Sensationalist media reporting over red kite ‘attack’ will not help stop persecution

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.

16 thoughts on “Sensationalist media reporting over red kite ‘attack’ will not help stop persecution”

  1. We were told by a primary school teacher that the local children dare each other to put bits of their packed lunch on their heads in the playground and see if the kites will take it. If true, the kites might easily associate small children with food but it’s hardly the kites’ fault.

  2. The same childish mawkish hysteria is prevalent when one discusses any form of reintroduction; Lynx for example and the farmers reps “bleed” with indignation at the poor farmer discovering a “savaged” carcass despite the fact that the uplands are littered with sheep carrion if you walk for a day; you will find carcasses and death is their business. thus the escaped Lynx was shot near Machynnledd, as some form of “threat” to human life; what a Lynx? Where was the outcry there; all the animal rights people were as limp and I contacted them blaming the Zoo it had escaped from and abdicating responsibility that it was no threat to humans and it could have been darted and recaptured …

    I have to say that George Monbiot articulate as he is gets on his high horse re “hunting” and balance has to be maintained by all sides here ? If land makes no return what happens ?If you are reading this George did you notice the Minister of Tourism in Kenya Malala has now gone (family in UAE from Swahili Coast) after he floated the sale of Kenya National Parks; Angola has a huge hunting preserve run by Russians and a German billionaire beyond essentially the rule of law ; is that what will happen to Kenya Parks….so whats going on ?? He was very popular !

    For a year now I have been calling for a Green New Deal as Africa suffers the loss of 30 billion in tourist revenue; what will happen is the West fails to step and back the magnificent National Parks and the communities dependent on wildlife tourism that the “white imperialists” created and is a magnificent legacy that now may wither and simply eaten before human population pressure of a population 50% under the age of 20 on the land resource?

    1. Well said, an awful lot of tricky issues in Africa that are not being addressed including rampant population growth exacerbating poverty and environmental destruction – many aid workers in the field have been screaming about what a timebomb this is for decades only to be ignored. Corruption is a massive issue although governance in Africa is improving slowly (it could hardly have got worse). Then there’s the role of traditional ‘medicine’ and folklore – eating bits of vulture because you think it will give you the ‘far sightedness’ to see winning lottery numbers. Not quite Africa, but in an excellent book on Madascan conservation I read that with one of the world’s rarest birds its endemic sea eagle they were occasionally caught and had one of their talons cut off so the owner would somehow gain its power. For that supposed transfer of power the talon had to be cut off while it was alive. It churns the stomach, but when I’ve googled for the Madagascan Fish Eagle under threats it gets reduced to ‘persecution’.. It’s these same sensitivities that have held back full blooded campaigning against wildlife being used as ‘medicine’ or as culinary treats as status symbols in Asia. If, as is probable, Covid was initiated by bats being caught to provide titbits then having a more effective conservation movement years ago could have potentially prevented a worldwide pandemic. Human survival and wellbeing really is dependent on conservation and the conservation movement really needs to act as if it believes that instead of incessant effing hand wringing.

  3. What this also demonstrates is the terrible state of so much journalism in this country, with many reporters only wanting to sensationalise and shock, publishing misleading headlines in order to attract attention and readers. Instead of helping to inform and educate the public- much journalism has been reduced to nothing better than the trash spewed out on social media.
    We have been here before with stories about foxes attacking babies- it’s nonsense, but it’s gobbled up by those who haven’t the wit or understanding to comprehend that much of the wildlife in UK struggles to survive due to habitat loss and natural food deprivation.
    Sadly this will only end badly for the birds of prey, and not the mindless fools who don’t understand nature, haven’t the interest to learn about nature, and don’t understand the processes which force nature to be lured into coming into conflict with humans, which results in some species being demonised rather than cherished.
    Just imagine what would happen if we still had bears and wolves in our woods!!!
    The reality is that the greatest threat to humans is other humans- the criminal justice system groans under the weight of violent assaults committed by one individual on another. Perhaps journalist should start reporting on the sheer scale of violence and disorder which plagues many of our urban areas- the headlines would then be more like a James Herbert horror novel than Hitchcock!!

