The Kite Road

Alpacas have been bred as a (potentially) commercial activity in this country for at least 30 years. By the time Erica and Georgie arrived in England from Peru in 2004, canny and reputable breeders were offering essential and hugely encouraging (obviously) training courses for novices. Most alpaca owners were novices then.

One farm we visited for advice was and still is in the Chilterns. Introductory sessions were held in open barns and in the fields despite rain and wind which was a challenge to our enthusiasm for alpaca ownership. If the breeder thought our interest in induced ovulation and obligate breathing was overwhelmed by the conditions, she would look to the sky where huge red kites wheeled around, not just several and explain how it was that they were there.

In 1989 five young kites imported from Spain, were reintroduced to a quiet valley near Stokenchurch which was at about the same time as alpacas were brought to the teaching farm in Berkshire. The site was chosen because red kites are scavengers more than hunters and the area was a good one for them to find food and places to nest. Over the following five years another 88 were released. The scheme is thought of as one of the most successful conservation efforts to have been carried out, so successful that 300 Chilterns red kites were taken to other places in the UK. We could measure that success by how many we saw on the A303 which we use a lot, towing a trailer of alpacas to shows and for breeding arrangements. Each year the imposing birds travelled further westward with the road and then arrived pleasingly, first in our postcode and two years later over our hillside. They were said to have become a menace in villages where they were fed by people but we were delighted to be able to watch them from a window.

Red Kites breed in Wales and the Cotswolds, it’s not known if they do so in Dorset. They are here in the skies virtually all year www.natureofdorset.co.uk says. Its records show that in 2017 there were 63 reported sightings in this county, 151 in 2018.

Except that they are no longer seen on our hillside and haven’t been since they left to go south in the cold weather of last year. In Germany, France and Spain kites are declining because of changes in land use and poisoning. The hillside hasn’t altered but there has been, according to conversation in the pub amongst those with guns who notice these things, an apparent fall in the number of rabbits. There are no hillside rabbits either now nor in the garden, not even dead ones. Previously there were a far too many for a gardener to be happy. Perhaps the kites have played a part in that.