When to Stop Feeding the Kites?

I’ve been involved in a line of discussion this week that has provoked a few questions. Questions to which I don’t really have any answers. Feel free to offer up your thoughts, I suspect there’s no ‘right’ answer.

When does an initiative stop being conservation and start being interference? (Yes, I know by its very definition, conservation is interfering. Even the trendy George Monbiot brand of conservation). But my thoughts in this instance are mainly in relation to Red Kites. Marvellous things, aren’t they? I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of watching them soar overhead on stilly wings and forked tail. The novelty may never wear off. As an example of rapid species recovery through conservation efforts, they’re about as good a poster-bird as you could want.

red kite

‘Quick, fetch in the linen!’

So what am I getting in a huff about? Well if you want to see a large congregation of the birds, there are a few places you can be certain to spot them. Feeding stations have been set up, such as Gigrin Farm and Llanddeusant in Wales. Here, great volumes of carrion are served up on a daily basis attracting kites in the hundreds.

These feeding stations have undoubtedly helped with the recovery of the Red Kite and should be congratulated for this. They also provide a spectacle for nature-lovers everywhere, and anything that captures the attention and informs the public about issues such as species decline should be encouraged. But could feeding kites like this be having knock on ecological effects? Does this mass feeding artificially prop-up the local red kite (and buzzard) populations, and would this likely have an impact on other species? Do they reduce the natural dispersal of individuals, therefore impacting on the robustness of the national population? Most of all, can this still be classed as conservation?

The existence of feeding stations mean that the handbrake has not been removed. The Red Kite population should continue to thrive as long as the feeding stations exist, but is it ‘natural’? And who cares if it isn’t?

A Kestrel Over Bloomsbury

We live in danger of eventually becoming the thing we hate.

There’s nothing like a ludicrously portentous opening sentence to give a rather inconsequential blog post a bit of snap, is there? Hate is rather a strong word for it, after all. But after a decade of bimbling through the streets of London, I have come to be wary of the Emergency Stop Pedestrian. This behaviour seems to be much more prevalent in tourist-heavy areas – or ‘Red Zones’ as I’ve started calling them – snazzy new mobile phones, too, have a lot to answer for. I don’t normally have to be wary of roving ecologists, though.

But today, I finally became that person. Walking through the Brunswick Centre, a sound suddenly brought me up short, causing the unfortunate lady behind me to collide with my rucksack. She said something that sounded an awful lot like ‘flanker’ and I can only assume this was a reference to my broad, manly shoulders. I wasn’t paying any attention though, as right there, above the sound of people spewing out of the Picadilly line, was an incongruous high kee-kee-kee bird call.

kestrel

‘Blaaahdy hell, I think I’m lost’

It’s a weird thing sometimes, being an ecologist. A few flashes of colour in the right pattern, or notes in the correct arrangement can send you questing through the plashy fen or staring moronically up into the sky like some kind of loon. I’m not even particularly good at bird sounds, but a faint yet shrill call in an unexpected context is apparently all it takes for me to cause an obstruction to a public thoroughfare.

I eventually tracked the Kestrel, wind-hovering over the Russell Hotel, and stood to watch it for a few minutes, all the time thinking to myself ‘you’ll not have much luck up there’. It didn’t hang around long but I was surprised no one else followed my gaze.

assyrian lion

The Assyrians: No word on whether Ashurbanipal moonlighted as a dentist

Perhaps people are always staring up at the sky in Russell Square. Perhaps I just look like the type. Maybe I am beginning to take on a decidedly incoherent appearance in my old age. It was enough to break up a little of the Christmas shopping drudgery for me. Between the Kestrel and the Assyrian reliefs in the British Museum, I’ve had quite a day.

* * *

As you may have noticed, it’s not just the Emergency-Stop-pavement-walking I’ve been guilty of today. I’ve also just splurged onto the page a screed of nature writing produced merely for its own sake. A paean that does nothing to inform or provoke discussion. This clearly goes against my own ethos of nature writing. I should probably be horse-whipped.

Well, if one will go about having opinions and writing them all over the internet, one will inevitably get called out for a hypocrite sooner or later. The thing is to brazen it out, I find.

And who cares? I saw a Kestrel over Russell Square today and it was brilliant.