    1. Well said John. It is to be hoped that the child in question grows up remembering the incident in a more positive light and is interviewed in 20 years time relating how it turned his head TOWARDS nature and not against it.

  4. Not the sort of headline I’d expect from the normally reasonably intelligent Guardian. What next, “Huge fork tailed eagle stole my poodle!”?

    1. I think we’ve seen that one before..or similar. Some tiny accessory lap dog belonging to a Paris Hilton lookalike/wannabe, apparently attacked by Red Kite a few years ago…carried off I think! They are clearly much stronger than all the raptor workers, ornithologists, Roy Dennis’s out there who think they eat small stuff and scavenge. Not a popular opinion, but many of these trending pooches could be put out of their misery by a bit of light predation.

  5. Within the media there are some excellent investigative journalists who will delve deeply into a subject in order to present a very accurate depiction. Over the years such journalists have proved to be of immense value in exposing wrongdoing and educating readers etc. We cannot have too many correspondents of that high quality.

    On the other hand there are media story writers (not worthy of the title ‘journalist’) who are ‘surface wallahs’.They do not venture into any great detail and care little about accuracy. For such writers too much detail clouds their catchpenny headlines. Regrettably, some readers do not or cannot see very far from the headlines.

    All we can do is to redress some of the nonsense that is written :-
    “Red alert over Henley as hungry kites attack town”. What did the writer have in mind with that flight of fancy….. Heinkel bombers on a WW2 raid !

  6. Apparently there was a feature on Radio 5 a few days ago about a proposed cull of red kites near the M40, some people are finding the roost a bit too intimidating. It’s terrifying how large a proportion of the population seem to just wait to get fed this pish then get on a high horse about it. At three local, but widely separated woods ivy has been torn off trees very noticeably. On one case from a larch in a shitty job lot of cheap conifers the council had got for a tree planting – the ivy was probably the best wildife friendly feature in it. This has followed a few years where ivy has been denomised in the press as a tree killer. in the tabloid press – so now we clearly have self appointed ivy vigilantes tearing it off trees when it’s one of our very best wildlife friendly plants. In this scenario it’s extremely difficult to believe that sparrow hawks and other raptors aren’t being killed by members of the public who genuinely think they are doing other wildlife a favour. I really hope I’m wrong about that, but would be amazed if I am. Since I last mentioned that the conservation groups should join forces to create a predation education initiative I’ve rather informally chucked the idea to a few of them. No jou, but I think it’s desperately needed. However, feeding wildlife also needs to be addressed it’s becoming an increasingly easy (lazy?) way of supposedly helping wildlife. I’ve seen footage of a couple who’ve actually got the local badgers coming into their house to be fed, that’s ludicrous. I’m sure there’s even been an issue with red kite chicks in Reading (?) that were malnourished because the adults were being fed by householders with what didn’t provide full dietary requirements. It would be far better in pushing for better habitat especially in urban areas rather than just thinking hedgehogs etc will be OK if you put some shop bought food for them while they travel over more and more plastic grass.

  7. I find it hard to believe that people still take seriously anything reported in the MSM, haven’t people learnt anything over the past year that the MSM rely on false news and lies to manipulate peoples views and will report any bullshit to sell there story.

  8. Ffs, how do the media rags get away with this utter pish? They need reigning in and regulated by someone better than is currently doing it. They need to take responsibility for their actions when there is a knock on effect from their clap trap.

  9. I fear it reflects the reduction of the market for local papers, and their response to the changing demographic of their readership. I hope I’m wrong, but I fear the worst.

  10. ‘To be honest it’s a question I struggle to answer,’
    It is the strong class divide in this country which filters upper class ideology down through society. Most people haven’t a clue they have been gaslit, as this series of articles shows.

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