under ATTACK: Red kites have been blamed for the loss of lapwings and sand martins, but the RSPB says there is no evidence they are responsible. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Image
Scotland's gamekeepers have urged ministers to reassess the reintroduction programme in Dumfries and Galloway and claimed it is flawed.
They say it involves the kites being artificially fed poultry chicks at a local farm, which keeps them in the area, but as the food is insufficient red kites still prey on other birds.
However, RSPB Scotland last night accused the gamekeepers of prejudice and a lack of knowledge of a species that has suffered from the illegal use of poison baits on sporting estates.
The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) said about 90 red kites were reintroduced in Dumfries and Galloway between 2001 and 2003 in a project funded by the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage, Forest Enterprise and the Galloway Raptor Study group.
According to the SGA, the local population has expanded to almost 300 and land users are reporting significant losses of birds such as lapwing, oystercatchers and sand martins, which feature on the RSPB's red list of threatened species.
Many feel the red kites should be allowed to disperse naturally, in line with the project's aim, rather than being drawn back to a feeding station that attracts money from tourists.
Conservationist and local farmer James Mair said: "In the first few years it was not an issue, but now the balance of nature has been severely affected.
"There is basically no longer anything we can do to protect the wildlife on our farm. It is annihilation.
"The habitat here is great for ground-nesting birds. At a peak we had upwards of 250 nesting lapwings on the farm, all of them safe, but lapwing chicks are easy pickings for the kites.
"They would find one then, in half-an-hour they would all be gone." Alex Hogg, chairman of the SGA, said: "We have received a number of calls about this. It is clearly quite alarming for many people and it is equally worrying for wildlife."
However, James Reynolds, of RSPB Scotland, said: "The SGA comments demonstrate how little they understand about red kite ecology.
"Their statement represents pure misguided opportunism based on nothing more than conjecture and bald prejudice in the absence of any supporting evidence.
"The red kite is primarily a scavenger, although it will take some live prey including voles, mice and occasionally birds.
"There is absolutely no evidence red kites have any impact on the populations of these prey species claimed by the SGA."
He said the birds had been reintroduced to Scotland with the support of most private landowners and gamekeepers, as well as the public.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The reintroduction of red kites to Galloway has been a great success, with a 2010 report estimating the Galloway Kite Trail generated more than £20 million in tourism income for the area over six years.
"There are currently no plans to review the effect of red kites."
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