Red kites' reintroduction to North East celebrates 20th anniversary but population still 'not sustainable'

Giant red kite mosaic in front of Gibside Chapel
-Credit: (Image: Kaleel Zibe)

This summer marks the 20th anniversary of the reintroduction of red kites to the North East, though the population is still not sustainable due to persecution, a conservation organisation says.

Red kites were reintroduced to North East England in 2004 by the Northern Kites project, after more than 170 years of the birds being absent from the skies. They had been driven to extinction in the region largely due to persecution.

There is now a very present population of red kites in the Derwent Valley and beyond, with 27 breeding pairs recorded across Gateshead, Durham and Northumberland in 2023. However, the battle to protect the population is not over, and there are fears that the birds continue to be persecuted.

That's according to Friends of the Red Kites (FoRK), a voluntary organisation dedicated to the conservation, monitoring and welfare of red kites in the Derwent Valley. Charity secretary Harold Dobson said: "We still don’t have a sustainable red kite population here, due, we fear, to the continued persecution of the kites. We would love the community to be more involved in helping us raise awareness."

To raise awareness, National Trust site Gibside and FoRK will host a Red Kite Family Fun Day on Sunday, July 7, to celebrate the birds' reintroduction. Families can help put together a 22-metre-wide red kite mosaic, which will be displayed in front of Gibside Chapel, while there will be a charity tombola with prizes, bubble artists and face painting.

Visitors can also see a bird ringing demonstration at the Stables from 10am - 3pm and artwork depicting the life cycle will be go up in the Walled Garden, where it will be displayed throughout the summer and autumn. Jodie Peachey, Gibside Ranger, said: "We’re lucky that red kites are now a daily sight at Gibside and have nested here in the past. Gibside is a very special place for nature.

Red Kite at Gibside
Red Kite at Gibside -Credit:Tony Blackett

"Large areas of the site are a Site of Special Scientific Interest, supporting rare species of plants, animals and fungi. We are always working to maintain and improve habitats for nature and monitor the species that call Gibside home."

Between 2004 and 2006, 94 red kites were released in the Derwent Valley area, including several at Gibside. In 2006, the first red kite chick named Geordie successfully fledged from a nest in the Derwent Valley, the first in nearly 200 years.

Geordie was fathered by Red Philip, one of the first 20 red kite chicks tagged and released from National Trust in Gibside in 2004. Red Philip died in 2020 and was buried near Gibside's Strawberry Castle Play area, and a play tower is dedicated to Red Philip.