The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) wants government to explore the impacts of a Red Kite reintroduction scheme, with locals complaining the expanding population is now ‘annihilating’ other birds.
Around 90 Red Kites were reintroduced in Dumfries and Galloway between 2001 and 2003 in a project funded by the RSPB, SNH, Forest Enterprise and Galloway Raptor Study group.
The Local Species Action Plan stated that the project target was to ensure a self-sustaining population of Red Kites, once faced with extinction, in the area by 2005.
Now the local population has expanded to almost 300 and land users are reporting significant losses to other birds such as red-listed Lapwing, Oystercatchers and Sand martins.
The Kites are artificially fed poultry chicks at a local farm but landowners say the food is insufficient, with waders and songbirds paying the price for the Kites’ hunger.
Many feel the scavenging birds of prey should be allowed to disperse naturally, in line with the project’s aim, rather than being drawn back to a feeding station, which attracts money from tourists.
Conservationist farmer James Mair said: “In the first few years, it was not an issue but now the balance of nature has been severely affected. There is basically no longer anything we can do to protect the wildlife on our farm. It is annihilation.
“My father and grandfather taught me all my life to work with wildlife.
“The habitat here is great for ground-nesting birds. At a peak we had upwards of 250 nesting Lapwings on the farm, all of them safe, but Lapwing chicks are easy pickings for the Kites. They would find one then, in half an hour, they would all be gone.
“My grandfather put so much intelligence into looking after the Lapwings here but we’ve lost 80 per cent this year. It’s tragic. It’s the same with the Sand martins. Every year we have had two Barn Owl chicks hatched in an open hay shed. This year there are none. I saw one Kite myself flying out of the shed with a chick in its claws.”
Kites feed mostly on carrion but also take small birds and mammals.
Because of the escalating numbers, nesting Lapwings on Mr Mair’s land are now down to a dozen with Oystercatcher numbers crashing.
The farmer, whose Collie dog suffered a punctured eye following a Red Kite swipe in January, works with the Sand martin Trust to create suitable sand and gravel habitat for the birds but says they have paid a heavy price, too.
“A lifetime’s devastation has happened here. The only reason I am speaking out is that someone has to be a voice for nature and my birds.
“We are not talking about the loss of money. We are talking about the loss of good work by three generations of my family.
“Those involved should stop feeding the Kites and let them survive on their own. The strong ones will survive, the weak ones won’t and nature will balance itself out.
“That was, after all, the purpose of the project but it will never happen with the feeding station there. What the birds of prey are given as food doesn’t sustain them. They are hungry and they are out hunting round the clock.
“We used to control fox and Carrion crows so that all other wildlife would stand a chance at nesting time but now the birds get hammered 24 hours a day. There is nothing we can do any more. The balance has gone completely.”
Neil Black keeps racing pigeons in a pigeon loft in the area and agrees with Mr Mair.
He lost 18 of his 40 young pigeons this year to raptors and is now seeing Kites take food from other birds of prey.
“When the RSPB first came into the area, I went along to the meetings and I was in favour of releasing Red Kites, as long as they were allowed to disperse naturally.
“That is not happening with the feeding station there. There is not enough food to sustain them. The station pulls in predators from everywhere and it is pushing the predation levels up all around.
“This year I saw a Peregrine take one of my young pigeons. Two Kites flew at the Peregrine, forcing it to drop the chick, which they then ate. That forces the Peregrine to go and kill again. Something has to be done. The predation levels are going up and up. The feeling from those who work on the ground is that the feeding station is kept there so that money can be made from tourists.”
David Parker, who runs a small shoot not far from the feeding station, lost pheasant poults to Red Kites this year.
He believes enough is enough and that sensible solutions have to be found for the benefit of all wildlife in the area.
“I like to see a Red Kite in the sky like anyone else does but nature is a about balance. At the moment, there is no balance,” he said.
Alex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “We have received a number of calls about this. It is clearly quite alarming for many people and it is equally worrying for wildlife.
“Because the losses being talked about are, in some cases, rare, conservation-listed birds, this is an issue that government and the project partners have a duty to look at, before things go too far.
“I think everyone would agree that protection of one species, when it is to the detriment of others, is a flawed way to achieve ecological balance.”