the kites. They say that birds of prey and people do not mix.  There is ample food in the wild for them - they are essentially scavengers living on dead animals in woodland and road kill. By feeding the kites we are encouraging them  to look to us for food - hence the playground incident - and they will become a nuisance. By returning to their natural food sources their numbers will be kept in check. I am among those who take great delight in these wonderful birds, but sadly must acknowledge that the welfare of the kites must come first, and the RSPB are quite right to send out this message.

Christine Audcent