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Academic & Professional Books  Ornithology  Non-Passerines  Birds of Prey

When the Kite Builds... Why and How We Restored Red Kites across Britain

By: Mike Pienkowski(Author)
271 pages, 200+ colour photos and 40+ colour & b/w illustrations and maps
When the Kite Builds...
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  • When the Kite Builds... ISBN: 9781911097051 Hardback Feb 2023 In stock
Price: £29.95
About this book Customer reviews Related titles

About this book

In the Middle Ages, Red Kites were common sights across the British countryside and cities, where they kept the streets clear of carrion – and were frequently mentioned in Shakespeare’s works. Later changes in attitude led to their extermination in England, Scotland and Ireland and reduced to a tiny population in Wales. They were one of only three globally vulnerable bird species occurring in Britain.

This book:
- Is by the Chairman of the experimental project to reintroduce kites to England and Scotland.
- Describes why the decision was taken and how it was implemented, with international help.
- Examines the success of the experiment, despite many challenges, leading to expansion.
- Follows the spread across Britain and to Ireland.
- Explores the outcomes, not just for Red Kites, but the example for other species, the fight against illegal persecution and on public attitudes.

The author has made available an errata slip with three corrections, which can be downloaded here (8 kb).

Customer Reviews (3)

  • Bit of a disappointment
    By Ian 26 Jun 2023 Written for Hardback
    I bought this book as I thought it would give a good account of the all the work done to save the red kite from extinction. It is mainly concerned with the re-introduction to England. The initial work done in Wales and later work by Tony Cross and the Welsh Kite Trust, gets scant mention.
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  • A very detailed account
    By Keith 4 Aug 2023 Written for Hardback
    Mike Pienkowski has been involved in bird conservation for over 50 years, and in 1984 he became the Head of Ornithology at the Nature Conservancy Council. As such he was at the centre of efforts to bring back the Red Kite Milvus milvus to the UK and he chaired the joint NCC/RSPB project team from 1987 to 1995.

    The story of the reintroduction of Red Kites has been summarised in several other places but particularly in several papers by Ian Evans and in The Red Kite by Ian Carter (Arlequin Press, 2001). However, this new account goes into immense detail, indeed at times probably too much detail for some readers. What the author does is lay the ground for how any kind of reintroduction should be evaluated. By including copies of some of the preparatory documents that were put together, and referring to other reintroductions he shows how the pros and cons must be considered.

    A very useful chapter summarises the past and current Red Kite population levels in each of the countries within its range. A decision was needed on where any chicks could be sourced. Spain and Sweden were the eventual main favourites although a small number of birds were sourced from Wales. There is also a lot of detail about how the initial and subsequent release sites were chosen, and the various challenges that were presented from within the Government but also some notable landowners.

    The collection and release of the young Red Kites are described across two chapters, with plenty of fascinating insight backed up with photographs taken at the time. I particularly found this section of the book interesting, especially the initial results from the releases in England and Scotland. For example, in the initial English release in 1989 only male chicks had been sourced, and so it was only in 1991 that viable pairs were formed, followed by the first nesting in 1992. The growth since then has been amazing, and where I study Red Kites in Hampshire I estimate there are now around 500 pairs. For example, on an 80-hectare farm, I know of three regular nesting pairs. The author mentions the 2020 UK population to be at 1800 pairs. That has to be an error, as the most recent data suggested 4400 pairs in 2016, and my local population has probably doubled since then.

    The section on education and public awareness was interesting, as many of us now see Red Kites every week – if not every day. The chapter on operational delivery reveals the challenges of working for a Government agency that is under attack and the author’s frustrations are clear. This lengthy passage makes quite hard reading, including a fair amount of politics, but also details of the actual results – the latter being of greater interest, so would have benefited from a tighter edit. A final section looks at the outcomes but then merges with thoughts on other possible releases for species including White Storks Ciconia ciconia, Pine Marten Martes martes and Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx … another opportunity for some editing.

    To have Mike Pienkowski’s personal account of how everything happened provides not only a unique insight into the world of reintroduction but also how government agencies approach such projects. For those who want to start a reintroduction programme, this has to be essential reading. Interestingly many of the current reintroductions are being managed by private individuals under a general umbrella of legislation but with personal funding.

    This is a useful summary with detail that can not be found in print elsewhere. While the value is definitely in this detail, I can say from experience that all of the books I have written have benefited greatly from the input of a sub-editor. This book would have benefited from that type of assistance.
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  • How to restore nature - lessons from a major UK project
    By Mark 21 Aug 2023 Written for Hardback
    I should first declare an interest - Mike Pienkowski was my boss in NCC/JNCC for a while and I get a very brief mention in this book.

    The book describes in full detail the stunningly successful "experimental" reintroduction of red kites to England and Scotland. It is based on contemporaneous records that capture many of the nuances of the project, and not (in contrast to some works) on the memories alone. It is written in a positive sense – supporters of the project are named, but detractors or obstructers are not named. I remember some of the debates at the start of the reintroduction project, and many of my memories are correct, but some are not – it was good to be put right. This made me reflect on the nature of historical writing – just how many projects, such as this, can be now described in detail? I guess not many – Mike has obviously managed to retain copies of the relevant paperwork that would not be available to many – the paperwork around the major NCC/JNCC project that I was involved in was all thrown out during an office move some years ago, when the instruction was to only retain essential paperwork (and that was put in a remote secure store that subsequently flooded!). I hate to think about projects conducted in the electronic paperwork age...

