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Little Green Space by Penny Bunting

With several sightings of red kites in the Bakewell area in recent months, there are hopes that this magnificent bird of prey may be making a comeback locally.

Red kites are frequently seen in Wales and the south of England – but here in the Peak District they’re a less common sight.

In 2018, the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust reported that red kites had successfully bred in Derbyshire for the first time in 150 years. They were once prolific across the Peak District and the UK – but, like many birds of prey, they have had a long history of persecution.

A successful long-running reintroduction programme, which began in the Chilterns in the 1990s, has helped the plight of these beautiful birds and saved them from national extinction. They are gradually beginning to return to more northern parts of England.

Red kites are instantly recognisable. They’re one of the UK’s largest birds, and have a distinctive forked tail and russet-coloured plumage. The bird’s call is a piercing, undulating whistle.

Protected birds

Birds of prey – also known as raptors – are an essential part of a healthy, balanced eco-system. Their hunting habits keep numbers of prey animals, such as rodents, in check.

They’re also important indicators of how healthy habitats are. When raptors are thriving, this usually means there is plenty of food available – in the form of other thriving species further down the food chain.

Birds of prey can bring economic benefits to local communities too. We humans are fascinated by these spectacular creatures, and tourism can be boosted when they are resident in an area – resulting in more jobs and other economic benefits for local people.

However, birds of prey face many challenges. One of their biggest threats is illegal activity. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 means that wild birds, as well as their eggs, young and nests, are legally protected. But many species of raptors continue to be killed, poisoned or trapped illegally; their eggs are collected, and their nests are destroyed.

The RSPB and organisations such as Derbyshire Wildlife Trust are working to secure the future of all birds of prey, through a range of actions – from campaigning for tougher laws around wildlife crimes, including bird of prey persecution, to monitoring birds and their nests.

Four more Peak District birds of prey

From ospreys to owls, there are lots of raptor species to look out for in the Peak District and further afield within the East Midlands.

The buzzard is one of the most frequently spotted raptors – and, as the Peak District’s largest bird of prey, it’s also one of the most impressive. Buzzards have broad, rounded wings, and a short, fan-shaped tail – easily distinguishable from the red kite’s forked tail. They have dark brown backs with paler underparts and dark wing tips.

Buzzards can often be seen gliding and circling high up in the sky, sometimes in groups of two, three, or more. They have a clear, loud, single-note call.

Kestrels are much smaller birds – about the size of a pigeon – and are often seen hovering over fields, road verges or woodland edges. This is wonderful to watch – they sometimes appear to be suspended almost motionless in mid-air as they wait to swoop silently on their favourite food, voles.

Kestrels have chestnut-coloured backs and paler bellies; both back and belly are speckled with dark brown. The males have a blue-grey head. They are included on the Amber List for conservation status, as populations of kestrels have declined in the past 50 years – largely as a result of changes in agriculture.

Peregrine falcons are one of the fastest animals on the planet, reaching staggering speeds of up to 200 miles per hour as they dive down on their prey. There’s only a handful of nesting peregrines in the Peak District each year – like other birds of prey, they are victims of persecution and egg theft.

But one remarkable peregrine success story has taken place in recent years, in an unlikely location in Derbyshire. The Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project has helped a pair of peregrines nest and raise chicks high up on the cathedral’s tower since 2006.

These peregrines might just be the most famous birds in the UK, with their own website ( and millions of viewers tuning in to follow their progress via two strategically placed webcams. They are thriving this year, and have laid four eggs which are now being incubated, mostly by the female.

Hen harriers are slender, aerodynamic birds which are either blue-grey (male) or brown (female). They hold their wings to form a shallow v-shape as they fly, often quite close to the ground.

Hen harriers are also known as ‘skydancers’ – a delightful name that refers to their gravity-defying, acrobatic mating displays. The ‘dancing’ continues after the chicks have hatched, too. Both females and males attend the young and the males provide food – this is often passed, mid-air, to the female in an impressive display of 'throw and catch'.

But, sadly, skydancers are the among the most endangered birds in the UK. They have a Red List conservation status, and although UK-wide breeding numbers have increased slightly in recent years, no nesting attempts were made in the Peak District in 2023.

Hen harriers’ preferred food is voles, although they also sometimes eat young grouse – this makes the birds unpopular with gamekeepers.

Persecution of hen harriers is a serious problem, and habitat loss is a challenge too. Upland areas in the UK are often managed for grouse shooting or forestry. This can limit the suitable habitat – ideally a mosaic of heather and rough grassland – that enables hen harriers to hunt and breed.

Hen harriers are ground-nesting birds – so to help potential breeding pairs in 2024, stick to public footpaths and keep dogs on a short lead.

In fact, according to the RSPB, more than half of England’s most threatened bird species nest at or near ground level. Breeding season for ground-nesting birds runs from March until August, so taking care wherever you walk throughout spring and summer can help protect all sorts of birds – from curlews and nightjars to lapwings and golden plovers.

Penny Bunting

Twitter @LGSpace


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