March 21, 2012
Five best girlfriends, an introduction to red kites and a boutique hotel in the bucolic Chilterns. What more could you want for a good old weekend away?!
We arrived in our gladrags to a puzzled reception. “Are you the walking group?” enquired the hotel manager, sounding sceptical. “Hmm – well, we’ve booked a short-break package that has all kinds of added extras thrown in, from dinner to walking maps. We’ll take full advantage of the former now, and think about what to do about the latter… later,” we replied, heading for the bar.
Actually, we did get out and about the next day, walking up and down the undulating hills of the Aston Rowant Nature Reserve, just a stone’s throw from our hotel. That was The Lambert Arms, booked with our client, Great Little Breaks. And we saw pairs of beautiful red kites dancing in the big skies. Red kites are scavenging birds, which is partly why they can be found flying around motorways and main roads where there is a good choice of roadkill. During the 15th century, they lived near cities and fed on waste thrown out on the streets; but as sanitation and hygiene standards improved, feeding opportunities diminished and they flew to the countryside in search of food, only to be persecuted by farmers protective of their poultry and livestock.
By 1863, only one pair of red kites existed in England. But the RSPB has been involved in conservation work and nest-protection initiatives for the species since the early 1900s. And between 1989 and 1994, red kites from Spain were imported and released into the Chilterns; they started breeding in 1992 and now an estimated population of 600 pairs are active in the area. Red kites can now also be seen in other parts of the country, including Wales, Scotland and Yorkshire, and there are plans to introduce chicks to yet more parts of the country.
It’s a heart-warming conservation success story.