When I talk with international colleagues about the problem we have in the UK with bird of prey persecution, many of them are baffled how it can still be ‘a thing’ over here, so many decades after societies elsewhere developed a much more progressive attitude.
To be honest it’s a question I struggle to answer, but it is indeed still ‘a thing’ in many parts of the UK, as entries on this blog will attest. One of the causes of this ongoing perception that birds of prey are ‘bad’, ‘evil’, ‘vermin’ etc is undoubtedly the sensationalist, distorted version of reality published by mainstream media, designed to grab headlines rather than sensibly inform.
Here’s a classic example from yesterday, after a red kite lifted a custard cream from the hand of a two-year-old boy in Henley, Oxfordshire and accidentally scratched the back of his hand. Here’s how the press responded (The Times, Sky News, The Guardian, Daily Mail):
The toddler wasn’t ‘attacked’, nor was the town, and nor are residents being ‘terrorised’ by red kites, which the Daily Mail says ‘resemble eagles’!
Red kites are skilled opportunists and if there’s an easy meal to be had, they’ll take it. The situation in Henley with red kites coming in close to humans has been exacerbated by some residents feeding scraps to the kites in their gardens, and although this has been widely discouraged some people continue because they still enjoy having the kites around, 30 years on from the reintroduction project just a few miles outside Henley.
I know the Chilterns very well and the draw has always been the kites. The vast majority of people I know there and others I meet when out walking there are not ‘in fear of being attacked’ and nor do they believe they are living in a ‘Hitchcock horror’. Those of us lucky enough to have kites around relish the fact we can live alongside these birds and get enormous pleasure from seeing them every day.
This unsubstantiated hysteria generated by the press does nothing to educate the public about the benefits of having birds of prey in our environment and will not help to stop those still intent on killing any bird of prey whether by trap, poison or the gun.
Just in the last few months alone there have been reports of a poisoned red kite in Scotland (here), a poisoned red kite in Lincolnshire (here), a poisoned red kite in Dorset (here), a shot red kite in the Cotswolds (here), a shot red kite in Norfolk (here), a suspected shot red kite in Warwickshire (here), a red kite killed in an illegally-set trap in Berkshire (here), a poisoned red kite in North Yorkshire (here), dead red kites found in suspicious circumstances in Wiltshire (here), a shot red kite in Wales (here)……and on and on and on.
The UK media needs to get a grip and stop demonising these birds.