RED kites found dead in the North East had been poisoned, police yesterday confirmed.
Post mortem examinations on three of the birds of prey found in Northumberland earlier this year have confirmed that poisoning was the cause of their deaths. Poisoning is also suspected in the death of a fourth bird while tests are also awaited on a fifth bird found dead in August.
The five-year Northern Kites project to reintroduce the birds into the Derwent Valley in Gateshead ended last year, with 70-80 birds now living in the area.
The news of the poisonings led to campaigners claiming that illegal persecution is one of the factors preventing red kites from colonising new territory in the North East.
Now the Friends of Red Kites group are to start an awareness campaign in the Tynedale area of Northumberland following the news that birds found dead had been targeted, probably with meat laced with poison that had been left out in the open.
Friends chairman Ken Sanderson said yesterday: “There is definitely something preventing the birds being distributed around the North East and illegal persecution and poisoning is one of the factors.”
The Friends’ campaign will see leaflets giving people contact details if they see or find anything suspicious.
On February 12 two red kites were found dead at Steel, near Hexham. A post mortem examination showed that they died as a result of poisoning.
In June a red kite which had been adopted by Emmanuel College in Gateshead and named Ziggy, was found dead. She had been brought as a chick from the Chilterns in 2005, and released by Northern Kites into the lower Derwent Valley.
In 2009 she found a mate, Jammy Dodger, and together they raised a chick at the Highland Cattle Centre near Stocksfield, where visitor numbers soared as people flocked to see the family.
This year she again nested at the centre, with another kite, Ponteland Sunrise, which had been adopted by Ponteland High School, in what was the only known nest site in Northumberland.
In June, however, Ziggy was found dead near Hindley, Stocksfield. Her mate was also found dead, two miles away. Their chick perished, having no parents to feed it. Tests confirming that Ziggy was poisoned as a result of ingesting the illegal substance, carbofuran. It is likely the two died at the same time.
Anyone with information about the deaths or who sees anything suspicious should contact Northumbria Police on 0345 604 3043 or the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme on 0800 321 600.
Last week The Journal reported how there were no nesting attempts by hen harriers in the region, despite an abundance of suitable moorland habitat.
The RSPB and the Forestry Commission kept a nest watch this year in North Tynedale, where hen harriers had raised young in 2007 and 2008. RSPB North East conservation officer Martin Kirby said that hen harriers were facing extinction in the North East. “A major factor is illegal persecution and that includes the North East,” he said.