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?

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3 thoughts on “When to Stop Feeding the Kites?

  1. I’ve had similar thoughts. I went past Gigrin earlier this year and have driven along the M40 where it’s a delight to see large numbers of kite. In Wales, we regularly saw red kite – only one or two at a time on most days, greater numbers near the feeding stations but it looked like a more natural population spread out across the country.

    Wildlife will always take advantage of an easy meal – especially if it’s laid on for them (the growth in urban foxes and badgers feeding on our rubbish). Is feeding red kites any different from feeding our garden birds?

    If they stopped feeding them would they spread out over the rest of the UK? I’ve seen a few in Hampshire, Sussex and Yorkshire but I’d love to see red kite with the same frequency that we now see buzzard. I’m sure some will see them as a threat to their pets and livestock as they carry off lambs, cats and dogs! 🙂

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    • Thanks. Yes, I was trying not to equivocally say ‘we should stop feeding them’ as I realise the value and importance it has had in their resurgence. It was more just a thought about whether it might be having an impact on the wider ecology

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  2. Interesting question. I don’t think feeding stations overly stop dispersal long term as the birds still need breeding territories when they mature. I was surprised a couple of years ago to find quite a few kites in parts of rural Wiltshire. You could argue people shouldn’t feed any birds in their gardens as it’s unnatural – and of course in the Chiltern towns, like High Wycombe and Reading, Red Kites are fed in many gardens, probably exceeding the Welsh feeding stations in volume of meat collectively put out.

    In the rural case, the importance of wildlife tourism shouldn’t be under-estimated. If farmers see the kites as a valued asset rather than a hook-beaked threat, that’s a good thing. Corvids such as Ravens are always present at the feeding stations as well.

    Personally, I much prefer to encounter a wild bird by chance on my own than visit a feeding station, but for many people it’s a thrilling encounter.

    Finally, just by existing and following our lifestyles we are having a huge and unnatural impact on all wildlife. This has been true since man became a dominant global species, it’s even more true now. So ‘leaving nature to take its course’ is an impossible ideal.

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