A CONSERVATION project has been launched which will see 90 red kites released in the Lake District – the first time the birds have been reintroduced in the North West.

Following the issuing of a special licence from Natural England, the Forestry Commission North West England has begun a three-year project that will see the birds of prey released in Grizedale Forest.

The birds will be taken soon after hatching from Rockingham Forest,Northamptonshire, and brought up to Cumbria 30 at a time.

The Grizedale programme will be the ninth reintroduction of red kites into different regions of the UK, and the final re-introduction phase in England.

Forestry Commission Wildlife ranger Iain Yoxall, project manager for the Grizedale Red Kite Release Project, said: “It is a real conservation coup for the area and it will help to establish the red kites in the largest region in England from which the species is absent, a process which could take decades naturally.”

Red kites were almost eradicated from the UK following persecution between the 16th and 19th centuries. However, they managed to cling on in mid Wales and their numbers recovered thanks to the actions of local conservationists.

The red kites that will be introduced into Grizedale are the product of a reintroduction programme that took place in Northamptonshire in the 1980s.

The young birds will arrive at Grizedale between late June and early July and will then be held in special pens for up to two months where forest wildlife rangers will feed and water them until they are ready to leave.

Even after they have left the holding pens rangers will continue to feed the young red kites until they stop coming back because they have learned to fend for themselves – however special care will be taken to ensure the birds do not become accustomed to contact with humans.

All the birds will be wing-tagged with a colour and number and will be given leg rings. Around ten per cent will also be tagged with radio transmitters, which will help Forestry Commission staff to monitor the success of the release programme.

Mr Yoxall is confident the birds will prove to be a big hit with visitors to Grizedale.

“They are large spectacular bird and have a wing span of around five feet. They are stunning to see in the sky as they are also very agile. They will be an exciting thing for people to see and an added attraction for people visiting Grizedale.”

A special advisory group has been established, containing bird experts from organisations like Natural England, the RSPB and the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, to help ensure the project’s success.

Red kites are coloured chestnut red and have white patches under their wings. They are primarily a scavenger and feed mostly on carrion. They breed from around the age of two years and usually pair for life.