Contrasting the fortunes of red kites and corncrakes

I am now back from my trip to Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire where I volunteered for a day with the RSPB Corncrake project on the Nene Washes (see here) and I photographed a red kite near Denton Woods in Northamptonshire (see here). Two birds with very different recent histories! I’ve now had a chance to refer to a couple of books which detail their recent fortunes.

Historic Atlas
If you haven’t come across this book ‘The Historical Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland 1975-1900’ by Simon Holloway published by Poyser I can thoroughly recommend it to you – it is one of my favourites. Using historical published data it maps out the distribution of Britain’s breeding birds in the Victorian era.

Historic Atlas Corncrakes
Here is the 1875-1900 distribution in the UK and Ireland for Corncrake – a pretty common bird

BTO Atlas Corncrakes
Here is the distribution by 2011 – the four square shaped dots in Cambridgeshire are the re-introduced birds on the Nene Washes (source BTO Atlas 2007-11)

BTO Atlas Corncrakes losses
Here is the decline in the species since the 1968-72 survey – downward pointing triangles = loss, dramatic to say the least – all associated with the intensification of agriculture and the loss of hay meadows. (source BTO Atlas 2007-11)

Historical Atlas Red kite
By contrast here is the story of the red kite – exterminated from the UK and Ireland by Victorian gamekeepers between and before 1875-1900 – except in mid Wales (source Historic Atlas)

BTO Atlas Red Kites
And here is the distribution  between 2008-11 – major success conservation success story as a result of the  highly successful re-introduction story led by English Nature. You can clearly see the re-introduction sites in the Chilterns, Northamptonshire, Yorkshire and Scotland etc. (source BTO Atlas 2007-11)

BTO Atlas Red Kites change
The red triangles show where red gains are being made as a result of the re-introduction project. (source BTO Atlas 2007-11)

Let’s hope that in 20 years time the corncrake map shows the same trends.

One thought on “Contrasting the fortunes of red kites and corncrakes

  1. Thank you for taking the trouble to show us this data. In a way it is reassuring but feeding centres, that have helped re-establish the Red Kite, are difficult to envisage for the corn crake. When we moved from Northamptonshire to mid-Wales we tried to make hay but soon gave up — the wetness of our summers in recent years and the ease of feeding silage which can be cut several times a season will deter all but the most determined ecologist. Still, hopefully, incentives will be introduced in the re-introduction areas. Perhaps in my dotage I will grow wild orchids in the old hay-meadow for corncrakes for the visiting bird-watchers.

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