    The book goes beyond the red kite project to look at lessons learned and applied elsewhere in the UK – not only the past but the possible future. I found the examination of each of the five objectives of the project in terms of outcomes very useful too – I do not know anyone who has not marvelled at red kites twisting and turning over their heads – and that is not just bird-watchers – the project and its follow up has enhanced human life in the UK as well as providing a very healthy contribution to the world red kite population. Arguably the project helped change attitudes to the persecution of birds of prey – many species have seen reductions in persecution, but sadly hen harriers may well disagree.

    I would recommend this book to anyone (globally) interested in larger-scale projects to enhance nature – there are important lessons here in the hurdles that may well be placed in the way. It would also be of interest to those interested in how active nature conservation actually works.

    Congratulations to Mike on getting the book written, and a big "well done" to all those involved in making the project work.
    2 of 2 found this helpful - Was this helpful to you? Yes No
By: Mike Pienkowski(Author)
271 pages, 200+ colour photos and 40+ colour & b/w illustrations and maps
Media reviews

"This is a welcome book on the restoration of the Red Kite in the UK. It details its recovery in forensic detail, giving a blow-by-blow account of the project. [...] This book is a clearly written cornucopia of detail – obscure, useful and critical – that illustrate the complexities of the project. [...] I enjoyed reading this book, it is refreshing since we get an honest account of the complexity of a large reintroduction programme [...] The book is a rare account showing how projects really work. All too often the accounts of conservation projects are sanitized, and the facts retrofitted into a story. The book is one I shall be dipping into regularly to enjoy its content and to learn some of the lessons on the benefits of collaborations and how we can restore populations and how these can contribute to rebuilding ecosystems."
– Carl G. Jones, Ibis, 2023

"Mike Pienkowski was pivotal in setting up the Red Kite reintroduction programme in the late 1980s, and chaired the group overseeing the initial, experimental stage of the project. His book deals with all aspects of the work [...] Part of the story is told by reproducing policy papers, as well as lengthy extracts from press releases, project reports, and the minutes of meetings [...] Is this too much fine, historical detail for a general audience? Perhaps, though this material helps to show how the project unfolded in real time. The writing is at its most animated when we hear from the author himself. [...] The book rounds off with an overview of what has been achieved. We have hastened the return of the Red Kite, obviously enough. [...] Nonetheless, one question hangs uneasily in the air, like a kite floating into the breeze [...] given the rapid increase in the Welsh kite population in the last 30 years and its natural spread into western England, was all the money, time and effort worthwhile, or could we (should we?) have been just a little more patient?"
– Ian Carter, British Wildlife 34(6), May 2023

"Dr Mike Pienkowski is a former Chief Ornithologist and then Assistant Chief Scientist of the Nature Conservancy Council and subsequently the first Director of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee as well as a range of significant roles in nongovernmental organisations. He was the chair of the group who planned and executed the reintroduction of this remarkable bird into those parts of the UK from which it had been missing for at least a century and a half. He is thus well equipped to tell this story in some detail and with some authority. The author sets himself the task of writing an accurate and readable account of two decades of work and he succeeds. [...] this is not a slightly hazy recollection of what happened but a detailed documented and well illustrated telling of the story. This is definitely a readable account with well-chosen graphs and tables, and a wealth of photographs of the birds, localities and people involved."
– Mark Avery

"[...] The most extraordinary aspect of this project that shines through is the scale of its ambition. Previously avian re-introductions had been small, piecemeal and mixed; most failed. Rarely has conservation come out of the shadows and pushed through to such stunning results as When the kite builds… demonstrates. [...] When the Kite Builds… can be truthfully described as ‘lavishly illustrated’ – and some! Many fine photographs and maps in colour, well presented and data easily referenced. Precise and authoritative, it is never unreadable even at its most technical, adeptly folding together several strands – complex negotiations and resource management – that gives the general reader a clear view. This book will, I am sure, inspire a new generation."
– Barry Larking, ECOS, the journal of the British Association of Nature Conservationists

"If you are interested in conservation and reintroduction, this book provides a much wider knowledge base than just Red Kites, and is a great in-practice example of how these projects work, and the dedication required to pull them off. When the Kite Builds... provides such a wide breadth of knowledge and history that I truly don’t see how this book wouldn’t be enjoyed by any reader."
– Antonia Devereux, WILD Magazine – Students for sustainability

"This wonderful book has been dedicated to the amazing team of people who have helped restore Red kites into the countryside of Britain. My heart is drawn to the care and attention this team took to rewild chicks into UK territory."
The Eco News

"When do you get the chance to give to charity by buying a book? This one covers the whole of the reintroduction of Red Kites [...] (with birds now heading back to Spain, from where they were reintroduced). Mike Pienkowski, as the lead in this programme, has done a fantastic job not just for the birds, but also in his writing about one of the world's most successful reintroductions, which led to many more such schemes, elsewhere. There is so much detail and colour pictures throughout, many taken by Mike. This is a fascinating and informative read."
– John Miles (Bird Watchng Magazine, June 2023)

"The reintroduction of the Red Kite to parts of the United Kingdom is arguably one of the greatest conservation success stories of recent times. It has been estimated there are now around 6,000 breeding pairs, which represents at least 15% of their European and world population [...] Mike Pienkowski is well placed to document how this ground-breaking conservation project emerged and developed. Lessons have been learned on how various obstacles were overcome and best practice approaches that have proved useful for reintroductions or translocations of other raptors in the UK and abroad [...] Pienkowski's access to previously unpublished NCC records of the early deliberations concerning the programme make particularly interesting reading. I recommend this book for any with an interest both in raptor reintroductions in general and as an important historical reference point for Red Kite conservation in particular across the UK and Europe."
– Duncan Orr-Ewing (Scottish Birds, June 2023)

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